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The Shock (Part 2)

Dr. Walsh and Rhona have just told me that I need surgery. I’m stunned. For the first time in thirty years, I’ve to go under the knife. A bomb has gone off in my head. What if it goes wrong? What if there are complications? What if I have a stroke, heart attack, cardiac arrest? Jesus, what if I die…? This will be the first operation for anyone in my little CHD crew since a dear friend of ours died the previous December, just ten months before. Dr. Walsh assures me that he will carry out the surgery. To be frank, I couldn’t care less if Jesus Christ himself was doing the operation. I. Am. Terrified. The operation to implant the defibrillator is pencilled in for Wednesday, 15th October, less than two weeks away. I immediately say no. Rhona gives me the eyebrow. Dr. Walsh gives me both eyebrows. “No! What do you mean no?” I don’t think consultants are used to be being told no. I explain that the Heart Children Ireland AGM will take place on Saturday, 18th October and I, as chairperson, must attend. “What!” Dr. Walsh is clearly exacerbated. We are both very stressed. “We could do it the week after, couldn’t we Kevin?” Rhona defuses the tense situation. He agrees. “But the operation goes ahead on the 22nd, no later,” he insists. “After the 18th, you can do whatever you want with me.” I say, voice cracking with emotion.

Rhona, seeing that I’m about to make a break for it, says that she’ll be in touch. I glance around the room as I leave, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. Frantically running out of the now empty waiting room, passed the lift and straight down the stairs. Tears start to blur my vision. The reception is empty now. Leaving the building, the door slams behind me. Leaning against the brick wall, I stare at the darkening sky. Breathing quickly and heavily, at last I begin to calm down. I compose myself, take off my glasses and dry my eyes. Things are clearer, but I need a drink. The nearest pub will do. I want to avoid my usual haunts, to be alone, to process everything that is floating around my head.

Looking around the pub, I recognise some of the patrons as hospital staff. Almost all doctors. Paying for my pint, I say to the barman that we are probably the only people in the bar that aren’t doctors. “Speak for yourself, pal!” He says in that wonderfully surly tone of distain that all good bartenders of a certain age have. I take an empty seat at an empty table which faces the rest of the pub. Drinking the pint in large mouthfuls, it’s gone in a matter of minutes. I look at the barman and he puts on another pint for me with a nod. He knows his customers, regular or stranger.

Mulling things over, questions fly around my head. What if I refuse the operation? Will that mean I’m off the service? If the medication isn’t enough anymore, what will be the outcome? Heart attack? Cardiac arrest? Stroke? My God, how long would I have left? I’m only 32. Some questions of course are more rational than others. What if the operation is a success? Will I have more energy? Will I be able to reduce the amount of medication I take? Will this be the only surgery I need?

Despite the queue at the bar, the bartender brings the pint over to me. “There y’are, son,” he can tell something isn’t right. “Did one of dem doctors give you bad news around in the vets?”  (The vets : Dublin slang for a hospital.) I nod and sigh a weak, yeah. “Well look it, aren’t you’re in the best hands?” He says. And do you know what? He’s right. Dr. Walsh and his team are the best there is. I put my life in his hands then, at least twice since and I’d do it again in a heartbeat (pun intended) if he said that I needed more surgery. We are blessed with the cardiac services and the expertise we have in both hospitals.

My second pint is a much more relaxed affair. I finish up and head off for the most difficult part of the day. Telling my family….

Be Kind to Yourself

Jim Blog
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