About 7 years ago, I went to bed… woke up with terrible chest pains and thought I must be having a heart attack.
Penny rang the hospital “Hi, I have a 20 stone man with acute pains in his chest clutching onto a wardrobe… what am I supposed to do?” They assumed the worst and I had the full cardiac arrest treatment. The paramedics in the ambulance took it all very seriously. “ OK we’re going to check your pulse, hang on in there… pulse… is…perfect. OK lets check your oxygen levels…. 100%… OK… your…OK… so what your name.” I had no idea what heartburn was until then. I now know what it is and have had it a couple of times since, but at the time I thought I was dying.
They gave me a cup of something and it cleared the pain pretty quickly. I thought I’d never beat that for an overkill use of my local hospital services to cure a simple problem…
Never say never…
I left England the week after the Easter break. I had our new (old) Land Cruiser full of our kit as the rest of the gang were all flying to Croatia courtesy of the production company that flew us to exotic Manchester. I caught the 5.30pm ferry Thursday night and drove in France until 11.00ish, drove for around 15 hours the next day and around 15 hours the next, reaching Croatia after about 50 hours only leaving the jeep for calls of nature and to buy all the crap they sell in service stations to keep you awake. I probably ate more chocolate and crisps and drank more coke than I have ever done on a car journey. That’s because that was probably the longest car journey I have ever driven. I stopped to sleep, pulling the seat back and apart from that, drove all the way non stop.
That was until the radiator blew in Germany and I then had to stop at EVERY service station between Germany and Croatia. I pretended I was in the Grand Prix and timed my pit stops to keep me from going mad… but that’s another story.
I arrived on our little island of Vis in Croatia on the Sunday having waited 18 hours for the ferry on the mainland in the town of Split. We will stay on Vis now until the winter and have been there ever since, well… until today. We found somewhere to rent for 200 euros a month whilst we work out what we are going to do with our land and where and if we will buy some more to develop and ‘turn over’ at the end of the summer.
I had made a promise to myself on the way down here… whilst munching on the third bar of junk before 10.00am… ‘When I get to Vis, I am not going to eat any more chocolate, any crisps, any junk food!’ Yeah, I thought. ‘If ever I’m going to sort my diet out, now is the time to do it’.
I’ve kept to it.
I’ve not had a single bar. Not one… honest. I haven’t wanted one, it’s been great. We are trying to keep our costs down, as it’s nowhere as cheap here as it was in Sri Lanka where are budgets expected us to be. We have not bought any Coke, Seven Up, and anything that is full of sugar basically. We’ve all been eating healthy food, all the local produce of lettuce, tomatoes and well, lots of veg basically and not a lot else. We even gave up bread the other day; we’ve been like rabbits… on the eating side of things. I’ve been losing weight and we were given permission to build a house on our land yesterday and so everything was going sweet.
I have felt a bit dizzy now and again the last few days. I have had pins and needles in my right arm ever since it sat on the jeep door without moving for 50 hours. I have had the feeling of pressure on my chest and have been worried about my heart. I woke up in the night the other night with pains in my chest and a bit panicked that the only way off the island was by ferry the next day and there was no hospital on Vis.
Penny said it was probably indigestion (again) and I eventually got off to sleep. I still didn’t feel right the next day and went to the local doctors to check out exactly what sort of a set up they had there and if they had any idea what was wrong with me. I told them I had pains in my chest and they checked my heart on their… heart-checking machine. EPG I think is the technical term. “Your heart is OK, the results are fine, but you should go to Split on the mainland and have it checked out properly.” I left feeling OK and thought that I would go and have it checked the next time I go to Split, which would be in the next few days. I kept feeling dizzy, but thought nothing of it.
This morning I had no breakfast and went off into Vis town to get my radiator fixed. The first garage I went to looked at my jeep and said “ How old is this car?” “1990” “Mmmm, it is… a good car… but I suggest you buy a new one. No good for Croatia”.
Nice… The’ can do’ attitude is definitely lacking on Vis.
I dropped the jeep off and walked into town. I slowed down, I had time to kill. I was having a coffee with an old boy who was telling me about the old days on Vis and the way of life here now…and began to feel really dizzy. He had found someone who would listen to him and was not coming up for air…I had been straining my neck to look at him for half and hour without moving. I felt like I was going to pass out. I escaped by going off to the toilet. It was around 12.00 now and I walked along the quay, I felt really dizzy still, I could not shake it off. I went back and picked up the car. The ‘can do’ mechanic I eventually found had fixed it and so I started to head back up the hill to our village on the other side of the island.
The pass is steep and I was worried about feeling so dizzy and driving down the hairpin bends on the other side. I thought I’d stop at the top of the hill. I got out of the jeep, my head was swimming. I could not feel my mouth, I could not control my tongue, I thought I was going to pass out. I have never been knocked out or passed out… ever. When you have a 22-inch neck, you just really hurt in fights. I’ve never had my lights punched out and have always been really scared about passing out. Just as I thought, ‘I better ring Penny in case I pass out’, and was getting my phone out, my heart suddenly went BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG really quickly.
“Sasha… I think I might be having a heart attack!” “MUMMY, MUMMY DADDY… is …MUMMY daddy is having a heart attack… oh my god!” “BILL WHERE ARE YOU?” “I’m at the top of the pass, Penny. I don’t know what’s happening to me… F*$%&… I don’t like this! Get an ambulance or something!”
The guy with the JCB who is going to build a road to our land stopped in his big truck when he saw me and flagged down a car going to Komisha. “Can you get your self down to the doctors Bill?” “ Yeah a car has stopped… I’m coming down, go to the doctors, I’ll see you there.” I thought I was dying… it was really scary. I was so dizzy and my chest was hurting. My heart had stopped pounding but I was still really dizzy. The local boy took me to the doctors. I got out and could barely walk. They splashed water on my face to keep me conscious. “Come in here, we test your heart again.” The doctor who saw me the other day got on the phone and got another doctor to come down and see me. “It says you have had a small heart attack in the last few hours. Have you had pains in your chest” “Yes” “Have you had a heart attack?” “I don’t know, I don’t know what a heart attack feels like”. I explained what happened. “You have probably had a small heart attack in the last few hours. We need to get you to hospital”
The ferry is not until tomorrow now. ‘Shit’ I thought, this not good.
Penny began to look a bit worried, the BUPA numbers where sorted and she was on the phone. “ Don’t worry about that, we will get you to hospital” the doctor said. “The police boat will come for you”. The assistant made a quick phone call. “Ah, no police boat”. She made another call. “We have a helicopter coming from Split to pick you up, it will be here shortly”. “Penny, don’t worry about BUPA, I don’t think they will be able to do anything better than a helicopter…” “ BUPA are saying that you should not get in the helicopter until they know what is going on.” “Yeah, until they know they won’t have to pay for it! I’m going… forget them.” “OK, I guess your right”. I thought I must be in a bad way for them to get a chopper out for me. Maybe I’m going to have another heart attack.
“OK the ambulance is here to take you to the helicopter” We all piled in and Penny and the kids got out at the top of the hill to get the jeep and go off to buy a phone card. I felt like I did in the Tsunami… what will be… will now be… just keep cool and do your best to stay alive. “OK see you soon guys” and off we went. The helicopter was a lot newer than the one in Sri Lanka… it also had doors on it which was nice. I got in and as we lifted off I suddenly wanted to cry, ‘a trigger’ I thought. It’s reminding me of the Tsunami and, bollocks it’s not fair, I shouldn’t have to go through this again so soon. I can’t die now, now that I have been through so much to stay alive.
We gained height and again the land moved slowly below us with the defining noise of the blades BU BU BU BU BU BU’ing above us. I thought about the last time I was rushed to hospital for my heart and how it was all a waste of time.
Here was hoping…
These pilots would kill me if I just had indigestion though.
We where in Split in 15 minutes, normally a two and a half hour ferry ride. Another ambulance, then into a wheel chair, all along with a drip full of sugar in my arm. Straight into the hospital, straight past all the people in the waiting area looking at ‘who’s come in the helicopter… he must be real bad’ on went the EPG or ESG or what ever they are called. Those suckers, you know, the ones you see in the films when the guy is at deaths door in his hospital bed. The doctors all looked concerned.
I was shitting myself.
The nurse from the doctors in Komiza, our little village on the other side of Vis island who had come with me suddenly said “OK see you in Komiza” and disappeared. She had half an hour to catch the last ferry home. In went the needles, in went a new drip. Out went the blood sample… dam, that hurt. ‘Does any one speak English here’ I thought. What if I need an operation or something… no one will be able to tell me what’s going on. “ Hello I am doctor (can’t remember her name) we are going to do some tests and will see what is wrong with you.” “OK, great” ‘OK so someone speaks English’. “ What happened? How long has the dizziness being going on for? “ 10 days on and off, as long as I have been on the island” “ Have you changed your diet?” “Yes, no sugar, no… bad stuff” “ I see…we have done a check on your heart. The up and down squiggles on the piece paper held in front of me obviously meant something to her.
“Your heart is perfect. Where are you staying on Vis?” “Komiza” ‘Thank god for that! I’m not dying!’ “You have probably changed your diet and are low on sugar”… followed with the ‘and so instead of eating a chocolate bar to get your sugar levels back up, you press the panic button and get a helicopter to fly across the sea to get you…’ look.
“May be you have a problem in your chest. We will x-ray you”. The x-rays were fine… they all looked at each other and moved on to the next REAL problem.
I’m now sitting in a room writing this little tale waiting for the blood tests to come back. Once they are back we will know for sure… I think… and then I assume I go off and try and catch a ferry back to Vis. Only I think the next one is in the morning. Maybe they will keep me in for they night. Any way… I’m going to live. I have had one car ride, two ambulance rides, on helicopter ride, two EPG tests, and loads of blood tests for having low sugar levels in my blood. Nothing a bar or two of chocolate would have sorted out.
Still… nice to know the emergency services work on the island. I’ll see if I can beat that and get a war ship out for a bout of chronic wind next time. Mmmm…better watch the wolf factor hey…
Ah… docs come back… my sugar levels are OK now…they would be, having had sugar water pumped into me for the last few hours; heart’s OK, tests all look good. It’s ECG’s I’ve been having, not EPG’s. They don’t know why I’m still dizzy. I subtly hinted that I have not had any food or drink since twelve o’clock and is as 6.30pm now, which was probably not really helping the ‘why are you still dizzy tests’.
Just had dinner… pasta, bread and a slab of steak, followed by a jam donut and unsweetened yoghurt. They are taking me off to the eyes ears and throat hospital to check my inner ear. They obviously do not know why I am dizzy, but I’m feeling a lot better now. Now I’ve had something to eat.
I’m beginning to think my chest pains may be from climbing that tree the other day… to see what the view of the sea will be like from the second floor of the house we are going to build. Better not tell them about that before they do my ear checks… they might throw me out of here!
I stayed in the nose ward overnight being the ONLY person who did not have a tube coming out of one of my nostrils. I’m back on Vis now. I faxed my scans to BUPA in England and they recon I DID NOT have a heart attack.
I went back to the doctors and they made an appointment for me to be fully checked out in Split as I did not have all the tests done. I went back on Wednesday and stayed over another night. I had a running test I had a ultra sound test , I had another blood test. My heart is… bobro! ( Good). On arrival they wanted my BUPA no, for the insurance. On leaving, I was sent to the accounts department to give them my details. “You cannot use your insurance to pay. We just need your passport no. and you will have to pay in cash”. As she was writing out the bill I started to guess the total cost.
4 ambulance rides
3 different heart tests including an ultra sound and a stress test
2 nights stay over
1 helicopter ride
This could be real nasty…. I’ll just say I don’t have the cash and give them the BUPA no.
“That will be 43 kunas…”
Nice one. As anyone who’s children go to Aboyne Lodge will know, the value of getting a prompt reply to blood test can be huge. One of Sasha’s favourite teachers recently had a heart attack… and died whilst waiting for his blood tests to come back. Mr Swanson was a great guy and will be sadly missed by all.
Hope those pilots don’t live on Vis…