Facing up to reality
14 April 2016 | or 'Tales of the Unexpected'
Hello again. Sorry I'm a bit late. I've been a tad busy, what with all that 'getting the hang of a new boat' business coupled with farting around in a campervan traversing the length and breadth of Europe whilst simultaneously trying to learn French and publish my long-awaited blockbuster 50 Shades of Bob, Boats & Buggeration on Amazon. I was just about holding that all together when, as usual, something came up out of left field.
I have mentioned before, have I not, that the cruising yottie tends to come from a fairly limited demographic and that one of the defining characteristics of this demographic is that your average yottie is not exactly in the first flush of youth. As a result he tends to be increasingly subject to the frailties and physical foibles to which the flesh is heir. As a further result, Mr & Mrs Yottie are acutely aware that health related problems are increasingly likely to (a) occur and (b) put the kybosh on most, if not all, of their cruising plans.
My own primary foible is an irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation. This is ruthlessly suppressed by a draconian combination of beta-blockers and rat poison. I have been shoving this metabolically disruptive cocktail into my system on a daily basis for over a decade. It seemed a good idea, therefore, to monitor its effects, so I have been getting regular blood tests, ECGs and echocardiograms over the whole of that time. Every six months or so every aspect of my metabolism has been held up to a bright light and given a damned good scrute in a biochemistry lab.
Nothing goes unchecked - thyroid, liver (especially liver), blood count, prostate, blood clotting time, diabetic status, heart structure and function, blood pressure, you name it. All have been subjected to the cold clinical gaze of the path lab. And all have come out squeaky clean, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
So, of course, I started to get a bit blasé. Whereas at first I would approach the tests with a sense of trepidation, and spend the week or so waiting for the results in a state of barely suppressed panic, now I stroll in nonchalantly, squirt an armful or so into the syringe and blithely get on with my life while awaiting the results.
So it was that I had the last set of tests done in Jersey and tootled off to Portugal in the van before the results had arrived. When they did arrive, and were forwarded to me, they bore the welcome news that everything was hunky-dory as usual.
Except my blood iron and transferrin levels.
Which were high.
I didn't like the look of this. I liked it even less when I looked up the possible causes and effects of too much iron. Bloody internet - everybody's a sodding expert nowadays. It seems that the stuff is bloody lethal. Too much of it and you turn a greeny grey colour and develop agonising pains in your joints and abdomen. Then you collapse in an exhausted heap on the sofa and promptly develop type 2 diabetes, closely followed by neurological damage, cirrhosis of the liver and the onset of dementia. After toying with you like this for a couple of weeks it finishes you off with liver cancer and multiple organ failure before delivering the coup de grace with either heart failure or, if it's feeling particularly merciful, with a massive heart attack. Iron overload makes Ebola look like a slight head cold.
And they put the stuff in Weetabix for Christ's sake. And Corn Flakes. What in the name of all that's Holy do they think they're up to? Puts a whole new meaning on the term 'serial killers'. Iron's more toxic than bloody ricin. I don't know why the Alabama penal justice system wastes its time pussy-footing around with lethal injections. Strap the buggers on a gurney and make them chew on a four inch nail for a couple of minutes - that'll do the trick for a fraction of the price.
I stared at the death warrant before me. At the bottom was a reassuring codicil stating that he advised me to get the iron levels checked again 'so we can try to work out what's going on'. There's encouraging.
I rushed to the local doctors, elbowing aside the teetering old grannies in the waiting room. After I had kicked the toddler on a drip out of the way and surreptitiously rescheduled the tracheotomy on the choking baby, I demanded an immediate appointment and a battery of blood tests. Deciding that it would probably be quicker all round if they complied, they ushered me into one of the surgeries.
While they were taking the blood, I remembered that my GP in Jersey had also suggested another check, a Pro-BNP test to see if there was any underlying heart disease other than the AF. There had not been time to get this done in Jersey so I asked them to run that one as well while they were at it. Then I could find out if I had heart disease before the iron finished me off.
The iron and transferrin samples had to be sent to another lab and so would not be ready for a few days. The BNP test, however, could be done in house and so I could get it in about twenty minutes. The result was delivered with a face like that of a Padre attending a firing squad. The readings were high - by an order of magnitude. Healthy max was 100. In a patient with AF they might expect if to go up to 3-400. Mine was 1107. "We will arrange an appointment with a cardiologist" said the doctor.
After a long phone call carried out sotto voce she handed me an appointment card. In the field for time and date, it merely had the word 'agora' ('now') underlined three times. "Go straight there. The cardiologist will see you immediately." she said, before adding, in sepulchral tones "and try to relax." This did not fill me with a light heart or confidence in my future survival. Nor did it help me relax.
The cardiologist was based at the private hospital in Alvor, about twenty five kilometres away. I picked up Liz, regaled her with the hilarious news and blagged a lift to the hospital with the saintly Jan from the apartments. We drove to Alvor in muted silence, broken occasionally by strained and pathetic attempts at light-hearted banter interspersed with episodes of gallows humour. After about half an hour, we pulled up outside the hospital.
It is well documented that people's attention spans are much shorter when reading on screen than they are when reading on paper. Conventional wisdom has it that most readers' attentions begin to wander after about 1200 words. Unconventional wisdom (namely Gypsy Rose Lee) concurs: "Always leave them screaming for more". This entry has just hit 1145 words.
So I'm suddenly going to sto...