Let Me Tell You About My Operation… – How I Died And Why I Thought I Was Better Than Jesus
Thirteen years ago, just before my 34th birthday, I died. It’s okay though. I got better. I’m not currently a decomposing zombie sitting at a keyboard typing this as yet another errant body part drops to the floor. Zombies don’t write blogs. Though to read some people’s blogs and internet comments, it would be easy to believe that there’s a whole army of The Walking Dead tapping away out there.
If you’re the sort of person who is a bit squeamish or just finds things of a medical nature a bit boring, then I shouldn’t read on any further if I were you. If you like horror films and zombie movies, lean in a bit closer because some of this is going to be pretty gory and graphic. Oh, and if you’re partial to a bit of mental anguish, this also involves me going totally and utterly bonkers.
That morning thirteen years ago started like any other. Got up, had a shower and a shave, dressed myself and went to work. Then, after being at work for about half an hour, I had a cardiac arrest. I was walking along and thought to myself “I feel a bit fu….” And then I woke up in an ambulance, my white work shirt soaked in blood.
Apparently, when my heart stopped, I just keeled over backwards like felled oak tree and smashed the back of my head on the unforgiving tiled floor. Had a gaping wound in my scalp and blood pouring out of my ears and nose. That’s how hard I went down. I had meant to think to myself “I feel a bit funny”, but didn’t get that far before nature shouted “Timber!” The Planet Earth is a hell of a heavy thing to get hit in the back of the head by, I can tell you that.
So I got to the hospital and they cleaned me up a bit and started doing some tests on me. The results of which were that my ticker was ticking like a fucked clock and was in danger of stopping again at any minute. The doctor didn’t tell me that last part there and then of course. He just said “You are going to need a pacemaker but we are going to have to perform an emergency procedure before we move you to Papworth hospital. We don’t have the facilities to install pacemakers here at Peterborough.”
A few minutes later, I was strapped onto a gurney and wheeled down to the operating theatre. They didn’t tell me what they were doing or why. What they did do was put a sheet over my head so I couldn’t see what was happening, cut a hole in my neck and shove a big plastic straw down it. No anaesthetic.
When they took the sheet off my head, I was back on the gurney. The plastic straw was taped to my neck and there was a pair of wires running out of it. At the end of those wires was a grey metal box. It looked like one of those electrical meters you used to get in A Level physics labs back in The Seventies and it was being carried along by one of my attendants as they trundled me back to my ward.
I lay on my hospital bed and stared at that piece of equipment. It had an old fashioned needle display on it. The needle kept ticking away every second or so, showing that this battleship grey metal box was keeping my heart going. In a previous existence I had done a degree which involved quite a bit of electronics, with a year out in industry helping design medical equipment, so I knew that this thing was definitely not purpose built for the job it was doing.
I found out later that it was actually one of those physiotherapy machines that they use to build up people’s muscles after accidents or surgery. Like one of those things you put on your abs to get a six pack if you’re too lazy to do sit ups. They’d snipped the pads off the ends off the wires and fed the bare ends of those wires down into my heart to keep me from having another cardiac arrest.
I wasn’t at Peterborough for long though. A slot opened up unexpectedly at Papworth Hospital that afternoon. Which probably means that some other poor bastard wasn’t as lucky as me that day. By the time my missus had turned up with a dressing gown and a washbag for my planned overnight stay, I was already in an ambulance on the way to have my second operation of the day.
I don’t remember that much about getting to Papworth other than the operation itself. A half a dozen or so syringes of lignocaine in my chest and watching the whole procedure on a monitor suspended in front of me like I was lying in bed watching re-runs of Red Dwarf. At least I think that’s what happened. I was pretty heavily concussed and had already been cut open once. And because I’d already had rather a stressful day and was feeling a bit jittery to say the least, the surgeon decided to give me a sedative. I really lucked out on that score because the sedative he decided to give me was diamorphine. Heroin, in other words.
I tell you what, I can see why people get addicted to that. It’s fucking fantastic. I’ve never felt so relaxed in my entire life. Being that relaxed is a pretty odd state of affairs when some man you don’t know has his hand buried in your chest up to his punching knuckles. He was trying to put me at ease by asking me about my work and my hobbies. I half expected him to ask me if I wanted my hair square or tapered at the back or inquire if I wanted “something for the weekend”. At one point I was surrounded by a gaggle of Chinese medical students who were there to observe the operation but I think there’s a strong possibility that I just imagined that bit.
I stayed at Papworth overnight and was sent home by taxi in the morning. I was pale and a bit shaky but otherwise not too bad. Then I got a headache. At least I thought that’s what it was. It wasn’t. It felt like one to begin with, but it wasn’t. It was what is called a concussion migraine. Now, I’d never had a migraine before so I had always assumed that migraine just meant “really bad headache”. It means nothing of the kind. Calling a migraine “a really bad headache” is like calling a major stroke “a bit of a funny turn”. If there had been a loaded gun on my bedside table, I would have happily reached for it, put the barrel in my mouth and blown my brains out to stop the pain.
I also developed a really bad fever. So bad, in fact, that Hayley (my missus at the time) got my doctor out on a house call, something British people are extremely reluctant to do. Dr Williams prodded and poked me for a bit but when he came around to peering into my lugholes, he had an “aha!” moment. I’d banged my head so hard that I had burst both of my eardrums. Apparently the fever was something to do with that.
Hayley nursed me through my migraine and my fever. She stayed awake pretty much solidly for four days and nights to do this. She put a sopping wet flannel on my forehead every half hour, though I was burning up so badly that flannel would be bone dry after ten minutes. And she fed me the only food I could eat which wasn’t too noisy. The migraine made a bowl of cornflakes sound like I had my ear pressed to the business end of a Vickers .303 machine gun firing at full bore. So I ate melon for four days. Very slowly and very carefully.
By day five, my fever had broken and my migraine had subsided and I was able to make my way down to my living room. Had to wear sunglasses for a few days because I couldn’t stand the light. I eventually recovered and returned to work and everything was as it had been before. Or so I thought.
I wasn’t sure if the massive bang on the head had shaken something loose in my brainbox or if I just had a case of Post Traumatic Stress, but I started having some very odd thoughts. I was cutting my nails one day and noticed that my thumbs somehow didn’t look right, like they were not on the right hands. I don’t mean swapped over, I mean just not mine. Thereafter, for a while, I was convinced that I had somebody else’s thumbs.
Then, on top of the thumb thing, I got another even weirder idea. I had just survived a near death experience. Lucky me. But the thought started occurring to me “What if I didn’t survive?” I thought that maybe I was dead after all and that the life I was living was a delusion. At points, I could feel the lining of my coffin and smell the reek of my own physical decay. I don’t know if medical science recognizes the “wrong thumbs” thing but it does recognise the “I’m actually dead and lying in my coffin” thing. It’s called The Cotard Delusion.
Thankfully, my Cotard Delusion was short lived. However, it was replaced- as a sort of grand finale- by an idea so out of whack I can barely believe it ever entered my head. Here’s how the thought process went:
“So, you died and came back to life when you were 33. We know another man who did that, don’t we? We learnt all about him at Catholic school, so maybe…..”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Thought you were Jesus, did you? Nothing unusual about that. Nothing right about it either but it’s a very common delusion amongst the nutjob community. And you would be right. And this is exactly what my brain thought too, so the thought process continued further.
“Jesus, eh mike?” went my brain. “That’s not very Sci-Fi, is it?”
I’m a bit of a Science Fiction nut, you see? Particularly The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. But basically anything to do with Aliens.
“So,” my brain continued “Just because you’re The Messiah it doesn’t necessarily mean you were born on this planet, does it? I mean, you don’t actually remember being born, do you? You could have been born anywhere.”
And so it came to pass that I was convinced that I was some sort of Intergalactic Messiah. And that I was in constant danger of being abducted by rival aliens who wanted to prevent me from completing my divine mission. Even though my divine mission at the time seemed to consist primarily of me driving a forklift for Morrison’s Supermarkets during the day and drinking beer and eating pizza in the evening. But my Catholic education had taught me that “The Lord Moves In Mysterious Ways”, so I didn’t see a problem with that.
When I walked home in the evening and it was dark, I would run the last few hundred yards. This last few hundred yards was the prime danger point for my extra-terrestrial abduction in my mind and I didn’t feel safe until my front door was locked behind me. Though why I thought four inches of hardwood and glass could protect me from an alien spaceship bristling with advanced technology is anybody’s guess.
Quite naturally, at this point, I thought I had gone completely and utterly mad. As any psychiatrist will tell you though, this is a good thing. It means you still have “insight”. In other words, if you think you’ve gone insane then you most certainly haven’t. Insane people have no idea that anything is wrong with them.
So I went to my doctor and it turned out that the bang on the head had not rattled loose my marbles and nor did I have PTSD. I had plain old fashioned depression. It can strike some people that way apparently. We all have a hundred ridiculous thoughts every day and we normally just brush them aside or barely even notice we’re having them. But when some people get depression, they lose the ability to do that and obsess over them instead. My doctor also thought that, because my job was so spectacularly boring, my brain might just be inventing a more interesting reality for me to live in. So, he arranged for some talk therapy for me and after a few sessions, my therapist came to the conclusion that I didn’t need therapy. She said that I made sense of my world by writing about it. And that I needed to do that as much as I possibly could. Which is what I am trying to do now. As you can probably tell by the length of this post.
As I said at the beginning, all of this happened thirteen years ago, but this is the first time I have actually written it down. The reason I have been inspired to do this is because my pacemaker is being replaced in a few days. It’s not about to run out of battery life or anything but due to its age, it is the pacemaker equivalent of a Nokia 3310.
It’s a routine operation. There’ll be no gaping head wounds or straws shoved into holes in my neck. I won’t even be staying in the hospital overnight. I’ll also be awake for the whole thing so there will be no danger of me waking up to a Zombie Apocalypse like the other Mr Grimes in “The Walking Dead”. One or two zombies would be okay though. I like zombies. And if there’s a little bit of heroin available on the day to calm my nerves a bit, that would be awesome.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2016