I had better tell you all about it. When a chap has had several months leave, people might just want to know the story. So, it seems that around the start of November I had a heart attack. The blood tests performed in Singleton Hospital’s A & E found the chemical traces of it, and no-one was letting me go home after that.
I think the heart attack happened on the Eve of All Hallows, a Wednesday, when I was in Sydney chairing a meeting of one of our national committees. You all know that the signs are chest pains and a shooting pain down your left arm. Forget it. I had heart flutters and aching in my lower front teeth and chin. Quite normal symptoms, apparently, and all over by the close of the meeting. Then the same things happened when I woke on Saturday morning in Singleton on ‘visitation’. I proposed going home, but Fr Peter Street, ex-nurse that he is, was having none of it, so up to A&E at the hospital, as mentioned. Later in the morning they transferred me to Maitland Hospital. Then the hunt was on to find a place for an angiogram and possible surgery, and by dint of first availability, I moved on to Newcastle Private.
On the Monday night, my cardiologist performed the angiogram. He had advance approval to stick in a stent, if appropriate, but decided that things were a bit more complex and we should talk ‘options’. There was a long section of blockage to one blood vessel and another blockage at a sort of arterial Y-junction. He talked to me about stents and found a surgeon to tell me about bypass surgery. I opted for the latter, as the surer and more permanent fix. Then I had about nine days while we waited for time in surgery. Finally, the triple bypass surgery happened on the morning of 15th November. Of course, I know nothing about that, being totally anaesthetised.
Now comes the interesting bit. Many hours after the successful surgery, and still unconscious, I died. You’ve all seen it on TV: the beepers going off, the monitor flat-lining, the chest pumping, the crash wagon arriving, ‘stand clear’, etc. I knew nothing about it at the time. When they finally allowed me to wake up the next day, the resident and later my surgeon told me that I had arrested and been revived. What I heard was, ‘These things sometimes happen after that sort of surgery, it’s not uncommon’. So I took it all very calmly, at least while I was still in ICU. When I went back to a normal ward, however, I ran into nurses and wardsmen who said things like ‘Oh, you’re THAT guy’ or ‘I wasn’t there, but I heard all about it’. The topper was ‘No, it’s not unusual; it’s just unusual that they got you back!’. Anyway, I’d missed all the excitement and, as I was feeling pretty good, all things considered, the story still didn’t bother me. It was just an episode by then happily concluded.
My recovery was unusually quick and easy. There were a couple of occasions in ICU when my heart rate suddenly shot through the roof. There’s no real explanation for this but, on the positive side, I was all wired up at the time and my ECG showed that my heart had dealt with the strain very well, confirming earlier x-rays that had shown that it had not been damaged by any heat attack I may have had. I was out of ICU at least on schedule, out of the ward a few days early and out of rehab, by common consent, when it was obvious that I was restlessly wandering around the grounds all day anyway. Having demonstrated that I’d cope with the 26 stairs to my room in Bishop’s House, I was gone. My surgeon and my cardiologist both saw me before Christmas, the first declaring that he didn’t need to see me again, the latter wanting me back ‘in a few months’.
When I first decided on bypass surgery, all my appointments were cancelled up to the Ordinations of Frs John Lovell and Anthony Coloma on 16 February. During that long break I have basically been doing nothing, and I have become very good at it. I am fortunate that I can confidently leave things to the senior officials of the Diocese, and especially grateful to the Vicar-General, Fr Andrew Doohan, who, of course, was doing my job as well as his own. I am also thankful for all the assurances of prayers from the clergy and people of the Diocese. As you have just read, they worked. And now I must work, too.