This is an account of my recent scary health experience – it’s a bit long, but if you’re up for it, a story worth telling
Sunday the 12th of February was meant to be like any other day. I was due to work at an international cricket game between Australia and India as floor manager for the super screen camera and MC. I love my days working at the cricket, as it’s my public transport day – the one time I can catch a train and bus and not have to drive.
When I woke with pain in the left of my back and shoulder I remember hoping that would quickly go away. You could also think that when I coughed up blood I might have thought that something was wrong, but I just decided that I should book in to see my doctor in the morning. That turned out to be a critical decision that would affect me significantly later that day.
By the time I caught the train I had presented blood from my lungs 3 times and started to think all kinds of troubling thoughts, but I felt OK, so I soldiered on. Having lost my footing going up a flight of stairs I then realised I was quite unsettled by this event and felt light headed and even dizzy. Now I was becoming concerned and decided to do what every modern thinking person would – I’ll Google it! So, there I was, in a hotel lobby trying to learn about what could be wrong with me. Having read through the options I realised that this hadn’t reassured me at all – now I just knew there were so many things it could be. The one thing that stood out was that coughing up blood AND feeling dizzy warranted immediate medical attention – but now I was in the city and thought I’d better report for work – after all, the possibilities all seemed a bit dramatic and it was probably nothing.
I arrived at the oval and reported to my employer and friend of many years how I was feeling. He was, of course, concerned and asked me to keep him informed. I attended a briefing to bring me up to speed with my responsibilities and then it was time to get kitted out with communication devices and all else that was needed by a floor manager on the day. It was at this moment that my camera man had a stroke of genius. He suggested that while he went and set things up, I should call in and see the First Aid people. This sounded like a good idea, so I did. Sitting in the First Aid room I didn’t feel too bad and was concerned that I was making something out of nothing. The St. Johns volunteer was a young woman who was very reassuring, yet quietly concerned – little did I know I was to meet her again in a couple of days. She called for the team doctor, however he was busy helping other people at the time. I decided to report in for my first round of duties. I said I would call back later and made my way around the oval to find my camera man. Arriving somewhat tired and out of breath I figured things still weren’t right, but that would have to wait – we had to be live on screen in just a matter of minutes.
The first ball of the game presented me with a couple of hours off until I would be called upon again and after greeting some friends in the crowd I decided I would go and see if the doctor was available – a decision that could well end up saving my life. The doctor promptly came. We spoke for a few minutes and then he announced that the combination of my symptoms had him concerned – shortness of breath, coughing up blood, fast heart rate, a little sweaty. He said he wanted me to find a replacement to cover my role so that I would be free to go to the hospital. He said this might just be a red herring, but he was quite insistent and wanted to be sure – his determination was the next life saving factor in my day. Having found a replacement I began to think how I would get to the hospital – I had no car with me, so I told the doctor I was happy enough to walk there. He looked at me slightly amazed and suggested this was not a good idea. Within minutes I was a real patient, on a bed in an ambulance with oxygen mask, heart monitors and realising all I could do was go along for the ride.
It didn’t take long for the doctors and nurses at the Royal Adelaide Hospital Emergency Department to start the process of diagnosing what was wrong. There were many questions to be asked and I made sure that I presented my story as entertainingly as possible – I don’t like to be boring and I figured these people were trying to help me, so it might as well be interesting. Following a chest x-ray that revealed nothing I was sent off for a CT scan of my chest. I don’t like injections at all really, but by now I had experienced a few and was ready for the special dye they put in your veins for the CT scan to work. They told me it would feel hot, I would have a funny taste in my mouth and I would feel like I had wet my pants – now THIS was going to be interesting. Needless to say all of their predictions were accurate and I congratulated the CT scanning people for having such interactive rides at this show
Following my CT scan a diagnosis was made – I had multiple Pulmonary Embolisms – blood clots on both lungs. This was a serious thing to have, however the doctors felt confident that a couple of days on a ward would help them find out why, stabilise and improve my condition and plan a course of treatment – little did I know what was about to happen.
I was kindly offered an evening meal, which I accepted for two reasons – firstly, I was hungry and secondly, I love hospital food – strange, but true. Shortly after this wonderful offering of meat and vegetables, including a scoop of mashed potato, I was being readied to move to a ward. My nurse advised the transport person to wait as she had to go and get some medication. This delay was another amazing act of God’s goodness and perfect timing. All of a sudden I started to feel very unwell. I thought I’d eaten too much dinner. My head felt very light, I couldn’t sit up and having waved to gain the attention of a passer-by my nurse returned. She found me looking a shade likened to the pure white wash basin in the corner of the room. Within seconds she had laid my bed back and called her friends with their crash carts who were very promptly around me like ants at a picnic.
At this point I can safely say I had never felt this bad in my entire life – one of the clots had travelled and lodged in my heart, causing everything to go very wrong. I remember the doctor on my left announcing that my heart rate was 30 and I had no cardiac output. I couldn’t believe it – this is me, I thought. I wanted to reassure the doctor that even though this sounded very bad, I was still here – I don’t think the words I was thinking came out. I remember my nurse firmly holding my face and looking straight in my eyes to reassure me I would be OK. I chose to believe her – it’s all I could do really.
I was quickly wheeled into another room and a flurry of activity followed. I was in extreme pain, but I didn’t know why. A man asked me about the pain on a scale of 1 to 10 – I didn’t know how to answer because I didn’t know what 10 should feel like. I figure that because I sounded like I was in a lot of pain he must have worked out my answer would be closer to 10 than 1. He then announced that he had given me some morphine and asked about the pain again – I think by now it was 15. By now people were taking off my clothes and trying to remove my Mack steel cap boots – not an easy feat even for me. I remember trying to give them instructions through my oxygen mask. Irregardless of my confused directions they were successful. One dear lady commented during this process that I shouldn’t worry – that I was covered. Was she referring to clothing or perhaps hospital insurance? Either way I appreciated her comment, but it wasn’t my top concern at the time.
I heard words like Atropine – wasn’t this the stuff that Nicolas Cage had to inject into his heart at the end of the movie ‘The Rock’ – my goodness – what was happening to me. Well, thanks to God, the clot suddenly dislodged all on it’s own – it moved just prior to my nurse thinking she was going to need to start CPR, which could result in broken ribs, or at least significant pain in my front and my back. The danger had passed – I was stabilising. Little did I realise it, but during this ordeal my wife and children had just arrived to bring me some clothes for my 2 day stay – they were waiting in a room close by, unaware of what was happening.
Once I had stabilised, they were allowed to come and see me, somewhat surprised by my condition and my close relationship to a series of machines, masks and other medical equipment. Not until she got home did my wife realise what had really happened and how fortunate we were that I was still alive. It would be a week or so later that my GP would confirm that had I not been IN the hospital when the clot lodged in my heart, my chances for survival were very minimal.
Following my experience in the Emergency Department, I spent 3 days in Intensive Care and a further 6 days on a ward. I was eventually diagnosed with Factor V Leiden, a hereditary condition which affects the coagulability of the blood. Wikipedia has a good write up about it. I’ll possibly be on Warfarin (blood thinning medication) for the rest of my life, but that’s nothing to complain about, considering what many others must endure. I’m quite impacted by how tired I am after all this, but strength and stamina will return.
I am so thankful to God for what He did to ensure I was in the right place at the right time. Was it right of me to go to work coughing up blood? Probably not, but had I stayed home, I may not have survived. Was it a good idea to go back and see the doctor when I did, and for him to insist I went to the hospital? Absolutely, because had he not, I may not have survived. Oh, and that St. Johns volunteer I mentioned earlier – some days later I saw her again in her role as an Intensive Care Unit nurse – she was very pleased to see that I was in good care and very glad that she too insisted upon calling the doctor.
There is so much else to this story that I could say. I made sure that being in hospital was a good experience socially – I met so many wonderful people – nurses, doctors, cleaners, cooks, fellow patients – people I will never forget – but the one I will remember the most is Annie – the nurse who, when I was facing death itself, placed herself in front of my eyes to give me hope and reassurance. Annie was representative of her colleagues in proving that they don’t just DO their job, but they LOVE and are GOOD at what they do – they CARE for people when they need it the most. I will always be grateful to God, my family and friends and those who helped me both on Sunday the 12th of February and at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I am now home in recovery – I am blessed.