Two Weeks Of Trauma – Part 1

On the Sunday afternoon of 10th April my wife of 43 years and one month took a funny turn.  Sitting in an armchair reading her kindle, she started struggling to breath, she could not speak but after a couple of minutes things returned to normal. She had not been too well for a few weeks and her dislike of doctors forbade me from ringing the Health Centre. The complaint seemed to be concentrated on her chest and she was coughing up balls of white phlegm. Her condition was worse at night and she put it down to congestion of the lungs – whatever that might be. She finally agreed that I should take her to the doctor the following day.
Monday 11 April 2016
After a bad night she asked me to ring the doctor at 8.00am, luckily I had his mobile no., I explained the case and that she was not able to walk. He was at the house in 15 minutes. He checked her lungs with a stethoscope and said they were clear and he pulled me out of the bedroom. “It’s her heart” he said “possibly in the early stages of arrest. We have to get her to Sligo as soon as possible, should I call an ambulance”. I told him I would get her there quicker. In the 10 metre walk to the car she had to stop three times gasping for breath. We broke all records on our 30 mile trek to hospital and I escorted her into the Acute Assessment Unit. Our doctor, Barry Cosgrove, had rang ahead and they were waiting for us.
Blood tests first and then a long verbal examination of her symptoms and activities. Helen had calmed down by this time and after a couple of hours told me to go home and e-mail the kids and come back later. We have six children, all grown up and sufficiently independent but scattered all over the place, in England, Ireland and Africa.
They all said they would come as soon as. Helen rang and told me the eight or nine blood tests on different functions had all failed miserably and her blood pressure was 180/130, the second figure giving cause for alarm. By now it was lunch time and the Unit were going to start a physical examination after lunch.
I was calm, Paddy Jo in Dublin was finishing work and coming down on an afternoon train. I was making a chicken curry for her arrival, the onions were cooking in a pan, when the phone rang. It was the nurse I had met that morning who was looking after her. “Mr Malpas, Helen is very ill and I think you should come up as quickly as you can.” I started to ask questions but she stopped me. “Just get here as soon as you can”. I was a mile up the road when I remembered the onions. I raced back, took the pan off the stove and if I broke records that morning delivering Helen to the hospital, I broke them again that afternoon.
The nurse, a lovely young lady, was waiting for me in AAU. She told me straightaway that Helen had had a massive heart attack, had died but the resuscitation team had assembled and got her heart going again and that she was now in the Resus Room. By now I was a trembling wreck as the nurse took me the few yards to where Helen was.
There was eight or nine people round her, her night dress was in tatters there were tubes and pipes going into every limb, down her throat, into her neck, she appeared inhuman. The team were working at 100mph, they were sweating with the effort. It was as if she was a piece of meat they were preparing for the butcher’s counter, no emotion, just high tempo action. Her poor body was awash with blood from the various insertions. The consultant in charge signalled me out into a side room.
“Helen is very poorly, we have brought her back and she is now sedated and importantly living but her vital signs are weak. Our only hope is to get her to Galway Hospital where they have the machines to keep her alive. She is not fit for the ambulance and we have called in a helicopter. She is not fit for that journey either but it is our only chance.”
We went back into the Resus Room, they were preparing her for the 100 yard journey by ambulance to the helipad. There were that many machines attached to her, it took 30 minutes to transfer her from bed to stretcher. The medical team was that big, there was no room in the helicopter for me. They told me to make my way down the 120 miles or so by car. They wheeled her out, her face a vivid purple, I was crying, that was the last I see of her I thought.
I was in a quandary, Paddy Jo was on the 5.30 train to Sligo. As I drove away from the hospital it was a savage evening, pouring rain, the top half of Ben Bulben covered with low cloud. I thought how could they fly to Galway in this weather. I went home first and as I drove in the gate, Mary our next door neighbour was driving into her’s. I got out of the car, she immediately realised the seriousness and pulled me a big slug of whiskey whilst I blurted out the horror of the afternoon. She immediately volunteered to bring me to Galway, contacted Paddy Jo and told her Helen was in Galway and to make her way there. Robin, Mary’s friend, pulled in from Dublin and the two of them prepared for the journey. I e-mailed the rest of the kids, sat in the back seat of Mary’s car and wept the whole way to Galway.
Helen had been put into Cardiac Intensive Care, we found it and there was Paddy Jo plus Jamesie, her boyfriend waiting. The doctor led us into the unit and let us look at poor Helen, she lay there motionless, unconscious, surrounded by machines making all kinds of noises. This wonderful doctor led us into a side room and explained Helen’s condition. How she was sedated, comfortable and living and that all her functions were working and that if nothing drastic happens she should be OK.
Jamesie’s father in Cork had pulled a few strings and got us fixed up in the Connaught Hotel in Renmore, the biggest Hotel in Galway. We thanked Mary and Robin for their absolute kindness and phoned a taxi, we arrived at the hotel at 11.00pm, had a quick drink and to bed after the longest and most traumatic day of my life.

One thought on “Two Weeks Of Trauma – Part 1

  1. Very sorry to hear about your problems, Paul. That sounds like the sort of nightmare week that no-one wants to go through. At least the outcome has been better than it might have been.

    For anyone reading this, can I emphasise how important it is, when you are getting on in years, to act quickly if something doesn’t seem quite right on the medical front. If you act quickly, the worst that can happen is that you waste half a day and you may look a bit foolish if it turns out that there is no problem. But acting quickly may save you a great deal of hassle. For heart and stroke problems, especially, quick action may save a life.

    One afternoon two years ago I started to experience unusual pains in my chest, of a kind I had never had before. They were quite mild, and they didn’t seem very serious, but they were unsettling, so my husband drove me to casualty in the nearest hospital for a cardiologist to have a good look at me. After hooking me up to all sorts of complicated equipment, eventually he concluded that my heart was fine. (He diagnosed “muscular-skeletal pains”, which was a fancy way of saying he hadn’t got a clue what was wrong, but that it wasn’t serious.) Naturally, I was feeling mildly embarrassed at having taken up his time for nothing, and apologised, but I added “I couldn’t ignore this”. He replied emphatically “No, you couldn’t”. He then went on to tell me about the many cases he sees of people who waited too long before coming to hospital. Quite a lot of them do not survive.

    I hope Helen makes a full recovery.

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