Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013
When I say “chest pains”, some people get the bullshit Hollywood thing of actors clutching their chest and slowly dropping to the ground. That depiction of pain is completely laughable, and not the best thing to be thinking of when I mention my ‘moments’. So yeah – welcome to the blunt, harsh truth.
I’ve had chest pains of one description or another since I was fourteen. I was bull-headed enough as a kid that I could overlook these minor inconveniences, but I was aware of the talk among my relatives about my grandfather’s numerous heart attacks throughout his twenties and thirties. As a teenager, thoughts of what might happen a decade hence aren’t at the top of things to be concerned about, despite the giant neon sign I was faced with. When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect – a simple enough thing to get fixed, and an operation which has been on hold ever since. Until the point when I carve out enough time to go get sorted out, the continuing presence of chest pain is something which just is.
What I face can range from moments to closer to an hour, but the average length of the moments is about forty-five minutes. That’s three quarters of an hour spent on the floor, my heart pounding, each beat bringing a fresh wave of pain across my chest – and it isn’t just the chest pain itself. Movement is impossible when trying to shift brings more agony. My collar-bone aches during these moments of pain, as if there has been an injury – my shoulders and arms have the feel of having done a hard day’s work, even if all I have been doing is sitting. The deep weariness of muscles having been put to task.
Here’s a little hint for people wanting to write convincingly about chest pain – the feeling of a single finger pressing against flesh. This lasts for a while after each of the attacks, and isn’t in a place which would automatically suggest (to me, at any rate) anything heart-related. About two inches above the left nipple, and near an inch towards the middle of my chest, the point of pressure is an all-too-long-lasting reminder that I shouldn’t be taking this so lightly. It is difficult to describe much of the other things which come with these attacks. Y’know when you turn your head just a bit too quickly, and that burning sensation in your neck comes on? That feeling, or something close to it, lingers in the chest.
Breathing was difficult in those moments. I have, over the years, come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is get on my knees, head pressed against the floor, and keep the heel of my hand tight against my chest. Counting helps, though I have had to go from merely counting up to a hundred to more complex ways to keep my mind occupied. I’ve been multiplying in my head to try and keep the pain from being all that is in my consciousness, not that it does much aside from keep me from being entirely at the mercy of the pain.
Those who already know of this – in part, or more – have been told not to worry. It ain’t so bad, and others have a lot worse to go though. The one thing I have held to, for some time now, is that these attacks are only a problem four or five times a year. Which was true. For the last year and a half or so, however, this has been creeping up on me once or twice a month. When people have complained about me not returning emails promptly, when they know that I have been dealing with crappy internet, I get annoyed. When they are told of health problems, and yet persist in their insistence that I should be able to get back to them, I can’t help thinking that something is seriously wrong with them.
When my back became a problem, the chest pains weren’t at the forefront of my mind. I figured that I would only have one thing to deal with at a time, and put all notions of complications to the back of my mind. It wasn’t to be that way, of course. About three weeks after the initial jolt, along came the first chest pain I had to deal with in conjunction with my back being injured. I was stuck, lying on my back, on the floor, with the increasing pressure on my chest forcing me over on to my front. My ribs ached as I fought for breath, and I considered how it would play out if I did finally succumb to the combination of events. Morbid thoughts, dark little moments, come frequently, and I try my best to push them back.
It took nearly three hours, that time, before I could raise myself to a seated position. I was soaked with sweat, my entire body throbbing with one ache or another, and exhausted. Throughout everything else, I was never tempted to stop production of material for the quarterly, nor for the Database. It was during this time that I was pulling together things for the monthly, along with dealing with various official things. When claims that I stopped being available for things are mooted, I gotta point out – how the fuck did people expect me to devote my time to other things when I already had more to deal with than most people would have allowed themselves to get entangled in?
Over the last couple of years I have been thinking on a few things which seem to crop up again and again – in different forms, and from disparate groups – with the expectation that I could finally put to rest a few of the questions. The first, and most difficult to answer without going into all of what I have posted here, is the age old “what scares you?” I have often given glib answers; the flippant responses when pushed were the safety net. Speaking in front of rooms full of people doesn’t faze me, and great heights aren’t a problem. Being scared – being really scared – isn’t something, for me, which is ever external. The most frightened I have ever been has been due to the chest pain, and the inability to do anything immediate about it.
There is a suggestion that I overplayed not feeling up to some work. That I purposefully let people think I was going to write some things, and had no intention of doing so. That’s something I want to clear up here and now – everyone who I agreed to write material for, no matter how small the press, nor how little the money (if any) offered was, I really did attempt to keep up with the things I said I would do. Shit happens. When I wasn’t racked with pain, I was in a happy little world of painkillers. It is really difficult to keep a straight enough head to get anything done when you don’t know if you are gonna be able to do anything the next day. Time slips away.
It feels weird getting this out. I’ve previously tried, when asked, to brush over a lot of the things which I am putting in this post. Having it all out in the open feels strange, but it is going to make what is to come easier.
On to other things…