Speakers’ Corner – Reinventing Yourself

Head down, I trundled into the waiting room which was all grey and bland.

‘I recognise your face,’ said the nurse.

Startled, I lifted my gaze, ’oh yes, you were on the ward upstairs last time we met’.  I beamed back, the familiarity relaxing.

‘But you were here with, what was it, something to do with your heart.  Yes, a heart attack?’ he said.

‘Well, it’s my foot this time,’ relief sounding in my voice, ‘I don’t know what’s caused it, but I’ve had it for two weeks, and it’s bloody painful.’

Andrew, the nurse grinned, ‘socks and shoes off, and let’s have a look.’

I remembered Andrew, tall, early thirties with a shock of curly reddish blonde hair.  His reassuring tone was still there.  He was the Staff Nurse in charge of the ward at Mid Argyll Community Hospital, Lochgilphead when I was admitted with severe pains in my arm three years ago.  I knew what was happening as it wasn’t my first experience of a tightening of the chest.

Six years ago, I was in Kosice, Slovakia, waiting in the airport to fly back to Prague via Bratislava, when an ache in my chest intensified.  I put it down to the hangover from the night before with my team.  I was the Chief Executive of a food business made up of numerous factories based in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.  We finished our board meeting and had a meal at a picturesque lake in the hills.  The considerably younger group embarked on downing shots in one.  As has been my weakness, I joined in, so as not to lose face and wanted to ensure I could match the youngsters.  I did. When the whisky came out, they surrendered.  But I was in a state, that feeling of stupor where you can’t speak, or struggle to lift your head. 

I woke the next morning, probably still drunk, with a pain that felt like a needle being poked directly into my heart.  I wrestled to get in a comfortable position on the airplane back to Prague, but minute by minute, I knew there was something seriously wrong. I picked up my car and drove to Pilsen and to my flat.  I thought a good night’s sleep would magic the pain away.  It didn’t, and after a couple of hours, I arranged a flight home to Edinburgh the next morning.  Stupid I know, I should have taken myself to a hospital straight away, but I wanted to get home to be looked after by my ‘ain folk’.  Luckily, it worked out, I landed and was taken to The Royal Infirmary by Sue and that day I was given a stent.

‘Wiggle your toes,’ said Andrew, ‘does that hurt?’

‘Under my foot, on the second toe,’ I replied.

‘Let’s get an X-ray,’ he announced.

And within thirty minutes of me hobbling into the A&E at Lochgilphead, the x-ray was complete, and Andrew was going through the possibilities.  But it was just another wonderful experience I have had with NHS Scotland.  At every turn, I’ve met with concerned, caring, and efficient professionals.  The GPs are accessible and respond that day, and I’ve never had to wait on long waiting lists, whether it be at Oban, Paisley, or Glasgow with my various ailments over the last five years.  I just don’t recognise the commentary by some on the state of the health service.  Of course, I‘m sure it needs more money, but the inputs and outputs that I have experienced have been excellent.  From the administration to the care I’ve received, it has made me very proud of the NHS.

‘You were in a bad way, with your heart, if I remember right,’ said Andrew.

I nodded.

‘Didn’t you get airlifted to the Golden Jubilee?’

I smiled.

‘Exciting, but I can’t remember much, to be honest.’

‘What did you get done?’

‘I had another stent put in,’ I replied, my eyes cast down in embarrassment.

‘And you’ve been, ok?’ asked Andrew.

‘Well, yes, until this foot thing,’ I laughed.

My health has been better than ever, despite all the investigations and maladies.  My first heart attack forced me to review my life.  Travelling to Europe and sometimes making it home for weekends for over four years was not conducive to longevity.  I realised that it had to change.  And I did.  I stood down from my position and stopped drinking, not because I was an alcoholic, but because drinking binges weren’t good for my health.  I haven’t touched a drop for six years.  These decisions were far-reaching for Sue and me.  We opened Powdermills Bed& Breakfast and now we live on the west coast and enjoy the Argyll community. In some ways, the heart scares have been the best thing to happen to me, odd as that sounds.

‘You run that B&B at Furnace, don’t you?’ asked Andrew.

‘Yes, in our fifth year, and we’ve had a record April,’ I replied with pride.

‘And what about you?  You’re no longer on the wards?’

‘No, I decided to study to become an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, in fact, I’ve got an exam tomorrow.’

‘All the best,’ I said, ’and do you study at the University of Highlands and Islands?’

‘Yes, ‘I see you have a UHI sweatshirt on?’ asked Andrew.

‘I looked down,’ yes, I’m now into my third year of a Creative writing course.’

‘Life is about stretching yourself, being the best version of yourself,’ said Andrew.

‘I agree, it’s about reinventing yourself throughout your life,’ I said.

‘There is no stress fracture,’ said Andrew scanning his computer screen. ‘I’ll take some bloods as a precaution.  The results will be back on Friday at your GP.  But in the meantime, you need to rest and put your feet up.’

I turned to Sue,’ did you hear that?’

She grimaced with a smirk breaking out.

‘Standing still is not our lifestyle anymore, too much to do,’ chuckled Sue.