If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Actually, that statement’s not true but it is how I felt Wednesday afternoon. Just as John McClane picked a bad day to give up smoking, so was Wednesday the worst possible day to wake up with debilitating chest pain and be coughing blood. In case you don’t live in Britain and are not aware, Wednesday was the junior doctors’ strike.
People were protesting Jeremy Hunt’s contract outside the hospital entrance as I staggered into A&E. Inside, people with various ailments were packed like sardines. Some patients with cannulas held their own IV bags as there weren’t enough stands to go round. In triage a medic apologized to me for the wait. She explained that with the strike there was only one surgical doctor in the hospital that day. It was plain to me that present staff were clearly working overtime.
I was relieved when I finally saw the doctor who had not only the same surname as my mother but also the same comforting kindness. When I explained to her that I was suffering from crushing chest pain that radiated round my back, she ordered an x-ray and a full blood panel.
Not long after a trip to the radiology department, a nurse named Nadine was giving me an injection in my stomach and telling me I was to be admitted. She put me in a bed and hooked me up to oxygen as my levels were low. As I lay there in a bay sectioned off by a paper curtain, I was too distracted by the sounds around me to read.
A woman was being sick in a nearby bin. Around the corner, Evangelicals prayed at top volume and sang hymns to their afflicted. The shadows of their waving hands sailed up and down the bit of corridor I could see. And in the distance, a drunk man named Jim shouted abuse at everyone around him and dared them to call the cops.
This cacophony was drowned out though the moment the doctor pulled back the curtain and said she suspected a blood clot in my lungs. Suddenly all I heard was Fantine’s voice in my head except it was my own. Tell Cosette I love her and I’ll see her when I wake.
My mind began to race. I thought about how before school that morning I promised my daughter I’d play Candy Land with her when she got home. I felt terrible for not being able to make good on my word and I felt worse still that I wouldn’t be home to read her a bedtime story that night either. I wondered if non-British citizens were allowed to be buried in British cemeteries. I struggled to recall the details of the life insurance policy my husband and I had. I wondered if he noticed we were out of ham and that Helena would need something else for lunch tomorrow. Eventually I quieted my thoughts the same way I did when I was a child and couldn’t sleep. I sang Blue Shadows to myself.
The next day’s CT scan showed I didn’t have a blood clot in my lungs so much as I had multiple blood clots and on both sides of my lungs. I’m told it’s treatable but that I am at risk of having a stroke. On one hand it’s nice to understand why I’ve felt so terrible. On the other, I hate knowing the only reason I lost half a stone in 4 days was because I’m actually quite ill. My treatment will last about four months during which time I’ll be on anticoagulants to stabilize my clots. I was warned the drug I’m taking will render me like a haemophiliac so I’m to take extra precaution not to cut myself. Dihydrocodeine has been prescribed for the pain.
Considering the circumstances of Wednesday, I feel extremely lucky and grateful for the NHS who even on an understaffed strike day made sure I was properly seen to and diagnosed. If it weren’t for their thoroughness I could have died. Americans who are scared of socialized health care, don’t be.
My husband, Henry, has been a hero. He has essentially been a single parent for weeks while the GP has struggled to find out what’s wrong with me. He has also been a loving partner and the ultimate calm in spite of this storm. Helena has lavished me with love and comes home every day with little smashed flowers in her pockets that she picks on the walk home from school. I keep them next to my bedside next to the picture of me holding her when she came down with flu during the Mad Hatter’s tea party we had to celebrate her second birthday.
If you know me you know that most days I wear pearl earrings. Recently as I was hacking and crying, Helena waited until I caught my breath again and brought them to me. “Here, mommy.” I put them on and changed out of my polka dot pajamas. She was right. Reinstating this little bit of normalcy did make me feel better. I think it made us both feel better. As did the cashmere dress I paired with a fur stole and a flick of black eyeliner. My mama always said no one should have to look exactly how they feel. Or as one of my friends has put it, “A little powder, a little paint, makes a woman what she ain’t.” Some days this isn’t feasible, but on that one it was.
I think you’ll understand when I say I’m going to post here even less than usual. Believe me, nothing I’m eating these days is worthy of being recorded–a teaspoon of Marigold powder in a cup of boiling water, half a banana, oat cakes, a bit of roast chicken and soft prunes. I know, try not to be jealous. Actually that’s not entirely true. Today, I had some fortifying noodle soup at Tonkotsu and the weekend before I went into hospital, I made Claire Ptak’s egg yolk chocolate chip cookies. Some of the dough is still in my freezer. Hopefully just like the peonies of late spring, I’ll be back and full of color soon.