My Boxing day walk today was extremely tough, not because of the terrain or weather but because yesterday I became a my very own pig in blankets. My body desperately wanted to rest this morning and let yesterday’s excesses settle down but I forced the backpack on and set out on an 8 mile walk door to door. This was to be an emotional trip down memory lane.
When I was in heart failure and deteriorating, I worked in Warley in Essex for a waste company as a database clerk. Most of the time, I drove from my house to office in a clapped out Ford Sierra but on the odd occasion when the car was not working I would take the train from Billericay to Brentwood and walk half a mile from station to the office. On the surface, this probably seems quite an easy task but standing in my way was Warley Hill. I remember taking it in stages, stopping dozens of time to get my breath back, gritting my teeth as the muscles in my legs screamed at me to stop.
Today, as you might expect, I positively bounded up the hill. The only thing slowing me down today were the tears running down my cheeks as I remembered how I desperately wanted to carry as normal – shirt and tie on but gasping for breath every 50 yards. Why didn’t I get a taxi? Why didn’t I take the bus? I didn’t want to give in and I believe that the determination to carry on as best as I could helped me both mentally and physically when transplantation reared its head. Even in end stage heart failure, I went for a one mile dawdle around the block every lunchtime. “I want to keep doing this, while I still can” was a phrase that I constantly said to myself.
I passed my old work and my previous life came back to me. I worked with some lovely people at Cleanaway who watch me get worse day by day but didn’t ever wrap me in cotton wool. As I stood looking at the offices, I remember the time when I got locked in the men’s toilet. The lock had got stuck and I didn’t have the strength to open it. Five men and a screw driver later, I eventually was released and walked back to my seat red faced not through embarrassment but in anger. Angry that basic strength was being taken away from me as my cardiac output lessened. Sometimes at work, while we were all tapping away on keyboards staring at our monitors, I would suddenly take a sharp intake of breath and grip the desk for dear life as my heart went into arrhythmia. I would feel the room disappearing, my heart pounding and my hands and fingers in agony as I held on. Luckily for my, the spurts of SVT never lasted longer than 5-10 seconds and I never lost conciousness. As this bizarre and quite common ritual was happening, I could feel my boss Chris Miller’s eyes looking at me and when it was over we would look at each other, not knowing what to say. I would say that I was OK, he would ask if I was sure and I would nod. Both of us would then turn back to the meaningless data on the screen and try to forget it happened.We were all made redundant from Cleanaway as two head offices merged and on my last day there, I knew that would be my last job. Nine months later I went on the transplant list.
I don’t really celebrate Christmas. For me, the best gift I have ever received is inside me….beating constantly at 60bpm for seven and half years and I have never got stuck in a toilet since! What could be better than that?