Following on from my previous post about Writing a medical memoir, here is a short extract from my new book Across a Sea of Troubles.
“I don’t feel very well,” said my husband Brian, and slumped down on a nearby chair. His eyes were rolling upwards so that the whites were showing, and his face was very pale.
I said “I’ll call the ambulance.”
It was a fine spring night and we were on Devonport Wharf, having just got off a late ferry from downtown Auckland. We had been attending a ballet performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my mother, Clare, in celebration of her recent 91st birthday. It had been a pleasant relaxing evening and Brian had seemed perfectly alright at the theatre, but now he looked very ill indeed.
Again I proposed the ambulance, and again Brian refused, insisting that he wanted to go home. I looked around for assistance but we were alone on the wharf, my mother having gone on ahead to her own house with some neighbours we had met on the ferry.
I helped Brian onto the bus which took us halfway home, and while we slowly walked the rest of the way, I supported him as he swayed from side to side and had to keep stopping to rest.
At last we reached our house. I turned the key in the front door. As it swung open, Brian fell against it and collapsed unconscious in the hall.
I rang 111. The operator asked me a few questions and told me to check the pulse in Brian’s neck; it was around 200 beats per minute and irregular. She said that help was on its way. Meanwhile Brian had woken up and I sat beside him on the floor until the St John ambulance arrived.
The two ambulance officers helped Brian to move onto a couch, inserted a venous cannula into his arm, and ran an ECG which showed fast atrial fibrillation with left bundle branch block and ischemic changes. After making a telephone call they put up a drip and started an infusion of amiodarone, a drug that slows the heart rate and is used for the control of cardiac arrhythmias.
Brian, having a medical background, was apparently taking a detached interest in the proceedings. But when it became clear that preparations to take him to hospital were underway, he said “I’m not going.”
The senior ambulance man told him “You’re probably going to die if you don’t, mate.”
Brian continued to refuse, until I kneeled at his side and begged him to accept any treatment which might save his life. Then he suddenly said “Oh, alright.” Afterwards, he told me that he had not felt any pain or distress and would not have minded dying.
The local fire brigade came to help carry Brian down the garden steps and into the ambulance, and we set off on the first of the six urgent visits to North Shore Hospital that I was to make over the next few months.