Why I’m never saying ‘it can’t be any worse than last year’ ever again, and other assorted ramblings

Sorry for the radio silence this year. It’s been an embarrassing amount of time since I checked back in here, and longer still since I’ve done any proper writing, but rather a lot has been happening! (When, since 2019, has rather a lot *NOT* been happening to everyone around me? I think I must be cursed).

So in March this year, Mr Lowe suffered a heart attack. Fit Mr Lowe. Healthy Mr Lowe. Works in a physical job six-days-a-week Mr Lowe, goes to the gym every night Mr Lowe. (He’s over twenty years older than me but he puts me to shame when it comes to looking after myself).

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was watching TV with my dad, who’d come round for his bi-weekly visit. Myk had gone to work as usual that morning and nothing was amiss, as far as I knew.

Then I got the phone call. Myk’s number. “Hello?”

“Right,” he says. “Don’t panic but…”

I can hear the sirens in the background.

“I’m having a heart attack.”

Every single part of me went cold. “You’re what?”

“I’m having a heart attack. But don’t panic.”

I am obviously now very much panicking. It turns out he’s in the back of an ambulance on his way from Leicester Royal Infirmary to Glenfield Hospital, which is the local specialist cardiac facility. I’m handed to the paramedic who tells me Myk is in good hands and is stable. I’m told not to go to the hospital yet as he’ll be going straight into surgery to have a stent fitted, so to wait for them to call me. I’m handed back to Myk. I’m crying. A lot. He tells me he loves me and I can hear in his voice how frightened he is. I tell him I love him too and I’ll see him very soon.

I hang up and try to tell Dad, between sobs, what has happened.

“Oh,” he says, looking at his feet. “You’d better take me home then.”

That’s it. No hug. No reassurance. No well-meaning platitudes. He wants to go home and he wants me to drive him. In this state.

(I’ve written about my dad in other blog posts so I won’t cover any more about that here, except to say that he’s a useless profane word for lady parts).

So I drive Dad home, managing not to kill anyone in the process (just). The wait is excruciating. Eventually I can’t take it anymore and call the hospital. “Oh yes,” I’m told. “He’s had a stent fitted. He’s back on the ward now. In a bit of pain but he’s okay otherwise.” I ask if I can visit and they book me a one-hour slot: apparently this is how visiting in UK hospitals works now.

The journey to Glenfield is a fifteen minute drive. I’m very slightly calmer after hearing he’s made it through the op okay but I can’t wait to see him. I’m not quite prepared for how poorly he looks when I arrive. When they said he was in ‘a bit of pain’, they weren’t quite telling the truth. He is in *excruciating* pain and the staff don’t seem to know why or how to make him any more comfortable. They’ve already tried morphine. They bring in the portable x-ray machine to make sure it’s not related to his stent. Nope, it all looks okay. They keep doing tests and bringing tablets but nothing is working. Eventually my one hour slot is up. I don’t want to leave him but I don’t have any choice, it’s late and I’m the only visitor left on the ward.

I call Sunday morning to see how he is and am greeted by a nurse who does nothing but sigh at me. The tone of her voice suggests I’m being a nuisance by daring to ask how my husband might be doing after his, you know, LIFE-THREATENING HEART ATTACK. He’s still in a lot of pain, apparently. I book myself a visiting slot and yes, he is still in a lot of pain and still hasn’t eaten or slept a wink. It appears they’ve given up trying to figure out what’s wrong. They probably think he’s malingering but I know better, he isn’t that sort. A nurse comes to check his vitals and goes through a checklist of ‘things you’ve had done’, including a covid test and a perineal swab for MRSA. “I haven’t had either of those,” he says. The nurse is adamant he must have. “You wouldn’t be allowed on the ward if you hadn’t had them.” Myk insists he hasn’t had them, so she goes to check. Myk is correct, they’ve failed to carry out both tests. Concerned about the standard of care he’s getting, I outstay my visiting slot and eventually get shouted at by a nurse. (I’m not exaggerating, she proper balled me out. But they’re all fucking angels, yeah? Oh, and have I mentioned yet that when he called 999 and they ascertained that he was indeed having a heart attack, they told him an ambulance would be SIX HOURS, but to call back if it got worse. Worse as in dead??? Thankfully somebody drove him the two minute ride to A&E).

Ahem. Anyway. Mustn’t get too down on that sacred cow we call the NHS. They did at least save his life before they tried to kill him. Read on…

He gets worse overnight and I figure they realise that something is indeed very wrong. They produce a blue pill. He takes it and promptly falls asleep for a few hours. When he wakes up, the pain is almost gone. At about 3am they move him to a ward because they need the bed in the critical care unit. I book my hour slot and I don’t stay a minute over time. He’s still looking very poorly but at least he’s feeling somewhat better and has eaten something, although the guy in the next bed has been hallucinating and yelling all night and nobody on the ward got any sleep. I notice Myk eyeing his pillow with intent but say nothing.

Days pass and they are doing more tests. Myk has a temperature. Then we get the news. He has contracted sepsis.

It’s a very bad case of sepsis. I forget what they measure in the blood, levels of infection or something, but a bad case is in the eighties and his are at 360. He’s put onto broad spectrum IV antibiotics and now we just have to wait. The weird thing is that he doesn’t look poorly and he says he doesn’t feel ill other than the temperature and croaky voice. What he doesn’t tell me on the Thursday when I visit is quite how poorly he really *DOES* feel, and he will go on some weeks later to tell me he suspected that night that he wouldn’t be coming home again.

So I wake up on the Friday and it’s my 40th birthday. Not the birthday I was planning but never mind. I have a text off Myk. He was quite sweaty in the night but he’s okay and will see me later. Happy birthday, sorry for fucking it up, etc. I ring the ward and book my hour slot and before I leave I do my obligatory lateral flow test.

And oh fuck, it’s positive.

I do another just to make sure but yes, there are those two pesky fucking lines. I text Myk the news. I am devastated that I can’t visit him and will be unable to see him now until I get a negative test. I am still acutely aware of how serious sepsis is and the thought that I may never see him again is lurking on the edge of my thoughts. I try to ignore it and be positive. I tell him I don’t know where I could’ve caught it other than the hospital, even though I was fully masked and PPE’d up. He tells me it has been spreading through the ward and that lots of patients have it. I spend the night of my 40th sitting on my own in front of the TV. My nose has started running. I go to bed early.

Covid hits me properly over the weekend. It’s not as bad as the first time I caught it, more like a bad cold. I do an online grocery order and a friend calls around in order that I can throw a bag of clean clothes at him through the open door, which he takes to the hospital in exchange for Myk’s sweat-drenched rags. His temperature has broken and his infection levels are coming down but they are still far too high for him to come home. As far as he knows he still doesn’t have covid (those italicised words are doing a lot of heavy lifting at this point – read on). He tells me on the Saturday night there were only two nurses on duty to cover the whole ward. There must’ve been over twenty people on it, a conservative estimate. Is that kind of staffing level normal?? Or safe??

Anyway, Myk continues to improve and they allow him to come home towards the end of the week. I am still testing positive but he doesn’t care, he’s leaving, so I drive to the hospital to get him and there is an emotional reunion in the car park (socially distanced from everyone else, of course).

He remained extremely tired for weeks and had lost a lot of weight. When the cardiac unit called him a week or two later to see how he was doing, they dropped into the conversation that he’d also had covid whilst in hospital, so now I know who I caught it from. Nice of them to tell him eventually, wasn’t it?

And that is more or less the heart attack part of the year in a nutshell.

And then it was the spring Whitby Goth Weekend. Myk was still feeling weak, having only been out of hospital a short time, but he insisted we were going and promised he would take it easy. Luckily we had booked accommodation in the same building as the events we were booked to attend, so going to and from gigs involved a short elevator ride. There was light drinking and strictly no dancing. It was a subdued festival for us but at least we were there and together. It could’ve been so much different.

We even made it down into the town, although on WGW you can’t even do something as innocuous as eat an ice cream without a photographer stealing your image to exploit for his own profit. Sorry. I mean, take your picture.

Real goths in Whitby! Picture found in a Facebook group. Credit: some guy who didn’t bother asking if he could take this. Rude.

As the weeks and months go on, Myk starts to feel more like himself and his recovery is going nicely. We’re just starting to get back to something like normal when, around the middle of June, Myk starts to feel a pain in the back of his leg. As sciatica sufferers will know all too well, this is an early warning sign of an imminent attack.

He carried on working, eventually needing to use a cane to get around. We even made it to the inaugural Bats in the Attic festival in Morecambe, although Myk spent most of his time lying on the floor of the flat we were staying in. We did make it to the Eric Morecambe statue though, and managed to enjoy two nights of gigs with the strategic use of taxis, a cane and a bar stool.

When we got home it became clear that Myk’s sciatica was only getting worse. His doctor prescribed various painkillers but, due to other conditions, he couldn’t take the anti-inflammatories that may have made a proper difference. He had to stop working, and spent the whole of September and most of October horizontal on the floor and housebound. Towards the end of the month, things started to slowly improve and, yet again, we made it to Whitby, this time for the Halloween Goth Weekend, by the seats of our pants. It was another quiet one for us, spent mostly in our rented cottage overlooking the Esk and the abbey, but we did at least manage to see our favourite band Fields of the Nephilim, who were playing at the Spa on the Friday night.

Myk went back to work around mid-November, taking it easy whilst the sciatica abated (or as easy as a self-employed motor mechanic can). It’s now early December and (fingers crossed), life is once again returning to normal. It has been (another) stressful year and my writing has (again) suffered because of it. I haven’t written a single piece of short fiction and progress on the novel has been sluggish. I’ve continued to work on my friend John’s memoir and, despite a laptop meltdown in which I had to transfer the entire manuscript from Scrivener into Google Docs, it is almost ready for publication. Barring any further health emergencies, deaths or pandemics, I hope to get my head down on the writing front and use the coming year to get back on the proverbial horse.

Because, let’s face it, 2023 can’t be any worse than…

Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Kate Lowe is a speculative fiction author from Leicestershire, UK. Her short fiction has won first place in two competitions & has appeared in various zines, magazines & anthologies. Her story The Wolf Runs in the Barley received an Honourable Mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow. Kate is a goth, a keen Fortean and a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby. Her favourite band is Fields of the Nephilim, she loves silver jewellery, hunting for antiques and is usually to be found with a book in her hand. You can find her online at www.kateloweauthor.co.uk