Raging rapids, heart tugging revelations and a hollow leg.
I was really nervous when I hit the button to activate this site and publish my first post. What are people going to think? Is it any good? Was this a bad idea?
I wrote a Facebook post explaining what I had written, added the link and hit share.
Then I held my breath and waited.
All I can say to everyone who read, commented on and even shared my blog is thank you, truly from the bottom of my (admittedly a bit dodgy) heart. It was my full intention to carry on with this no matter what but the positive feedback I have received has boosted my confidence greatly. I really enjoyed writing the last two posts and knowing that people are enjoying reading them brings me so much joy.
That said, let’s get on with the it.
The Steam Train
In the first post I focused on the time around when I woke up from an open heart procedure to be informed that my right leg had been amputated. While there is plenty more to delve into around that (I’m aware I left off with a joke), with this post I’m going to take you back further, to a forgotten time when I had to cut ten toenails (it’s only four now but that’s another story).
As I said very briefly in my post where I explain my heart condition, as a child I wasn’t aware of the full extent of my health issues. I knew that I had to go to hospital occasionally for checks but as far as I was concerned that wasn’t out of the ordinary.
Even less occasionally, I needed to have some kind of small (well, smaller than open heart surgery) procedure.
When I did my parents would always be there and my loyal companion Buster would be by my side as the mask descended and I drifted off.
Sometimes he even got some extra attention from the nurses (heads out of the gutter guys).
I remember one particular time, the join between his head and shoulders was almost nonexistent, to the point where he could have auditioned for Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter movies. I went down for my surgery with him tucked up beside me and when I came round, he had undergone little procedure of his own.
Safe to say I doubt many teddy bears have their heads stitched back on by your actual, full blown medical professionals.
These rare occasions aside I really didn’t have anything less than a normal childhood. In fact, given that I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland and my dad worked as an outdoor pursuits instructor, I probably had plenty of opportunities many kids didn’t.
I can’t have been more than five or six the first time my dad told me to step backwards off a cliff. Maybe it sounds terrifying but I hadn’t yet gotten to the point in school where we would learn about gravity. I thoroughly enjoyed dangling high above the ground on the end of a rope.
Just a few years later I was rafting the white waters of the Garry, bouncing off the rocks and being doused by the swirling, freezing cold froth of the angry river, with not even a second thought as to what was going on inside my chest.
It was amazing and with all the other incredible activities available to me, I could not have asked for a more exciting childhood.
It’s no small bonus either, that in later years, I’ve been told my love of the outdoors and the exercise that comes along as a consequence have done wonders for my health.
There is only one time from my earlier years that made me start to think about my condition in more than a passing way and I remember it clearly to this day. I had been taken to the doctors because I’d been suffering from a bad cold. He used a stethoscope to listen to my chest and, in what was just a throwaway line said,
“Wow, sound’s like you’ve got an old steam train in there”.
The Prophetic Numbness
It was when I was fifteen that I finally realised my condition wasn’t going to be just a minor annoyance in the background of my life.
My health had gradually been declining and after a visit to the hospital they realised one of my arteries had narrowed. It was decided that they were going to perform an operation to balloon and stent it (open it up again).
A few months later I was flat on my back in a surprisingly comfortable hospital bed and as they put me under, my parents walked with me down the corridor while I hugged Buster tightly.
After what seemed like no time at all to me but what must have felt an eternity to my parents, I came round from my operation.
The first thing I noticed was my right leg.
No, it wasn’t missing, not yet. I just couldn’t feel it.
As it turns out, the problem was no bigger than a cautious overdose of anaesthetic, given to ensure I didn’t wake up while the doctors were still prodding at me. After all, it was a children’s hospital and being fifteen I was larger than the average patient they dealt with.
For the entire day afterwards I couldn’t feel a thing in that leg. I couldn’t move it at all and when I tried to put weight on it I went down faster than a leg amputee trying ice skates for the first time (I’m allowed to say that).
I can make light of it now but at the time it was a real worry, despite the doctors all assuring me that my ability to move it would return I was still terrified that I might have to live the rest of my life without the use of my right leg.
Later that evening while I was sitting watching the TV with one of my nurses, my toes started to wiggle. Both the nurse and me were cheering in a politely quiet way so as not to wake up the whole ward.
Eventually, after a few hours, the full use of my leg would return.
For a year and a half at least.
However despite all this drama the procedure, unfortunately, had not been successful.
And just like that I was heading for my first open heart surgery since I was sixteen weeks old.
I couldn’t exactly draw on memories from that one, so this was a whole new experience. The trick I thought, was to not think too much about it and get on with everything else. There were exams in school coming up (more on that in another post), so I had to focus. Then there were all my other activities, rafting, abseiling etc, with my dad and summer plans with all my friends. I was doing fine, totally fine.
Except I wasn’t. The worry was eating away at me and the worst part was I couldn’t even recognise it.
I had never had to deal with anything even close to this big in my life. They were going to open my chest, cut a piece off the top of my heart and stick another piece in. My scar, which I call my zipper was just a pale white line, barely visible after all my years of growing.
As a narcissistic teenager even that was on my mind, how would others react to my fresh, new scar?
I thought I was wearing my mask very well but the fear was insidious. I was eating poorly and losing sleep, all the while telling myself that it must be to do with the upcoming exams.
Eventually I had to face the real demon, eat properly and make an effort to maintain my health. The last thing I needed was to undergo a major procedure in an unfit state.
Then the day came, I was in the ward, all prepped in my stylish hospital gown and trying not to accidentally flash at any of the poor nurses walking behind me.
I was still just inside the age for paediatrics so my operation was being carried out at Yorkhill Children’s Hospital in Glasgow. As the line was being put into my arm the nurse joked, saying that I had the option of a plain or Peppa Pig dressing to stabilise the cannula.
Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to have such a celebrity hold my line in place. So, with my lifelong watcher beside my head, a pink swine on my arm and my family looking on, I was wheeled off to have my zipper opened for the first time since I was a baby………….
“Under Pressure”, by Queen and David Bowie
As a family we’ve been watching through “Life on Mars” and its sequel series “Ashes to Ashes”. My wife had never seen them before, the rest of my family were all on their second viewing but for me this was fourth time round. Yesterday we completed our binge watching and my wife is still reeling at the revelations of that final episode. If you haven’t seen the show then please, I urge you to do so. It is one of the finest examples of writing and performance in television.
But why am I talking about it?
Well, because of the fantastic soundtrack that pulses through every episode. The show would undoubtedly be amazing without it but the creators had such a knack of playing the right song at the perfect moment, giving whatever point they were making more impact.
As this is a piece of writing and not a television show, there is no way for me to play music while you read this paragraph. So, as you take in the next few lines I would like you to imagine me singing the above song to you personally, out loud, accompanied by Bowie and Mercury on my dad’s old cassette player.
After the amazing response to my first posts I knew the next one, this one, had to deliver.
Most people know I have one leg but I have kept the details of my heart condition close to my chest *snaps and points*. I’m very rarely asked about it, which is understandable when there is a long metal pole dangling from above where my knee used to be, but it does mean that I’m not nearly as used to talking about it.
That being said, writing about something a bit different has been nice for me. Not to mention it has reminded me of so many stories, most which I will be milking for this blog.
I hope those of you who liked my first post have found this one just as entertaining and interesting, it is quite scary doing a follow up but I feel good about it.
If you liked this post and haven’t seen the first one, then go check it out.
Ignorance can be bliss.
That is, as long as it isn’t harmful. Not knowing the full extent of my condition when I was a child did me no harm. In fact, it allowed me to live a normal childhood without having any of the worries that knowing what was going on inside my chest would have brought. You might argue that it is wrong to be guarded with the truth but does a kid really need to know about something so serious when they can do nothing about it and probably won’t even understand it fully?
I should say that whenever I did have a question, my parents always answered honestly.
Don’t worry yourself sick.
In our lives we come up against so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles with the potential to cause us a great deal of stress. Worrying about these things to the point that you become unwell is only going to make you less capable of dealing with them. This doesn’t just apply to physical things, like a medical procedure for instance. It could be something at work, in a relationship or even just an overly complicated form to fill in. If you are stressed to the point of being unwell, you’re going to have a much harder time getting through it.
Watch “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes”.
Obligatory Blog Quote
Worrying means you suffer twice.Newt Scamander