Saturday Column - Number 28 - June 23rd 2001

You will remember I was in Disneyland a couple of months ago. The day before ‘The Mickey Mouse Incident’ my mobile phone had rung; it was Howard, an old friend I had lost contact with years ago.

Every couple of years, I would bump into him in the West End and we would chat for a few minutes, and we always parted with one of us saying “We must get together for dinner soon.” But we never did.

” Peter,” Howard said, ” I just realized you were one of the few people I haven’t told! I am having a quadruple heart by pass operation next Monday!”

He said this like he was calling to invite me to a party he was throwing. I didn’t know whether to say

“Wow! Howard, that’s terrific! What time does it start? Can I bring somebody with me?” …Or go with a more sympathetic, caring response.

I went with the latter.

“Howard, I really appreciate you letting me know about your forthcoming quadruple by pass operation, but I am in Disneyland, we’ve been queuing for an hour. Lily is fast asleep on my shoulders, and we are just going into ‘The Haunted House’, which I don’t recommend you see before your operation and after that we are off to see the new ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ Attraction, so all in all it’s a bit difficult to talk cardiology at this moment, Howard. But lots of luck.”

Never say I am not sensitive to other people’s by pass agendas.

Look, I left out the ‘If you make it through the surgery, call me back!’ and the ‘We must get together for dinner soon’ bits.

But Howard refused to be put off by my Mickey Mouse reply, because he had a MESSAGE for me.

“Peter, you have to promise me to get your heart checked out immediately. I am 42 years old. I was in perfect health. I had absolutely NO symptoms. I just went to the doctor for my routine annual check up and the next thing I know I am having open heart surgery.”

For the next five minutes, he told me about his ECGs, angiograms, balloon angioplasties, barrage balloon angioplasties and 87% blocked main arteries. By the time he had rung off, I’d promised him as soon as I got back to London I would get a check up, or at least call Dynorod for an estimate.

I am not a hypochondriac. I like to think of myself more as a Borderline Hypochondriac, but by the time I got out of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, I was 100% sure I needed a by pass immediately. My cardiac condition had not been helped during the show by a surprise Pearl Harbor style attack by giant snakes, which suddenly came out from under the seats. I know NOW they were special effect rubber snakes, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I cast my mind back through my medical history. I was pretty sure I had never had a heart attack, I mean it’s something I think I’d remember.

I did have a heart scare about ten years ago when someone I must have upset at Sketchley’s the Dry Cleaners played a little joke on me.

Every week, he had replaced some of my shirts with identical ones, only ONE size smaller each week. So after a few weeks I had the same slight feeling of tightness across my chest that you get when a 300 lb man decides to stand on it.

But it only occurred at occasional critical moments during the day…like whenever I breathed.

I had called my doctor and gone for a check up.

Donald, my doctor, who has since retired, had a low-tech approach to medicine. For the exercise ECG, he had made me stand in my boxer shorts and jump up and down on an upturned metal wastepaper bin in his surgery.

“Are you sure this works?” I had asked him.

“Look, once you’ve got on and off the bin 1000 times, if you haven’t had a heart attack by then, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” he said reassuringly.

Unfortunately, the readings from the rubbish bin readings were not good, and I ended up a week later in the Middlesex Hospital, in London, for the patient- friendly ‘Nuclear Thallium Test.’

“Are you sure this thing’s safe?” I asked, as I was strapped on to a steel conveyor belt and propelled into a small nuclear reactor.

“Absolutely nothing to worry about, just a routine scan.” a man (wearing exactly the same white atomic contamination suit and helmet I had last seen in a TV documentary on the Nuclear Holocaust) said from behind a lead wall, as he poked a six feet long pole, with a metal glove on the end, towards the button marked ‘Uranium electron bombardment’.

One week of high grade anxiety later, when all the results came back and my radioactive level had receded to a degree which let me go down to the shops without glowing, it all turned out to have been a BIG MISTAKE.

“A Negative Positive, or a False Positive basically, there’s nothing wrong with you.” the specialist said.

The rubbish bin had lied.

Months later, I discovered what had gone on at Sketchley’s, and from that day I took my dirty shirts elsewhere.

Anyway, when I got back from Disneyland I rang my new Doctor who, after listening to my symptoms or as he put it ‘total lack of them’, felt it was so urgent that he suggested I come in for a medical check up in two months.

“Doctor, you know you are taking a big chance.” I said.

“It’s a risk I am prepared to take.” he replied.

So I am going in on Wednesday.

Wish me luck.

The way things have been going so far, I feel quietly confident that I shall make it to the check up, before having a heart attack.

But, if I do have one first, I know just what to do. I’ll dial 999, and when the music stops and the operator finally takes me off hold and says. ” What emergency service do you require…? Fire, Ambulance, or Police?”

I shall answer “FIRE.”

Because I happen to know the response time for a fire engine to get to your home is only 3 minutes, compared to the current average London Ambulance Service response time of 12 minutes.

I don’t want to be picky but if you want a dribble-free future, with a vocabulary of more than Doh! For the rest of your life, this is about nine minutes too long, as you are now what are technically known in the trade as ‘BROCOLLI’.

But all FIRE engines have defibrillators on board.

You have seen them on ER, yes, those electric cattle prod things that shock you across the room! Try not to have your heart attack in the bath as, in some US States, they still use the Defibrillator- in- the- Bath method to execute people.

So the next time you are passing Claridge’s around breakfast time, and see a fire engine wedged in the lobby, or a body flying out of the restaurant window into Davies Street, you can say to yourself..

“Aah so Peter Rosengard wasn’t such a Borderline Hypochondriac after all. He finally did have that heart attack he was talking about.”

Wander in and tell them you were a Saturday Column reader: and have the Last Breakfast on me.



Copyright Peter Rosengard 2001. All back columns including those that first appeared in The Independent 1993/1995, are now up on the site. Please see The Saturday Column Archive.