I should have known something horrible was gonna happen that day - October 5, 2002. Why? For starters I was wearing my undies inside out, and secondly there was a hole in the bum, all of which [unbeknown to me at the time] was about to be SEEN by a FEMALE nurse! Eeek!
My friend Steve Starling was in town. We hadn't seen each other for some years, and he was unaware that I now lived in Taree. So my plan was to cycle down to the Manning River where he was involved in a national fishing competition, and say g'day.
On the way, I saw a kid walking toward me. It was Luke; wearing a huge grin which when translated said, "Hahahaha! You can't touch me, and neither can the cops! I'm untouchable! I'm too good!"
STRESS!!! Everytime I saw that kid treating me like a joke I stressed out big time.
Ten minutes later I'd arrived at the weigh-in area of the fishing comp. Steve was still a few yards offshore in his boat, waiting for his turn to be called in. At that stage, I was standing alongside my bike and watching the proceedings. Suddenly, I felt a dull, nagging pain in my chest. After a few minutes, I moved to one side of the crowd, leaned my bike against a wall, and sat down. I could hear Steve's name being called. He was about to be interviewed on stage. I wondered if I should try to walk those 20 yards to say hello, or enter the Aquatic Club just behind me to ask for help. My strength was fading rapidly, and I knew I was in big trouble.
When I got inside the club, there were only a few people there. Most were outside at the weigh-in. I had to find somebody fast... before I collapsed. I staggered towards a person, tapped them on the shoulder, said something about needing help, then fell into a chair at a vacant table. Perspiration poured off me, and I became very anxious and distressed. "An ambulance is on its way," somebody said.
I wasn't thinking about dying, only about getting rid of the crushing pain in my chest. And as I sat there - being avoided by people, except for one person who gave me a glass of water, then disappeared again because they were probably frightened that I'd die in their arms or whatever - I kept glancing at the glass front doors of the club hoping to see the ambulance. Minutes seemed like hours as I continually used my fingers to comb the perspiration through my drenched hair. Where the fuck were they? "They won't be long now," someone said. Yeah, right. How the fuck did they know? Maybe they gave the hospital the wrong address or something. Maybe the ambulance had been involved in an accident.
FINALLY! The sight of that white and red ambulance through the glass doors was heaven on a stick. A minute later, two ambos approached me, wheeling a stretcher. "Chew this." It was a lemon-flavored, dissolvable aspirin tablet. But I felt nauseous. "Have you guys got a bucket or something?" After I'd chundered into the bucket [provided by the club] the ambos wanted to put an oxygen mask over my face. "No way! I've got snot and spew all over my face. You guys got a tissue or something?" The club came to the rescue again, so I blew my nose and cleaned my face before accepting the oxygen.
Once I was on the stretcher, an ambo placed an anginine tablet under my tongue, and told me to just let it dissolve.
By the time we'd reached the ambulance parked outside the main door, a crowd had gathered. "Move out of the way, please." It occurred to me that Steve Starling, who was a journalist, could have a real scoop here. "Hey, somebody get Steve! He'll have his camera with him. He can take some pics of me dying while he's accepting some fishing trophy! What a great story!"
"You've got other things to worry about, Mr Kelly. You've just had a heart attack."
"Just take it easy."
A soon as I reached the emergency area of the local hospital, people came outta the woodwork. At least a dozen nurses, doctors, and other specialists were all over me. "What's your name?" "Date of birth?" "Address?" The same questions were asked over and over by various people. "Where do you feel the pain?" "On a scale of 1 to 10, describe the intensity of the pain." "Has the pain reached your arms or your jaw?" "Have you experienced a heart attack before?" "Are you a smoker?" "Have you been to this hospital before? Are you a diabetic? Are you allergic to anything?"
And while faces kept coming into focus inches from mine, introducing themselves, then explaining what they were going to do to me, I began to feel anxious and distressed again. I wanted to sit up. I wanted to move into a more comfortable position. I wanted the pain to go away. "More morphine." God knows how many times someone said, "more morphine".
"I'll be away with the pixies if you keep sticking that stuff into me."
"No you won't be with the pixies, Mr Kelly. We're just trying to rid you of the pain and settle you down."
I couldn't believe what was happening to me. Wires leading from all over my body into machines. A hole in my hand with a tube stuck in it. An oxygen mask over my face. Some dude with a big machine on wheels asking me to lay still for a while so he could take a pic - presumably an x-ray. "Breathe in and hold your breath."
"Would you like to see a priest?" one nurse asked. A priest? What the hell for? I responded immediately with "No, thanks". So much for my Catholic upbringing.
Eventually, after a truckload of morphine, more questions, and more puking, I began to calm down. But there were still more faces peering at me. Still more introductions. Still more "I'll be doing this or that, Mr Kelly". Then somebody said, "His color's come back. He doesn't look so bad now." Oh, really? How bad did I look? I found out later that I'd been an ashen gray color. Whoa! I remembered the way my dad had looked when he had his heart attack at age 64. He was ashen gray and looked like he had no hope of surviving, but he did.
I handed one of the nurses my digital camera. "Will you take a pic of me?"
"What for? Why on earth would you want a photo of this?"
"Hey, how many times am I gonna look like this again? This is history in the making!"
I was wheeled into a ward with a view, but not before I'd been wheeled backwards along several corridors. Now that's something to experience... being wheeled backwards while watching the wheeler in front of you.
Ooer! My own room! Critical Cardiac Care on the top floor. After a while, the pain had subsided to something more of an annoyance than anything hurtful. By 12 hours, it had gone completely. I was outa there, right? Nope. "You'll be here for five days."
"Five days? I can't be here for five days. I'm a carer. I've got people to look after. And there's my web site. I need to let people know what's happening."
"You need to relax. You need to rest your heart. You've had an acute myocardial infarction."
"I've had a what?"
"Who's your next of kin?"
"Don't worry about all that bullshit. I don't want anyone fussing. Just phone home and let the guys know what's happened and that I'll be home shortly."
"Do you need anything?"
"Yeah, tell Lindsay to visit me... to bring a few things... undies, track pants, shirt, whatever. And my mobile [cell] phone. I need to call some people."
"Sorry. Can't have mobile phones in hospital. They interfere with the sensitive electrical equipment."
"So how am I supposed to let people know what's happening? You won't let me outa bed. I feel fine!"
"How did you feel before the infarct?"
"The heart attack."
"Fine. I was feeling just fine. Oh... I see what you mean. But, really, I feel OK now. I thought this whole heart attack thing was gonna be like here Mr Kelly, take these pills and go home."
"I'm afraid it's not that simple. Part of your heart has been damaged because of a clot that prevented oxygen from getting to the muscle tissue. And there are tests we need to do... lots of tests. Meantime, you're not out of the woods yet. The next 36 hours will tell. The possibility of your having another attack is quite high. You need to rest."
Woods? What woods?
Rest? That's all I did for two days. Rest, rest, rest, rest, rest - in between getting my arm stabbed repeatedly for more blood tests, or having my intravenous drips replaced, or having electrocardiograms [ECGs], or having my blood pressure taken. The only highlight was discovering that my undies were inside out and had a hole in the butt when a nurse had to wash my back. How embarrassing! And the urine bottle? I didn't trust the damn thing. OK, so it looked like it was designed in such a way that a guy could pee in bed without making a mess, but what if I made a mistake or something? This was all new to me. I'd never been in a hospital before, except to visit. I hadn't even been born in a hospital!
Late at night, I made my first attempt at peeing into a bottle. All lights were out, but I could still see OK. Like I said, I didn't trust the bottle, so I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. That wasn't so easy cos I had a whole bunch of tubes attached to me, including one stuck up my nostrils for a continuous supply of oxygen. Then, with some difficulty, I peed into the bottle. Oops! "Great timing," I said as a nurse suddenly plunged the room into blinding white light upon entering.
"Are you using the bottle?"
"I'll be back in five minutes."
What was it about Murphy's Law that made things go wrong at the worst possible time if they possibly could? Anyway, when the nurse returned I got a huge lecture about laying STILL in bed and using the urine bottle the way it was designed to be used.
I had no complaints about the nursing staff, though. They were fantastic, and treated me very well. I was also surprised about the quality of the food. It was quite good. Gone were the days of hospital 'slop'.
On my first night, I was advised by a young nurse not to eat dinner if I wasn't feeling too well. I took her advice, and settled for a cup of tea. Next day, a patient with a similar story to mine was admitted. I watched him in the next room eating a full meal. Hours later, he was feeling chest pains again, and vomiting. Silly boi.
When Lindsay visited on day two, he brought a notepad and ballpoint pen with him. I gave him step by step instructions on how to access a particular window on my computer [which was still turned on] so that he could get Cape Town Steve's email addy, which I would pass on to my older bro, who would email Steve about my condition. Steve would then tell everyone else, including Halien who had technical access to my web site. Halien would place a small message on the Navigate Page to let everyone know that I'd be back on deck in some days. Yeah, right. What do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men?
On day three, I ignored the medics' advice and went walkies. I felt OK, and was strong in the limbs. I showered on my own, taking my friend with me everywhere I went - a tall, metal thing like a hat rack on wheels, upon whose branches the plastic bags of intravenous medicines were hanging. I was being fed all kinds of things... things to dissolve blood clots, things to ease pain, and whatever else. Yes, I'd already suggested a bag of chardonnay be added to the concoction but they refused.
The head cardiac doc was very impressed with me. "You say the pain ended after 12 hours and you have had no more? No pain at all! Amazing. But you are healthy. You are fit, you ride a bike, and you are a non-smoker."
The dude had this image of me in his head that he was determined to preserve. I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I was an EX-smoker, not a NON-smoker, but he wouldn't listen. I rode my bike infrequently. I wasn't a serious cyclist. But he wouldn't listen. His eyes glazed over or he changed the subject whenever I tried to enlighten him. So I just shrugged and accepted whatever he had to say, which included suggesting that I be flown to Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital for an angiogram.
He had to be kidding, right? I just wanted to get outa there and back home. I didn't need all this shit. Especially after the nurse told me that my older bro had phoned, and hadn't understood a thing Lindsay had tried to tell him about Steve's email addy over the phone.
So on day three while I was up and about, I decided to take advantage of being on my feet. I phoned Lindsay, talked him through the computer thing [with frustrating difficulty], and finally got Steve's email addy. Sue wanted to say hello, but didn't understand that I was using the hospital's reception phone. "Hi, Sue. Gotta go. Bye!" Then I phoned my bro, and gave him the addy. "Just let Steve know how I am, and ask him to pass on the news, especially to Halien who's my techie. He can add an explanatory note to my Navigate Page." Little did I know then that my bro got one letter wrong in Steve's email addy, and Steve never received the message.
At the end of my three day stay in Manning Base Hospital, about 4pm, two ambos arrived in my room, ready to take me to Taree airport. I didn't want to go to Sydney, and I didn't want an angiogram [whatever that was], and I didn't want my life to be in such a disorganized mess. But what could I do? Other people were pulling the strings.
I'd been asked if I wanted any medication to soothe my nerves. Nerves? What nerves?
"Are you nervous about flying?"
"Not at all. Do you know something that I don't? I thought I would be flying to Sydney in a chopper."
"No... fixed wing. An air ambulance. Just the pilot, a nurse, and you. Are you sure you don't want something to relax you? You've had a heart attack, and you need to keep your blood pressure down."
"I'm fine. If I can handle a heart attack, I can handle anything."
On the drive to the airport, one of the ambos sat in the back with me and chatted away about life in the country as opposed to life in the city. I found myself remembering life as a kid when suburbia wasn't so crowded, and I could ride my bike to the local creek. Yeah, it was all so simple back then.
The left-hand side [or should that be port side?] engine of the Cessna 340 took several attempts to get started. Hello? What was the story here? I could survive a heart attack but not a plane crash? Jeez. And all the while, the nurse was asking me if I was nervous about flying, and if was I feeling OK.
"Sure, I'm feeling fine, and yes I've flown many times before... including in a Cessna owned by an undertaker. It was used by the local skydiving school, and flew without a side door or rear seat."
"I'll take your blood pressure."
She must've taken my blood pressure a million times during the one hour flight. She was more worried about me than I was. One time I scratched my chest, and she thought I was suffering chest pains hehehehe. She was freaking big time. Eeek!
The flight was quite pleasant... a little bumpy here and there, but generally smooth. The first thing that impressed me was how soon the craft was airborne. None of that lumbering down the runway for ages trying to lift several hundred tons into the air. Maybe 10 or 15 seconds then up, up, and away!
The advantage of flying in light aircraft was that they cruised at maybe 6,000 feet so you got a pretty good view of what was below... little townships or miles of uninhabited forest... meandering roads and rivers, lakes, open cut mines, all sorts of interesting things. And the question that kept popping into my head when I saw an isolated farmhouse or small township in the middle of nowhere was, "How on earth did those people find that place in the first place?"
We landed in blustery conditions at Bankstown Airport, Sydney's second airport. The wings were rocking back and forth as we approached, but it didn't bother me. Obviously didn't bother the pilot either cos he made a perfect landing, unlike another small plane that had severely damaged its undercarriage. We learned later that a trainee pilot had attempted a tricky maneuver in the high winds and buggered it. No damage to the trainee or trainer, but the plane wasn't looking too good.
Bankstown Airport had special memories for me. I used to ride my bike there as a kid. It also featured in the story I wrote about meeting Cody/Kyle when we were both the same age. These days, Bankstown was much more sophisticated and, although not Sydney's premier airport, had the largest number of annual aircraft movements. I was glad to see that there were still the old DC3s that I remembered with great fondness, and even a 4-engined Lockheed Constellation named "Connie" What a marvelous old girl!
With all the new [or relatively new] tollways and ringroads around Sydney, the drive to Royal North Shore Hospital at St. Leonards was a piece of cake. No traffic snarls, no traffic lights... just whoosh! Incidentally, I travelled by ordinary passenger car, not by ambulance. But I was made to sit in a wheelchair while I was taken through emergency, then to my allotted ward.
"Jeez. I hope nobody I know recognizes me in this damn chair!"
Royal North Shore Hospital is one of Australia's most famous, particularly for its specialist heart care. It has a staff of about 5,000 with about 2,000 on duty at any one time.
Michael introduced himself. "I'm your sister for tonight." It seemed rather odd to me that male nurses were referred to as 'sisters' but, hey, whatever. We had a little confrontation at first. "You showered today? By yourself? You don't belong in this ward! You're not sick enough for this ward! You'll be moved to another ward later." But by the time 'later' had arrived, we'd become quite friendly. He brought me sandwiches and tea [cos I'd arrived too late for regular dinner]. And he told me about his career. He was a qualified nurse but was now studying to be a doctor as well. "Would you like hospital pyjamas?"
"No, it's OK. I'll sleep in my trackies."
"Fine. You're the one who's stuck in hospital, and you're the one who needs to feel comfortable. Would you like another cup of tea? It'll be your last before the angiogram tomorrow. You'll need to fast until then."
"That'd be great."
"And do you mind if I ask you a favor? That pain in your stomach. Do you mind if I check it out? It'll help me with a paper I'll be doing."
"Sure. Go ahead." Actually, he gave me the whole checkout routine, tapping here and tapping there... checking ribs and whatever else. Yeah, he was a nice guy. Later, he took a blood sample.
At about 11pm, I was woken by a guy with an electric razor. Five minutes later, half my pubes had gone. "Are you gonna save those so that you can stick 'em back on after the op?"
"No, sir, we don't save the pubic hair."
So much for my joke. Anyway, I was greeted by another two nurses, one of whom took my blood pressure, then another blood sample. "The guy who shaved my pubes... is that all he does around here?"
"Oh, no. He does lots of things."
"I was just wondering... and imagining what he would write on forms as his main occupation... pube shaver."
Next morning, I was moved to another ward in readiness for an angiogram. There were three other guys in the ward, two around the 70 mark and one in his early 50s.
By this stage, I was no longer on oxygen, but I was still being monitored by a machine for pulse and whatever else, and I was still being fed drip medication. Some people arrived to tell me that I'd be having an angiogram later that day, probably about midday. Yeah, I was beginning to get a bit nervous about the idea.
At about 1pm, two male nurses arrived. Time for the angiogram. The female nurse who'd been looking after me that morning said I'd be outa there in half an hour. Yeah, right. I was wheeled into a large room where a strange machine was suspended from the ceiling. [The pic on the left was the best I could find]. A doctor with an accent I couldn't identify [perhaps Spanish or Portugese] spoke to me. "Do you understand what an angiogram is?"
"Yes... I've read all the material, and had things explained to me by the nurses."
"There's a certain risk factor in this procedure. During the angiogram and any subsequent procedure, the possibility of your having another heart attack, heart failure or stroke is about one in a thousand. Are you prepared to accept that?"
"About the same as winning on the horses? I've rarely won on the horses."
Then he gave me a form to sign, declaring that I understood and consented to undergo the procedure, and indemnify the hospital and its staff. A technician placed pads on various parts of my body, and connected them to a heart monitor. There were about 5 or 6 people involved in the operation.
I had to slide from the hospital bed onto a narrow table situated below a large camera-head supported by a moveable, hinged, mechanical arm. The whole space-movie-like contrapation was pretty daunting from my perspective. The next thing I noticed was that the machine was manufactured by Toshiba.
To one side of the camera was a bank of TV monitors that the doctors used to follow the progress of a procedure. Gary's ticker on the tube! Live! Woohoo! Well, hopefully live.
I'd already had God knows how many needles stuck in me over the past four or five days, and been warned each time that it would hurt. But the pain never bothered me. I'd learned to accept it. But this one? The one in my groin? YEEEOOOWWWW!!! I'd been warned about that one, too, and figured the nurse was just being melodramatic when she said that it would hurt like hell. What really began to bother me, though, was the way the machine kept hovering a few inches above me like some mini spaceship, darting from one side of my chest to the other, tilting, hovering, and taking pics of my heart from various angles.
"Take a deep breath. Hold it. OK, breathe out." I was given that instruction several times as the camera did its spooky thing.
From time to time I'd glance at the TV monitors and see weird images on the screens... like stringy worms wriggling about. That was me?
After about 30 minutes, the doc said that they'd discovered a narrowing at the end of the left cardiac artery. He said they would go ahead and perform coronary angioplasty. I pretty much knew what it meant, so I just nodded.
I expected the procedure to be pretty quick but it wasn't. The doc kept giving orders to the other dudes in the room... something about the size of the balloon-tipped catheter or the coronary stent or whatever. In between fiddling around with my arteries, they were making jokes about this and that. I wondered if their jovial chatter was meant to put me at ease; to give me the impression that everything was going smoothly. But I was more concerned about the burning and somewhat painful and disconcerting sensation in my chest. I remembered what the doc had said not all that long ago. "The possibility of your having another heart attack, heart failure or stroke is about one in a thousand." Was that what was happening to me? It didn't feel as bad as the pain I'd felt when I'd suffered the initial attack, but it was still worrying me. So after about 15 minutes of major discomfort, I decided to speak up.
"Excuse me, but what am I supposed to be feeling in my chest right now?"
"Oh! Sorry! Yeah, you'll be feeling chest pain. Are you OK?"
"Apart from a burning sensation, yeah, I think I'm OK."
The burning sensation, I discovered later, was just the reaction to my artery being inflated, and the stent being inserted. But quite apart from that, the MONSTER TOSHIBA was intimidating me like you wouldn't believe. It had been designed by scientists - not patients - that was for sure.
By 2:15pm it was all over. THANK CHRIST! From about 1:45 to 2:15 the minutes had begun to crawl... agonizingly slowly. I was becoming quite agitated and distressed. I was even tempted at one stage to tell them to down tools and forget the whole damn thing. I learned later that one patient a day or two ago had done exactly that... freaked and refused the treatment.
Getting from the table back to my hospital bed wasn't so easy. I was warned to keep my right leg straight so that I wouldn't upset the wound to my artery. Then I was wheeled back to the ward, where I was told to lay flat. After half an hour or so, the burning in my chest had subsided and I was fine again, except for laying FLAT.
"The doc said I could have a cup of tea."
"That was before you had the angioplasty and stent. You can't have anything."
"Can I sit up just a little. Laying flat on my back like this is driving me crazy."
"No. And stop bending your neck. Don't put stress on any muscles. Don't even cough. And don't bend your right leg. Remember, the sheath is still in your groin. If you upset the wound, you'll be decorating the ceiling with blood, and it won't be as pretty as what Michelangelo painted."
I'd met Sandy that morning. "Hi, my name's Sandy and I'll be looking after you while you're here. Everyone knows me."
"You look very knowable."
She was great. Friendly, helpful, smiling, energetic and bossy hehehe. She was probably early to mid 20s and had the four of us guys in that ward well and truly under her thumb... almost. She must've liked me or whatever cos she bent the rules for me just a little.
I'd heard from another nurse that I'd have to lay flat on my back after the angioplasty for four hours. Nope. More like eight. WITH NO FOOD OR DRINK!
The person taking orders for the following day's breakfast and lunch arrived. "Would you like to order, Mr Kelly?"
I was sooooooo hungry, I ordered EVERYTHING! Even though it was for the next day and I couldn't eat it for 12 hours yet!
At about sixish, Sandy arrived with Mohammed, the doctor. He was going to place a special clamp on my groin to close the wound. But before he did that, he told me that he was going to apply 30 pounds of pressure to my groin with the heels of his hands for about 20 minutes. While he was doing that, I chatted to Sandy about the angio op and how the docs had been joking in there while I was freaking. But I made light of it, and laughed.
"You don't sound like a person who's having 30 pounds of pressure applied to his groin."
"So what should I do? Complain? Scream? What would be the point?"
After Mohammed had done his thing, he applied the clamp to my groin. It was equipped with a small balloon that had been inflated to a certain pressure and placed against my wound. At intervals of about 2 hours, the pressure was decreased until there was no pressure remaining. At that point, about 9:30pm, the wound was checked.
"Can I have a cup of tea now?"
"Can I sit up now?"
"Yes... but keep your right leg straight. And I'll bring you some sandwiches."
After having not eaten for about 24 hours, I was soooooo glad to see those sandwiches and cuppa. But it wasn't easy to sleep that night. For one thing, nurses kept arriving to check the wound, or to take my blood pressure, or whatever. And I had to sleep in an awkward position, remembering to keep my right leg straight. However, Sandy had said that I would be able to walk around in the morning, and take a shower.
Speaking of nurses checking my willie, it had become pretty ho hum routine hehehe. At first I was nervous and shy about using the urine bottle or allowing people to see my naughty bits, but after a couple of days, no biggie.
When breakfast arrived at about 7am, I couldn't believe that I'd ordered so much food! But I ate most of it. Then the doc arrived. I didn't recognize him at first.
"You're looking well," I said, wondering who he was.
"I am? You're just buttering me up so I'll let you go home early. Let me check the wound."
"Sure. Do you have anyone to take you home?"
"Nope. I'll be catching a train."
The doc took another blood sample, which would be checked by pathology before my release. He also told me that there was maybe a five percent chance that, within 3 months, something could go wrong with the coronary stent that had been inserted into my artery. If not, the operation would provide me with "long term" success. I've since learned that my older bro had a similar op 10 years ago and had no further problems; likewise my next door neighbor here in Taree.
Nurse Sandy wasn't on duty yet, so another nurse organized the train booking for me. There were two trains to Taree that day, one at 11:35am and the other at 4:35pm. I hoped to catch the earlier one cos I'd get home by early evening instead of late at night. Home! My own bed! Woohoo!
Priority was placed on getting my blood results through quickly, as well as a week's worth of medication (my local doc would take over from there) so that I could catch the earlier train.
A woman arrived at my bedside while I dressed. She explained how I should return to normal activity slowly; not to place any undue strain or stress on my heart, etc. Undue stress? I had a train to catch and she was telling me the same things I'd heard and/or read a dozen times already?
By 10:30am I was ready to leave. The nurse checked my overnight bag. "Seems OK. You're not allowed to carry any more than 5 kilos. Here's your booking number. You need to collect your ticket at Central Station 30 minutes before the Taree train departs."
"Whoa! That gives me half an hour to get to Central."
I thanked the nurse, and headed for the elevators. Ground floor was level 3? OK. Whatever. When I arrived outside, the grounds were like a small city with roads and walkways going in all directions. I became disoriented and spoke to a woman. "Excuse me, can you tell me where the Pacific Highway is?" I eventually found it, and followed it to where I remembered St. Leonards railway station having been 10 years ago. But everything had changed.
"Where is the railway station?" I asked the Vietnamese girl in a sandwhich shop. But she just stared at me, not understanding a word I was saying. "Railway station," I repeated. "Where is it?" Finally her boss came to the rescue and told me it had been relocated to the other side of the highway, within a large building.
I kept glancing at my watch. I had about 20 minutes to get to Central. Stress, stress, stress! And I was running short of breath. Fortunately, a city train pulled in a few minutes after I'd arrived on the platform.
By the time the train had arrived at Central, I had five minutes to get to the Country Link booking office to collect my ticket. As I walked, I looked at the arrowed signs. Country Link this way. Then another sign some yards further on. Then another. And another. And another. I kept following the signs, wondering how far away the office was! I was tempted to run, but realized I shouldn't. Stress, stress, stress! What would I say to them if I was late? "Don't hassle me. I've just had a heart operation. I need the ticket! I need to get home! If I collapse it'll be your fault!"
At a few minutes after 11, I spotted the Country Link booking office. AT LAST! But I had to stand in line while other customers fiddled and farted around with their own bookings. By the time I got to the window to be served, it was 11:05am, exactly 30 minutes before the Taree train was due to depart. Whew! Time to relax.
I'd never been on an XPT before. It was something like an aircraft on rails. After "takeoff", an announcement was made that a hot lunch would be served in about an hour with a selection of beverages. Beverages? Ooer! I grabbed an info sheet from the pocket in front of me and read it. Wine, beer. Hmmm. I was really hanging out for a wine. Yeeeeeeeeeeuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmm!!!!!
When I went to the catering car to collect my lunch, I asked for a bottle of chardonnay. Bottle? 250ml? Jeez. Barely a glass. Oh, well. It was still yummy, especially after having not had a drink for almost a week. Actually, I'd suggested to one nurse a few days ago that she replace one of the intravenous drips with a bag of wine, but she refused. :o)
About half way through the five hour trip, I went to the catering car again and bought a bottle of low alcohol beer. It helped pass the time for one thing. The passing rural scenery was pleasant enough, but a bit monotonous. The only relief was observing the Spring calves; full of energy and curiosity, leaping about the green fields, and enjoying the simple fact that they were alive. Soon enough, they would be like their elders, munching on grass until they needed to sleep. Life would have become a dull and boring routine instead of something to celebrate. What an amazing contrast, I thought.
I arrived home about 6pm, and was very glad to see that house on the corner. We'd only lived there for a little less than 12 months, but it felt more like home than most other places I'd lived in. I dropped my bag on the floor of my office and switched on the computer. Then I poured a large glass of wine. Lindsay was rabbiting on about some call from an American.
"Trevor? I don't know any Trevor."
"He said you were friends. He said you had a few differences of opinion or whatever, but you were friends. I told him you'd had a heart attack."
"Trevor? You sure his name was Trevor?"
"I wrote it all down. He said you could phone him collect. He said if you needed anything, anything at all, just ask."
"I don't know any Trevor."
It was then that I saw all the email from Cape Town Steve and others wondering what the hell had happened to me. Steve was frantic with worry. He'd heard I'd suffered a heart attack and assumed the worst. First Cody and now Gary. I phoned my bro. "Didn't you send an email to Steve?"
"Yeah, but it bounced back."
I soon discovered why it had bounced. He'd misspelled the address. "Don't worry about it. I'm home now and I'll explain everything to the guys."
Linsday was still intent on telling me about what had happened at home while I was away, but I wasn't interested in listening. All I could focus on was straightening out the mess that had taken place during my absence from my web site. More stress. So Lindsay got the message and retreated to the living room to watch TV and leave me in peace.
By the time I'd fixed the web site confusion, I had a short chat to Sue and Lindsay, then hit the sack. What a day! What a week!
Today, October 17, 2002, I received this email from Steve Starling, the friend I'd gone to visit down by the river when I had the heart attack. Apparently, he did see me but didn't recognize me. Probably thought I was some poor old bloke ready to cark it hehehe. Earlier this week, I'd gotten in touch with him via email and told him briefly what had happened:Dear Grace - That is just TOO freaky for words, and I can't wait to tell you my end of the story, but I'm just about to fly out to Brisbane. Back next Tuesday night. Hope you are feeling a helluva lot better than the last time I saw you! I'll contact you next week.Dear Grace? Yeah, Grace has been my nickname for years... Grace Kelly. :o) A few months later, Steve was back in Taree and shouted me to dinner at the Sailing Club.
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