From the Heart….


Basically, I am allowing a group of people I barely know to stick a very sharp pointy thing into the most precious thing I own – my heart – whilst drugging me with a chemical  used to kill prisoners by lethal injection on death row.

If they accidently make a mistake and one of a whole list of things go wrong, they assume no responsibility. It is my choice to take the risk.

Not only that, even if they do everything correctly it may nevertheless make things worse, and I may need to come back and let them do it all over again. And in turn, that may or may not work!

For this, the consultant gets paid a six figure sum out of the taxpayer pot and takes credit for any outcome that is succesful, but is completely blameless if it goes wrong, or it does not work out. He gets to do this hundreds of times a year. He is unlikely to see me again in the event of a bad outcome.

Great work if you can get it, I’d say!

Tomorrow is the day of my heart catheter ablation for paroxysmal arrhythmia and I am perhaps a little bit nervous…to say the least. Potential imminent death or trauma does funny things to the mind, no matter how minimal the risk.

The odds are stacked in my favour, but they have come down since I saw the cardiologist 18 months ago. Back then he was predicting an 80 to 90 per cent success rate (which even then seemed a bit risky!), but since then I have seen them drop to the point we are now looking at 40 to 50 per cent. How did that happen? Is this the NHS’s very own nudge unit, changing the message by stealth?

And because it is the NHS, they are concerned with process and outcome. I get the impression they trust the process implicitly, but have very little confidence of the outcome (and of course its me and my family who live with the outcome).

“This procedure was made for someone like you,” the consultant cardiologist told me boldly, with his support staff ranged along the back wall behind him.

By the time we were at the pre-op assessment two weeks ago I had been downgraded to a nurse consultation – a guy called Nick – and he was giving me all the bad news he could think of. Heart puncture, stroke, nerve damage, aneurysm, embolism, heart attack, deep vein thrombosis, even death. And by the way, you may well need a second one of these if we can’t sort things out first time.

Like many generally healthy, fit males of a certain age, I like to come across, especially in front of my wife and groups of strangers, as brave, confident, but accessible, and as is the modern way, able to be vulnerable and honest with my feelings.

This places an inordinate strain on the ethical, faith-led half of my brain which is generally screaming: “What are you talking about? This is incoherent and makes no sense whatsoever!”

The composure and calmness of those who are about to participate in this brutal experimental process simply adds to atmosphere of what appears to me to be excessive corporate denial. Do they really not understand that this is my heart they are playing with, not my little finger, and that it is NOT ok for the outcome to be anything other than perfect success and recovery?

I ring the thoughtfully named Arrhythmia Helpline this morning and predictably reach the answerphone and leave a message. The skin infection I had has been checked by the GP and will not be anywhere near the femoral vein where they plan to insert the wire into my body for the procedure to begin. Oh, and I had a touch of diarrhoea earlier in the week. Is this a problem?

Maybe they will call back. Maybe not. The waiting is attritional, and only bearable through focusing elsewhere. Work, family, practicalities.

Do I believe in God? Of course I do. But do I feel Him around and about while this is all going on. No I do not. That is why it is called faith. You do it anyway.

Tomorrow I will find out what is on the other side of this human drama. And where it is leading for the future. The hours are beginning to slow down, and the rain is starting to fall…

God bless the NHS!



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