Although my robust heart has seen me through a lifetime of sport, including two marathons, this last six months she has become increasingly unruly. In the week that my umpteenth ECG revealed some minor niggles, she decided to run amok. Occasional, manageable chest pains; failing to pump faster when walking; then running wild when she shouldn’t be. When your heart misbehaves, it’s hard to think of anything else.
One Sunday evening, several weeks ago, she reached a crescendo of petulance: sharp pains into my shoulder; breathlessness; rapid beats, when lying down; and sweating. According to the 111 website, I should summon an ambulance immediately. Nah, it wasn’t that serious, I thought, so I called 111 for a second opinion, going through their more detailed questions. Ambulance en route!
Paramedics arrived promptly, performing another ECG: they were unconcerned by the results, even though my heart was running at double its normal speed, yet within a range that they deemed acceptable. Understandably, they were unaware of dysautonomia, but I cannot fault them. On the contrary, I am grateful and full of admiration for their professionalism, humour and dedication. The work of the angels, every paramedic should – at the very least – receive an MBE. Their very existence is a comfort.
Lying in bed awaiting an ambulance – which someone else regarded as potentially life-threatening – I decided to text my brother with my wishes, in the unlikely event that this was The End. Calm, I tapped away. Not so calm, my brother opened his messages: sorry, bro.
You’ll forgive me for not detailing my wishes, however, what I want you to know is that I did not have any deathbed regrets. Unlike clichéd regrets in such circumstances, I did not wish that I had tried harder at school, nor spent less time at work. I was – and remain – grateful for my lot. I demanded that everyone moved on quickly, with my wife encouraged to start the quest (should this be what she wants to do) for my replacement, commencing at the wake.
My tip, therefore, is to imagine such a situation for you. If there’s regrets in that list, fix it with utmost haste. I’m grateful for the clarity which this scary situation gifted to me.
(More thorough heart examinations have given it a near-perfect bill of health: it’s the autonomic nervous system which continues to fire inconsistent, erratic messages to my heart as well as all my other organs, causing havoc.)