Monday 24 January 2011

Where it all went wrong

15st 9lb, 6.0 units. The diet is progressing about as well as a crack Italian tank regiment in the Western Desert, then, though after yesterday’s post that should not come as a surprise to anyone, least of all me.

Talking of yesterday, I remembered after writing my last post where it had all gone wrong with The Boy and choo-choos. A few months ago, when I mentioned his keen interest in trains, one of my younger cousins kindly offered to let us have a large, plastic ride-on engine that her own boys had outgrown. It looks a bit like the one that Casey Jones used to drive around the Wild West in the popular children’s TV show of my childhood. It was duly handed over to me with two huge bags full of plastic track, which I arranged in a figure of eight in our conservatory. The Boy loved it, once he had grasped that he needed to maintain a steady pressure on the black button on top of the engine’s cab in order to keep it moving forward. There is a also a red button, which appeared to do nothing at all, leading to considerable speculation – my own favourite guess was that it powered an ejector seat. However, my cousin finally put an end to that game by informing us that it had once worked a whistle, and that the day it broke was one of the best of her life.

Enough to give a child nightmares, apparently

When the engine was handed over someone forgot to pack the charger for its battery, so that did not arrive until some weeks later. Once it did, I duly plugged the engine in for an overnight charge, thinking that I was doing The Boy a favour. What I had not realized was that this simple act of kindness would convert his Wild West engine from the equivalent of a battered old Trabant into a shiny new Ferrari (or, if you’d rather stick with trains, from a wheezing old Barclay 0-4-0 industrial tank engine into a TGV). The poor little sod duly toddled out into the conservatory for his usual gentle tour of the plotted plants, pressed the button and the bloody thing took off like the proverbial shit off a shovel (though the origins of that proverb are something of a mystery to me, to be honest, since I regularly use a shovel to clean up after The Dog and the second word that springs to mind about the properties of shit, right after “smelly”, is “adhesive”.)

Luckily his terror did not last very long, as he parted company from the train on the first bend (and, on a figure of eight track, you don’t have to wait very long to encounter one of those). So it did have an ejector seat after all. We made that speech about needing to climb back on your horse straight away after a fall, or you may lose your nerve forever, but he just fixed us with a “You bastards are trying to kill me” look and has refused to get on the thing ever since. I suppose the miniature steam railway yesterday must have brought the horror flooding back. So once again, as so often in life, trying to do a nice thing for a child proves to be the cause of what will probably turn out to be a lifelong phobia.

On the other hand, to look on the bright side, it may mean that we never need to take him to Alton Towers or Disneyland. Get in, as I believe they say in certain circles, luckily far removed from my own.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Not a great day

15st 8lb, 5.5 units. My digital radio started playing up this morning, as I was listening to Betty off Coronation Street telling the story of her horribly loveless childhood to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. No sooner had it got to work again than it fell off the tall chest of drawers by our bedside with a horrible thump, but luckily it seemed none the worse for that so I headed out to lunch with a light if damaged heart.

I don’t suppose the wood pigeon, black pudding, beetroot and apple salad did my diet a massive amount of harm. However, I very much doubt whether the same could be said of the gigantic plate of roast lamb with all the usual trimmings that followed it (and did I really need to help Mrs H out with her pork crackling, having already put one heart attack down to my pig-related cravings?) As for the bread and butter pudding with vanilla cream and apricot compote, the sticky sweetmeat with the coffee – oh, and the two pints of local stout – well, words really fail me.

But Mrs H hadn’t chosen this particular pub in the hope of pushing me closer to a massive cardiac infarction. She’d picked it because bang next door is the track used by the local engineering club to show off their model locomotives. And it’s amazing how much power they can pack into quite a modest tank engine, judging by the speed at which we twice rattled around the circuit. We thought it would be a treat for The Boy, given that he is completely obsessed with (a) cars, (b) tractors and (c) choo-choos, and his current favourite book is entitled simply Choo Choo. It doesn’t have much of a plot to be honest. Some people get on a train, and they go over a bridge and through a tunnel before arriving at the seaside. Adult credulity is severely stretched by the fact that they manage this journey without encountering any delays caused by freak weather (such as a slight breeze or snow shower), theft of signal cables or a slow-moving or broken-down train on the line ahead. But The Boy can’t get enough of it.

He seemed keen enough as we approached the track, instructing “Mummy – go” and “Daddy – hand”, clearly realizing that this was boys’ stuff and we needed to approach the little station hand-in-hand, father and son together. “Up, up” he commanded, wanting to be picked up so that he could have the best possible view of the little engine as it steamed in the platform or whizzed around the track.

Then it all went tits up when it was our turn for a ride and he made it perfectly clear that he wanted to get straight off, before we had even left the station.

First rejected idea: sitting on Daddy's knee
Sitting on Daddy’s knee was right out. He needed to be held by Mummy, looking away from the engine and periodically saying “Aw gaw”, a noise he has been making when under stress for some time now, and which we finally worked out was his version of “Oh God!” We’re not quite sure where he has picked that up from, as if he was copying the oaths uttered around our house he would be coming out with something considerably stronger than that.

Second rejected idea: sitting on Mummy's knee

Third idea: clinging to Mummy for dear life, saying "Oh God!"

Woo! Woo!

On the other hand, I had an absolutely wonderful time and was grinning like a train-mad five-year-old throughout. I realized that being in possession of a small boy provides a superb opportunity to relive all those childish pleasures I supposedly grew out of 40-odd years ago, at least so long as have enough of a strength advantage to force The Boy to participate in them against his will.

Well, I enjoyed it ...
... as you can probably tell
I drove home in high good humour, took The Dog for a walk, completed my weekly ritual of sorting out the rubbish for the council and putting the bins out, flattened a load of cardboard boxes in the garage so as to ease their eventual transport to the tip, and topped up the screenwash in two cars. Then I settled down on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and … The Dog promptly barked to go out again. He can’t be trusted at the best of times and the other night we had the disconcerting experience of finding a badger attempting to batter its way into the house via the cat flap, so it seems best to put him on a lead for this sort of thing. Only The Dog has a keen sense of humour and does his best to lead his companions into areas he has visited before. Even though I shone a torch on the ground before every step I took, I returned to the house with every crevice in the sole of one walking shoe filled with something indescribably horrid, and duly spent a thoroughly unpleasant five minutes at the outside tap attempting to remedy this. I was rather upset that Mrs H refused to sacrifice her toothbrush to help in the clean-up process.

Then, at last, I sat down on the sofa with my now cold mug of tea and cheerfully opened my iPad to read the Sunday Times, which I no longer bother to buy in print because one can download every section in full on the iPad (unlike the daily paper, which has one or two irritating omissions).

It was at this point that I realized what the digital radio had landed on with such a thump when it fell off the chest of drawers this morning. I’d only had the bloody iPad since Christmas and now it’s completely knackered. One might think, given the eye-watering amounts I pay for home insurance each year, that it might be covered for this, but I bet there will be some exclusion or, failing that, an excess curiously almost exactly matching the cost of an iPad.

Hence my assertion, despite the delightful (for me) train ride, that it has not been a particularly great day.

Saturday 22 January 2011

A narrow escape

15st 7lb, 4.5 units. Diet on track, tick. Health improving, tick. I took my first statin tablet last night and must reluctantly admit that I woke up feeling appreciably better this morning. Of course that could well be pure coincidence. But then I felt better last time I took them, too, even though I really wanted to be able to join enthusiastically in those dinner party conversations about hideous side effects like wasting muscles. But then, to be realistic, I’ve never really had any muscles to waste away in the first place.

Question: if I was prescribed medications that had no apparent harmful side effects and actually made me feel better, why was I so keen to stop taking them? Really just because swallowing half a dozen pills every day, as I did for several years, made me feel like a really old man. Now, I suppose, I can just about accept the fact that that is what I am.

Mrs H, on the other hand, did not wake up feeling great, despite being four days into a course of elephant-strength antibiotics for the throat infection that laid her low on Tuesday. So I nobly went off to the nursery to play with our son so that she could enjoy a little more sleep. It all went well enough, really. I just ignored the increasingly powerful smell in the room and could probably have maintained that position until lunchtime if The Boy had not led me to the adjoining bathroom, laid out a plastic change mat and pronounced “Daddy – mat – poo.” I suppose I would have been within my rights to take a dump on the mat myself, but (a) I am far too shy, (b) I am suffering from mild constipation and (c) his meaning was perfectly clear. We looked at each other, both keenly aware – and I am not proud of this, but I fear it has to be said – that Daddy has not actually changed his nappy in 19 whole months. Then we decided that the safest thing would be to get Mummy out of her sick bed so that she could SHOW Daddy how to change a nappy (after all, it is a long time since that NCT course) so that he will know exactly how to do it next time.

It was not pleasant, I can tell you that.

I am far from looking forward to next time.

I wonder how much longer I can keep this up? Surely it can’t be long until The Boy is potty trained and waltzing off to the khazi all by himself (or the ladies’ khazi with his Mummy when out)?

Poor Mrs H. Yes, I know, she deserves better. But then she married me – entirely sober and undrugged - despite having a pretty clear idea of what I was like from reading this blog, so it can be argued that she only has herself to blame.

Friday 21 January 2011

Mr Porky dunnit

15st 8lb, 6.5 units. I feel that it would be good therapy to try and write this blog each day, now that I have embarked on a post-heart attack regime of medication, diet and general lifestyle change.

After all, it has done me good in the past. The discipline of making a post every day in the first half of 2008 definitely helped to incentivize me to lose two stone in weight, as I could not face the shame of admitting to my reader that my vaunted diet was not working as a result of my utterly pathetic lack of willpower.

How could I have been so stupid as to put it all back on again, when I was so proud of losing it and felt so much better for doing so (though I looked a lot worse, as various frank Northern people cheerfully pointed out after the returning fat had once again smoothed over the wrinkles on my face and neck)?

Because that’s what fat people all do, stupid. Time and time again. Are you watching Peter Barlow battling with the fatal lure of the demon drink on Coronation Street? Well, that’s how I am with pork scratchings.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more inclined I feel to blame Mr Porky for the state of my heart. It’s him or God, for making pigs so delicious. Or me, for being utterly unable to resist temptation.

But then the key to operating a successful Strict Blame Culture is surely this: never blame yourself.

At least I somehow managed to lose a pound in the course of yesterday, despite continuing to drink too much (to keep my spirits up and because I like to delude myself that red wine is good for the heart).

I started taking the pills to lower my blood pressure and combat anginal pain this morning. So far all I have noticed as a possible result is a loud ringing in my ears, considerably worse than the usual tinnitus I have been suffering for the last decade. But at least this is on the comprehensive two-page list of possible side-effects thoughtfully enclosed by the drug manufacturers, so I suppose I don’t need to start worrying about it as well as enduring it.

I would have started taking my cholesterol-lowering statins, too, if only I had bothered to open my bag of medications before I rolled into bed last night. In the old days of being a prescription druggie, I always used to swallow everything first thing in the morning, which at least saved carting the bloody things around during the day. But now the chemist’s label on my packet of Simvastatin states clearly “One to be taken each day AT NIGHT.” I wonder why. The old warning about not eating grapefruit is still there, which made a sort of sense when one was taking the pill at the breakfast table, but surely there can’t be many people who consume grapefruit at bedtime. And will having half a delicious grapefruit in the morning really interfere with the working of a drug taken the previous evening?

It’s a bit of a sod because I am particularly fond of grapefruit, and have three fine, juicy examples sitting in the fridge calling out to me. Being able to resume eating them with a clear conscience was one of the chief joys of stopping taking statins when I decided to adopt a drug-free approach to life a few years back.

Oh well, I suppose that’s me on pills like a little old man for the rest of my natural, then. And another avenue of pleasure closed for good.

Anybody want to buy three grapefruit? No, make that free to a good home. So long as you are prepared to come round to collect them, and possibly listen to me moaning about my privations for a bit before you have the presence of mind to say “Good Lord, is that the time? I must dash down to the pub before they run out of those really delicious pork scratchings.”

Thursday 20 January 2011

My heart attack

15st 9lb, 5.0 units. I have had a heart attack. Don’t worry (as if you would). I am clearly still alive. What’s more, I apparently had this heart attack some time ago and was blissfully unaware of it. Which is, on the whole, better than the sort of heart attack where the elephant comes to sit on your chest and you are rushed to hospital in an ambulance with sirens wailing and blue lights flashing, only to die before you get there (or before the ambulance even arrives, come to that, if you are daft enough to live in one of the remoter corners of Northumberland).

I have been racking what is left of my brains trying to identify an occasion when I suffered what seemed to be worse than usual indigestion, and the Rennies and/or Gaviscon failed to produce the usual relief, but there are so many of those that I cannot hope to select just one, and they surely can’t all have been heart attacks or I would have been pushing up the daisies in Whittingham churchyard long, long ago.

It must have happened before October 2009, because the distractingly pretty doctor who admitted me to the Wansbeck Hospital then, when I presented myself suffering from chest pains, assured me that I definitely wasn’t having a heart attack at the time, but thought from my ECG trace that I had had one on some previous occasion.

I would really like to pin it down because then I might have someone to resent, in accordance with the Strict Blame Culture operating at all times in the Hann household. Was it my former colleagues in financial PR, or one (or more) of my former clients? Was it that particularly repellent young investment banker with whom I was compelled to work on my last retail flotation? Yes, I’d like to go out with a curse about him on my lips. Though I’d prefer, on the whole, not to go out at all just at present, so perhaps it would be best to move on.

So how did I come to find out about this heart attack?

Well, as usual, through the Law of Unintended Consequences.

On Tuesday afternoon last week I stood at the back of the room in a client’s offices, watching a half hour presentation. Then, when I came to leave, found that I could not move my legs and promptly fell over. Between you and me, I think my legs just “went to sleep”, as they say, but I have never experienced anything quite like it before and I was sufficiently unsettled to agree with the suggestions from all sides that I should get it checked out by a doctor.

The GP I consulted could find nothing wrong with me, but when asked about any other symptoms I foolishly mentioned the ache in my jaw and the numbness in my right arm that I have been experiencing intermittently for some months now, so he duly referred me to a cardiologist and a neurologist for further investigation.

So far I have only seen the cardiologist, who took no time at all to pronounce that my falling over had nothing to do with my heart, but that my other symptoms were almost certainly angina. “Because in my experience only three things cause a pain in the jaw: a punch in the face, toothache or angina.” I tried to deploy my strictly limited medical knowledge to argue that angina is typically an intense, short-lived pain associated with exercise, whereas my pain is mild, persistent and usually occurs when I am sitting in a chair or lying down in bed, and has never yet happened when I am doing anything even vaguely strenuous. But he was having none of that, and matters only got worse when he ran an ECG and pointed to the tell-tale evidence of a previous heart attack. He told me to start taking an aspirin every day, which luckily I was doing anyway on the strength of an article in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that it was a good idea, because I am of course incredibly suggestible.

Then it was back to hospital this Tuesday for an echocardiogram and dobutamine stress echocardiogram, which apparently produced irrefutable evidence of cardiac damage. I say “apparently” because I could not bear to look at the pictures. I am one of those people who has to switch channels quickly whenever medical procedures are shown on TV, for fear of passing out. Three of the arteries at the bottom of my heart are constricted, I am told, including one that will put me in “major heart attack” territory if it gets blocked. The next step, he cheerily announced, is an angiogram to determine the precise extent of the problem, so that he can decide whether it requires treatment with drugs, stents, angioplasty or open heart surgery. Oh joy.

“Aren’t angiograms a bit risky?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve done 15,000 and I’ve only ever had three problems,” he replied, adding rather mysteriously after a pause “I should have had five.”

Mrs H and I had a vigorous debate about what he meant by “a problem”, but luckily my pessimistic take was confirmed by a look at the analysis of angiogram risks on the consultant’s own website, where it clearly states “Death – 1 per thousand cases”.

It seems to me that he is well overdue for a fourth, statistically speaking.

On the other hand I have already spoken to a couple of clients who are angiogram veterans and tell me that there is “nothing to it”, with one adding the disconcerting thought that he had been told that if he had put his test off for a week, he would have been dead.

Even so, I think I shall wait to see what the neurologist has to tell me about the whole falling over business before forging ahead with more cardiac investigations.

I’m a bit miffed about all this, to be honest, because I have now been ordered back onto the blood pressure medications and statins that I proudly weaned myself off a few years ago (or I will be, if Mrs H ever gets down to the pharmacy and picks them up for me) and I was rather priding myself on not being an invalid despite decades of abusing my body with excessive amounts of food, alcohol and stress.

Indeed, I gave up working in London in 2004 precisely because I feared that I would give myself a heart attack if I did not slow down. Now it appears that I might have left it too late.

Hanns have been dropping dead of heart attacks for generations now, so I suppose it is only to be expected. My grandfather did it in 1936, my father in 1982. Funnily enough, I recall that when he had his first major seizure that year, about a fortnight before the one that killed him, the consultant asked about the series of heart attacks he had already suffered and my father replied “What heart attacks?” He thought they were indigestion …

As Eric Morecambe observed after his first heart attack in 1968, which he had put down first to wind and then to tennis elbow, it is lucky that we did not know we were having heart attacks, or we would undoubtedly have been so frightened that we would have given ourselves a heart attack.