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Date: 25/04/16

Darkness Of Heart

I knew that today was not going to be a good day.

It was the day of my appointment for an ultrasound scan. We (my brother the chauffeur, my sister-in-law and me) set off from home at about 0830 for the three-and-a-half-mile journey to the hospital...

...where we arrived just over an hour later. The traffic on the A525 and all roads leading on to it was jammed back two or three miles. There's usually some pretty bad congestion there at that hour of the day, but the emergency closure of two roads leading into the town centre made things far, far worse.

I found the department where I needed to be and apologised for my lateness. I was assured that that was quite all right, as just about everybody trying to get to the hospital this morning - staff and patients alike - had faced exactly the same problems, irrespective of which direction they had been coming from.

After a few minutes, it was in for the scan. I'd had one before back in about 2008 to try to find out why my feet had started to swell up, so I knew what to expect...

...or so I thought. The scan had been intended, as I had understood it, to be on my abdomen and pelvis; indeed, that's what the letter from the hospital had said (that's the letter in which I found out that the Welsh for 'abdomen' and 'pelvis' are - apparently - 'abdomen' and 'pelfis' respectively). However, when the woman wielding the requisite implement started rubbing it over my chest, I got a feeling of deep unease that my day - having already shifted several degrees of latitude southwards - was heading for the equator at a rate of knots which would have outstripped a Royal Navy cruiser. In the days when the Royal Navy had cruisers (or operational ships of any description), of course. This feeling wasn't ameliorated at all by some of the questions she was asking me.

After a few minutes, she said that she was going to call a doctor in to take a look at what was coming up on the scan. He duly came in and - having had a shufti (or maybe it was as much as a dekko; the mysteries of medicine, eh, boys and girls?) informed me that I had fluid around my heart and in my lungs (and in my abdomen, but I knew about that already; that wasn't 'middle-age spread' around there). I was then sent a short distance along the corridor to have a chest x-ray, which was easy enough. The doctor then took me all the way to the Cardiology Department. It seemed a long walk, long enough for all sorts of anxieties to bloom in my mind, not least of which was the fact that my brother and sister-in-law were sitting in the hospital café waiting and were certainly getting pretty worried themselves by this time.

After a short wait, I was taken through for an echocardiogram, then waited a few more minutes for an electrocardiogram. The braw Scottish lassie who did this had great difficulty getting a couple of the electrodes to stick to my chest, and had to resort to a wee razor to shave off a few of the few hairs I have there.

After all that, I then had to go to another part of the hospital to see my diabetes consultant. At least that was one part of the whole place with which I was more than familiar. A short wait there (including a blood pressure test which showed an almost ludicrously low reading) followed by a discussion in which the possibility of admitting me for further investigation was raised. I tried to dodge that option for the time being, partly because I was having to process an awful lot of information and potential change in a very short time, but also partly because I was tired, I hadn't eaten since about 2100 last night (a pre-condition for the ultrasound scan, this) and I just wanted to disconnect from the world for a bit. My consultant said that he'd discuss things with one of his colleagues in Cardiology and let me know what they said. He also asked for yet another blood sample to be taken, but the phlebotomist had just gone on lunch.

Feeling about as shitty as I thought it was possible to feel, we then went shopping (which had been part of the original plan all along), returning to the hospital about an hour later for the latest act of medical vampirism to take place. And then, home. At last.

I hadn't been home for long when the phone rang. At this point I feared the worst, but it turned out to be my manager from work who - star of gold as she so often is - was worried about how I was, knowing that I was due to have the scan this morning. I discussed the latest developments with her and then ate the sandwich I'd bought in Sainsbury's.

At about 1530, I went to the GPs' surgery to put in a repeat prescription and to go and post a couple of things in the post box on Offa Street which - for some unspecificed reason - has recently been moved from the concrete block it had occupied since Adam wore drapes to a free-standing post on the opposite side of the road.

The whole journey - no more than about 500 yards - took me all of half an hour, with my having to stop completely or even lean against a wall every few steps. I know that I hadn't been getting about much in the last two weeks, but I hadn't thought that I would have deteriorated that much. It was quite scary, I can assure you.

Finally home again, I went upstairs, took my trousers and boxers off (and where am I going to get my Chinos from if BHS goes tits-up?), which had constrained my currently most-swollen parts rather disagreeably for some eight hours by that point, pulled on the slacks I had bought from Sainsbury's the week before (they aren't called 'slacks', however, but 'lounge trousers'. This is of limited cachet if you don't actually have a lounge, it seems to me), and tried to take a nap.

I found, however, that I was trembling; a shaking that I seemed unable to stop. No doubt a combination of the physical stresses of the day (exacerbated by the supposedly short walk I had just taken) plus the emotional stress of having to digest an awful lot of unpleasant truths in a short space of time, added to my state of hunger and possible dehydration was producing this, but I lay more than uneasy for an hour or so.

At about 1730, the phone rang again. This time it was my consultant, who had been talking things over with the cardiologist. This latter cove advised...oh, hang on. A bit of personal history comes into play at this point...

When I was four years old, I had measles. It emerged that one of the after-effects of that was to create a pulmonary stenosis, known to its nearest and dearest as a 'heart murmur'. This was kept an eye on by Dr. Roberts at the hospital until I reached the age of sixteen (after which, it seems, no-one bothered to refer me to an adult cardiologist). When my diabetes was diagnosed twenty-five years ago, they spotted this in my notes and gave me...yes, an ultrasound scan...which failed to find any problem at all.

Well, whilst my consultant was wielding his stethoscope on me, I read (upside-down) the letter that the cardiology department had given me to take up to him. And so it was that I discovered that while three of the valves of my heart were fine, the pulmonic one was in a spot of trouble. As indeed, of course, was I.

Anyway, the cardiologist my consultant spoke to declared that the pulmonic valve was quite seriously narrowed, and that he was 90 per cent certain that surgery will be needed before too long to sort it out. This, it seems, is what has been causing the various swellings and, no doubt, my constant fatigue over the last few months. The cardiologist will be in touch with me shortly for an appointment where the way ahead can be discussed.

Although this doesn't leave me in any better a position physically than I was before, and although I'm still on edge over the whole thing, I'm truly grateful to my consultant for getting back to me so quickly. Although the knowledge is not in itself comforting, at least now I do know; I know what has been causing my various difficulties since the turn of the year, and I have some idea of what the likely 'roadmap' (did I really just use that word? Shoot me now, please) is. I had long suspected that my 'issues' (make that a double-barreled shotgun, would you?) had something quite substantial and serious underpinning them. And so, indeed, it seems.

I'm trying to chill out, but I'm trepidant. There's too much to have to think about.

I've still been trembling slightly as I've been typing this over the last hour or so (which will mean that my proof-reading will need to be even more rigorous).

And I'm shit scared.