05 June 2008

Heart attack

The continuing saga....

Over the coming years, we repeated our August booze cruises to France or Germany, taking Snoopy with us. It was a great way of holidaying abroad
with the dog, getting the satisfaction of being somewhere foreign and enjoying life under canvas. Snoopy used to hate the return part of the journey as it involved visiting an extremely tall, dark and handsome (yum) young vet near Calais who produced awfully thick hypodermic needles to inject the anti-worming preparation necessary for the pet passport paperwork at Dover. As before, we used a nearby camp-site to Cite Europe on our return journey and, as before, stocked up with a years' supply of wine. Again, as before, we were always lucky if we had a single bottle left to celebrate at Christmas, but very little of it was consumed by me. I was beginning to see a pattern forming.

By the time we were nudging our fifties, Greg suddenly became ill. He first had a series of small heart attacks and needed invasive surgery to correct the problem. At this point his personality seemed to change. He is not one to welcome attention at the best of times and he hated being prodded and poked by the medical profession. He was unbelievably difficult as a patient in hospital and made life unbearable for the nurses, doctors and any visitors. He wanted to know to the nanosecond when the doctors' rounds would be and if the doctors did not turn up at his bedside within minutes of the appointed time he had been given, he would get restless and complain. After all, he had to stick rigidly to his deadlines at work, so why couldn't they? He would just not appreciate that he was one of a number, the staff were very busy and he would have to wait his turn. He would get annoyed if he was not kept informed of every minute detail or timing of his treatment and would quiz the hospital staff endlessly. It was quite plain to see that they were getting annoyed by his non-stop questions and chivvying. In short he was an impatient patient. All he could talk about was getting out of hospital. I know nobody
wants to be in hospital, but he almost had a phobia about it. I used to joke that it was a good job, he was not expecting a baby, as he would never be able to last out the nine months.

Have I mentioned that he also smokes? Remiss of me. We both started smoking in our twenties. It was a student thing and then much later made easier by the fact you could buy cigarettes at every supermarket checkout in Germany, as well as from vending machines situated at just about every street corner where you lived. I managed to give up smoking just as we were returning to the UK in 1979. Greg however was still addicted to 20-to-30-a-day. Despite promises to give up or go easier, once our precious daughter was born, he found it impossible. So when he was incarcerated in hospital with his heart problems, he was once so desperate for a cigarette, having been forced to go without any for quite a number of days, that once he had been freed from the wires and tubes monitoring his heart, he hastily got dressed, sneaked out of the hospital to a nearby shop, bought a packet, had a smoke and then crept back into his hospital bed, all before anyone noticed!! I was speechless, when he told me.

Greg spent about 8 months at home after that. It was nice having him around. Because of Greg's shift work, I had given up work several years before to be the reliable linchpin at home for my small daughter and the dog. In any case, having come late to motherhood at the ripe old age of 40, I had done my fulfilling career bit before Kay was born. So it was nice to be at home together for all that time. Gradually as his strength returned, he again turned to light DIY or helping with small household chores. Now that we had a family dog-sitter on tap with Greg at home, it also meant I had more freedom to go out and about more without having to rush home in case the dog had pined himself into a coma or chewed the furniture into matchwood.

Eventually, the doctor signed Greg off and he returned to his job after those 8 months' convalescence at home. He found picking up the work no problem, but because of circulatory problems in his legs (an inheritance from the too many cigarettes), he was finding the commuting up and down to central London a problem.....too many stairs at the rail station, the underground station and a steep hill just before the office. Coming home, he would often deliberately miss the train at the mainline station and have a glass of wine in one of the concourse pubs - to catch his breath and ensure a seat on the next train. Then he would come home and have another glass of wine and a whisky too. Just to relax from the day. But he never overdid it, as he might have an early start at work the next day or, even worse, a night shift. Reports in the press at that time were suggesting that red wine was actually good for you. He needed no excuse now ...... carry on drinking! But he was taking a number of pills for his heart condition, so I did wonder whether mixing the two was advisable. If I tried to raise the subject with him, he more or less bit my head off. It became preferable to keep my head intact on my shoulders than mention it again.

The commuting to work was getting worse for him and by now I used to ferry him to and from home to the train station to minimise the amount of walking he had to do. There were also lots of changes happening at work and the unions were involved a lot in trying to negotiate better working conditions for their staff. At this point Greg was approaching 55 and had had enough. The thought of being at home with his light DIY and other hobbies was becoming more attractive than the buzz of the international news scene. He decided to approach senior management and see if he could retire early. The next few months were spent analysing projections of what our pension might be and whether we could survive on it. We decided we could and Greg put in a formal request for early retirement. We had a bit of a nail-biting wait, but one afternoon just before Christmas we were ecstatic to receive a phone call from the Chief of Operations to say they had given his application long consideration and they could just about find the money within the current financial year to honour his request, but he would need to retire with his last day of service within the next four weeks. We did a little jig round the kitchen and opened a bottle of wine to celebrate. We were going to become pensioners (well, sort of premature ones with a young teenage daughter still at school). Crazy or what? Not at all, the world would be our oyster.


aims said...

Ah yes! Early retirement.

I'm on a disability pension and I'm much busier than when I was working. In fact - it surprised me when I sat down one day to discover that I am not jet-setting around the world and vacationing in warm spots. Whatever I am doing now is keeping me at home - wondering where the time goes.

Anonymous said...

Re: you mention G smoking and not giving up his habit (despite promises) and that you had given up by 1979.

I often think that chain smoking and alcoholism are similar addictions: because in both cases the products are legal, available to buy in shops etc (unlike illegal drugs) and socially acceptable, but open to abuse.

My mother was a chain smoker (between 40 and 60 a day) and she died of lung cancer 10 years ago ... however there were a few years when she teetered quite narrowly on the brink of an alcohol problem as well.

Although my mother used fags as her number 1 "stress buster" drug, when things got really tough (like the death of her own mother) she also turned to whisky and secret hiding places for the "chef's" tipple of wine.

I suppose she had an addictive personality and if I am similar to her my addiction is food (at least it is much less harmfull to everyone else around me, only harmful to myself).