Sweet Dreams (Vinny and the Pacemakers.)

Look I’m going to go off one about myself here, something which may get your indulgencometers twitching pretty fiercely but I’ll risk that. (I generally do, right?) Because I’m hoping to say stuff which may encourage. And because space has opened up into which I can shake out some subversively anti-macho belief. Forgive me.

Seven years ago I went clunk; meaning that one minute I was standing calmly in my mother-in-law’s porch, contemplating that which needed to be gathered before driving the seven miles home, the next I was coming round on her cool floor, having slumped. Pre the faint, I was aware of a few seconds of building nausea, after it I emerged immediately, as if from a sweet dream to be fully conscious of an understandably shrill voice – one which I answered calmly, having already computed the need to gather and stand in as reassuring a way as I could. This was the first time my heart stopped on me.

About forty minutes later, with apparently great comic timing, I went again, mid-sentence, in my local surgery. This – and the third loss of consciousness which happened ten minutes afterwards – was significant because I was sitting/lying down at the time and therefore the body was effectively at rest… and yet clunk. I was well looked after (transferred by ambulance to hospital and monitored heavily for days) but at no stage had a renegade bleep been recorded on electrocardiograph or similar. So we knew bugger all.

Bizarrely, that day was my birthday and since that November 24th 2006 I have been well. I charge about the place and do sporty stuff. I climb mountains and throw myself about in the sea. I am either solidly philosophical or I fizz. It’s great.

Then Thursday night I am in my kitchen and suddenly there is the clear feeling I may be sick. I process the thought and the desire to walk to the back door to get some air or barf copiously over the honeysuckle. I don’t get there. I come out of another sweet dream, with my head ringing and my wife’s voice distant then near. “Rick? Oo bloody hell.” I am quite comfy, thanks but I am indeed sprawled on my back on the wooden floor, weirdly flattened out, a traumatised dog having vacated the space at my side. I am actually fine.

We call an ambulance, because of the history (my own, and the fact of my mighty father succumbing to cardiac arrest at 44.) Two friendly blokes in green medical overalls soon come and we fill them in, including the bit about not really ever getting a diagnosis previously. They listen politely enough, but fail to shake off the impression that some doctor’s lumped another waster upon them. The wife skilfully makes the case for a hospital transfer, however and they fall for it, eventually. I get in the bus happily, under my own steam, am wired up (fortunately) and promptly adopt ex-parrot mode. I come round to a triumphant grin from paramedic A, who froths with the following revelations;

“I know exactly what it is now mate! And it’s all on here!” (He points at the ECG.)

Being immediately again fully marbled-up, I am bloody chuffed. He begins to unravel the mystery but I go again, into that rather nice land – fecund and walnutty and shorn of advertising as I remember – where I nearly cobble together a worthwhile dream, I think… before coming back. By the time I am installed in Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest, Paramedic A has reported that a) I went 4 times altogether b) my record ‘pause’ was sixteen seconds and that c) he has never seen anything like it in 26 years. (Pride!)

Within two shakes, it is clear to all and sundry that I have something with a pet name of sick sinus syndrome (I think) and that this describes a failure of the sinoatrial node: fortunately a remarkable and temporary failure, as this aforementioned node is the baby that clicks its fingers to start the heartbeat. And mine er… like every seven years or so… takes a break… then comes back magnificently in sequence and in time. So it’s a no-brainer, apparently, that I get an ‘at rest’ pacemaker. I’m booted to Morriston, in Swansea and kitted out.

The procedure – like everything else, honestly – was fine. Except the surgeon geezer was a Bolton fan(!) and the radiographer Chelsea. Foolishly I joke throughout. This Bloke Who’s Hand My Life Is In a Bolton supporter? Bllood-dee Hell! So dodgy judgement and pitifully unable to hit the proverbial barn door from ten paces. How’s that gonna work? I expect to wake up with a sardine tin stapled to me chest and BWFC in four-inch stitches. In short, we ‘ave a laff. And on a more serious and genuine note, there is NO WORRY.

So look I’m a fit bloke for my age who suddenly has a pacemaker that rests at 50 per minute, will probably do bugger all for years but may save my life and/or the lives of those (god help them) within my sphere of influence. It kicks in if my heart suddenly kicks out. I will be able to get back to cricket coaching in about a month, once the wires from the sardine tin to the heart are embedded and unpulloutable. I will be able to do nearly everything; from the Vinny Wish List, only a Lions call-up is likely to be permanently struck. (But we’re okay in the half-back dept, anyway.) Things will again be wonderful. So… can I get to the girly bit now please?

If things had been just slightly different I coulda beena gonner, right? And I want to abuse the freedom that gives me to lecture you, sagacious reader, about deep, personal, meaningful shit. Like the fact(!) that I am clear that I have made it impossible for me to die Way Too Young because my dad did; and therefore I have been invincibly certain ever since the moment of my first difficulty that this cannot and will not happen either to me or my family. You can label that what you want; I call it belief.

Further, I don’t mind sharing the fact with you guys that I have spent more time kissing and holding my wife in the last 48 hours than I have for years. And that I have cuddled my daughter more. That I am refreshingly clear that my gals and my son (and our friends) are to be treasured every moment – every moment where possible – and that I urge you to let it be known and felt to all of those that you love that they are the essence of your life. Because they are. And that therefore life is wonderful. Do not make the mistake of assuming they know; show them/tell them and do it now… and now again. We all underachieve as givers-out of love; and there is nothing more urgent than that passing – that exchanging – of the pulse. Take it from me.

I am an atheist but this is by no means the main reason for living in the now. The moment is to be cherished and shared and pumped full of the pinky-reddiest goodwill we can muster. I reckon we know this, most of us but we are shamefully ungenerous or hesitant – especially us blokes, perhaps – when it comes to love.

It really is simple; we don’t need to get lost in shyness or neurosis; we just need to shove it out there! Gert big honest lumps of it. Warming swirls of it. Hilarious piles of it. There’s no great mystery or challenge – it’s only in Art that we rate it, dwarlings. So free yourselves. Love just needs to be real and to be out there. Go spread it.

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