Don’t fear the reaper

Blimey it’s been nearly a year since my last blog post, I guess I should explain myself before I jump straight in and make almost back-to-back posts about the @media 2010 conference and other stuff. Friends may recall I finally tied the knot with Jane in February 2009 but unless you caught my disjointed updates on Twitter or Facebook (or indeed work with me) it occurred to me this week at the conference that not everyone from my professional circle of friends knew that I almost made a widow of Jane last November.

I don’t really do drama, I’m passionate about stuff, yes. But I don’t do “panic”. Most people found this pretty scary…

So anyway, I had some minor surgery done on a Friday that included taking a graft from the inside of my cheek – so minor I was out the next day but because I had to travel to and from London for the operation I was laid up in bed at home for most of the next week as it was pretty draining. I knew however that I had to get up and move around so from Monday I did just that. Come Friday though, things weren’t right. I put up with it for six hours before calling the doc, but I was out of breath and had a fast, strong pulse in my throat. The out-of-hours doctor gave me penicillin as my cheek was infected and that seemed to do the trick over the weekend, but come Monday the symptoms were back and my regular GP came out to visit. He didn’t say what he thought was the matter but ordered an ambulance to get me to hospital for “further tests” (a way to avoid questioning / alarm I suspect).

Holy crap. Further tests involved taking a blood gas sample. Had one of those before? It bloody hurts! This is achieved by taking a blood sample from an artery, in my case the radial (at the wrist). Unlike a venous sample most of us have had taken, this freaking hurts and actually made me shout out. But oh no, the junior doctor couldn’t get a sample (punched straight through I guess) so had two more goes. Jane had to walk away, I just screwed my eyes up hard and prepared better. Luckily she gave up at this point and got another doctor to “have a go”. Even more luckily (which I’d rather use up on the winning lottery ticket numbers) he gave me a local anaesthetic before getting it right first time. For those of you without anything more than basic first aid skills (I was EMT-trained in the forces) they had problems because my blood pressure was low – six different people, myself included, had failed to get a radial pulse throughout the day. I was kept in overnight. The next morning was to be “interesting”.

Still suffering from this shortness of breath and fast pulse, I was helped into a hospital chair for an assisted wash and then helped back into bed. Wow, I felt better for the wash but something was seriously wrong. I hit the help button and called out to the nurse who was walking away from me. I was losing consciousness and fast. And there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Spiralling down and down a dark abyss my brain sent me. I was vaguely aware of a flurry of activity about me and then a very, very sharp pain. I kicked instinctively and my life was saved. Right on the verge of crossing from P to U in AVPU (alert, voice, pain, unresponsive). I must have kicked hard and there must have been more people on my left side as the pain stabbed me there instead. I’d had enough. I opened my eyes and ever-mindful that the last thing to go should be your sense of humour, I gasped out “you could have pulled it out straight!” followed by repeating that I was back and “OK”. I opened my eyes to a mass of leads, machines going “beep” and with great irony, an Army Major who I just knew had been the one to take another gas sample but this time from my femoral artery (the last one remaining before your carotid on the “you’re screwed” scale). I looked at the clock. 15 minutes until visiting hours – I was happy to have saved Jane from witnessing the controlled chaos of a crash team at work.

I’d suffered a massive pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs) but wasn’t out of the woods yet. To this day I’m not sure, but I think amongst all the team talk I deduced something had scraped past a heart valve because some number was “out of spec”. Geezus, I just read the 2nd paragraph of the previous link… damn my thoroughness!

Things happened quickly after that. For all the criticism the NHS get, I can’t complain about their primary care. I had a CT scan to establish the extent of the problem (BIG) and put myself into their hands again when I signed up to a new thrombolysis (clot-busting) treatment that took two hours instead of the usual 24. Jane had been took to the side and “prepared” for the fact that I might not survive this either. I just laid there and took it but apparently, Jane and my mum reckoned I was bubbling out of all the holes I’d had punched into me for drips etc. Luckily (again) the risk of internal bleeding revealed itself mostly via the graft site in my mouth (the other place being my right groin region where the Army doctor had failed to take the first gas sample). My winning smile would only have appealed to vampires for the next few days whilst I continually bled (and spat out into a bowl) but better that than bleeding somewhere inside my body – for which I had a fat cannula in my right wrist in case a blood transfusion was needed.

The next few days were painful and boring and after a little excitement with a blood pressure drop to 40 over 20 (and still being awake, just) I pushed to improve so I could go home a week after my original admission. As a precaution I was prescribed a standard 6-month course of Warfarin and several more weeks off work to recuperate. Everyone seems to know that Warfarin is rat poison and boy did it knock me for six. No alcohol – I’d tried a half-pint and felt awful – and a severe lack of energy costing me about 3 hours of the day (i.e. had to go to bed at 9pm instead of the usual midnight) and a perpetual state of exhaustion throughout the day at work.

Happily, I’m now off the Warfarin (in time for summer pear cider consumption) and back to my old energy levels. Quite possibly my best defence for self-procrastination this year and sets the stage for a few service announcements I must blog about soonest. In the meantime, enjoy the accompanying video that ties into this post’s title.

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2 Responses to Don’t fear the reaper

  1. Blair Millen says:

    Blimey, if it was a piece of fiction, this drama would have made riveting reading… instead, your experience sounds utterly terrifying. Thankfully you’re made of strong stuff Karl!

    And a great choice of song :-)

  2. “Quite possibly my best defence for self-procrastination this year”

    - That’s certainly an excellent attitude, very glad to hear you came through what sounds like a damn scary time. Sounds like you had a good time at @media – missed it this year due to my first PHP conference over in Amsterdam.

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