Death the stalker

I have always coped with Life’s difficulties with a fair deal of denial. It works well for me. If there is a job to be done or a difficult patch of life to get through, then I buckle down to it and do the task. But if there is a degree of discomfort or stress I can disassociate fairly easily – “It isn’t happening to me”.

And so when I suddenly discovered just before Christmas Eve last year, that my pulse rate had dropped to 35 I immediately assumed that the monitoring machine that I use for blood pressure measurement just needed new batteries. I replaced the batteries with new ones and the reading was still 35. I called my son, tested the machine again and it was behaving normally.

That left only one conclusion that my pulse rate was indeed low. I didn’t become alarmed, although I was finding if I walked more than a few meters I became a little breathless. But there were too many things to do – I stood in a queue to pay my phone account and drove to the mall.

Only on the following day after a dentist refused to work on me did I think I had better see a doctor. The doctor gave me an ECG and diagnosed a heart block. He referred me to a specialist who booked me in to hospital and so I was whisked off to Cardiac ICU. The heart normally beats with both chambers “doef-doef” and only my top chamber was beating “doef”.

I still didn’t feel particularly worried as the denial was still strong. It gave me a kind of strength despite being hooked up to one of those fancy monitoring screens via many suction cups. I never felt I was not going to make it through. It was more of a worry to my dear family who had to endure seeing me in an ICU when I had never been to hospital before.

The procedure to insert the pacemaker was interesting. My head was turned to one side and a screen put in place so I could not breathe over the site of the cut on my left upper chest. A cold and delicious chemical was poured in my veins from the drip and I suppose there were a few local injections. I felt the tugging, pulling and pushing and the wires being inserted into a vein to reach my heart. The cardiologist took a long time to persuade the wires to turn the right way – they kept on turning up to my brain. It is apparently like threading a soft noodle and requires some skill.

Two months later I can say that I feel better than I have for years. I still have discomfort in certain positions from the physical device sitting just on my pectoral muscle. But in retrospect I realise that I was slowly winding down with less oxygen being supplied to the system.

I saw the cardiologist 2 days ago and the pacemaker technician. All is well and I just have to have annual checks as my heart is in good shape.

Why does the heart lose electrical communication between the two chambers? None of the experts know exactly. But i plucked up the courage to ask my cardiologist what could have happened to me without the pacemaker. He looked at me with eyes which have seen a lot and he said quietly that my heart could have failed or I could have continued with a very quiet sedentary kind of existence.

That is why I chose the alarmist title for this post. Death does not always announce itself with a fanfare or a sudden stabbing pain – it can stalk you with the cunning of a hunter.

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Road rage

I had an incident of road rage this morning. A taxi-bus stopped for a passenger and left the rear half of the bus obstructing my lane when it was really easy to get into his lane out of the way. I was startled by the sudden stop and enraged by the carelessness of the driver. So I hooted long and loud and pantomimed the action of getting out the way. The taxi driver looked round nonchalantly, with the air of “Why are you fussing?”, but he did move out of the way.

This was small incident in the daily attrition of traffic and I have had far worse incidents, including a near miss through a red robot (traffic light for non-South Africans). Once I had recovered from the raised pulse and beating temple, however, I did wonder why road rage affects us.

It is more than irritation. It is more than fright and adrenaline from being at risk. Perhaps it is a reminder that beneath the thin veneer of civility, below the belt of rules and regulations, there is a bloody and ancient shared history and knowledge of wars, of pitched battles and wailing children, widows tearing their hair and mourning, massed armies on the horizon and the dread of conflict and death.

In our vehicles we wield frightening powers of force and energy. We become demi-gods in a criss-crossing battlefield filled with imminent death. Little wonder that the wrath of righteousness is close beneath the surface.

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