Along with the rest of a grateful nation, I stood on my doorstep on Thursday night and joined the now ritualistic 8pm applause for our National Health workers in the Clap for Carers tribute that has done so much to bind us all together.
I have more reason to cheer than most.
Not long ago I was discharged from one of the big London hospitals at the epicentre of the coronavirus after doctors found a way to cure my life-threatening illness — which initially seemed impossible, with the order from Government that only emergency surgery, not elective surgery, was to take place.
Without their ingenuity, genius, and deep desire to save lives I would not have survived the year. I believe I owe these heroes my very existence.
My problem was that a vital heart valve, the aorta, which feeds oxygenated blood around the body,, was what the doctors called calcified, or in laymen’s language, blocked. It needed replacing immediately. Failure to do so would lead to the heart-stopping completely. This followed a series of dizzy spells correctly diagnosed at first by my local GP as a heart murmur. Without the new valve, I could not survive for long.
“It’s like holding your thumb over a hose so that just a trickle comes out instead of a pulsing flow” was how the cardiac consultant vividly put it. “Eventually, even that trickle will stop.”
Open heart surgery was prescribed and I was admitted to Hammersmith hospital. Over three consecutive days, the medical team tried valiantly to get me into the operating theatre, only to be constantly overwhelmed by the Covid-19 tsunami.
National Health England insists victims of the virus must be given the first call for all ventilators, which keep the body breathing when its immune system has broken down, vital for patients recovering from open-heart surgery as well.
Each morning, just before I was due to go under the knife, with the surgeons gowned and ready to operate, I was giddy with nerves. This is a five-hour operation in which the heart is stopped and fatalities on the table are not unknown. You have a five per cent chance of meeting your Maker and the needle and the knife have always held terrors for me anyway.
But each time my procedure was cancelled, literally just after dawn, because there just weren’t enough ventilators. An added complication was my medical team were increasingly concerned that if I was admitted to intensive care, with the virus raging, I also stood a very real chance of contracting it from Covid victims in the next bed in ICU. My nerves were shredded.
It was a perverse irony that Covid had left operating theatres dark, the cardiac surgeons frustrated, filling time posting emails in their offices.
It seemed there was nothing more to be done. Although my condition was described as “critical”, I was classified as “elective surgery” and the hospital had no alternative but to discharge me. They could not say when my operation could take place, but probably not this year.
By the time they could operate my condition would have deteriorated, with potentially fatal consequences.
Bidding me farewell, the surgical team urged me to take great care and self-isolate. It seemed all they could do. Back home I wrote my will, said a prayer and prepared for the possibility of the Hereafter. Well, it’s been a good life, I thought. What I didn’t know was that the hospital was still fighting to find another way to save me.
It was at this, my lowest moment, that an urgent call came from the Cardiac wards. Could I come in for an immediate heart scan followed by a meeting with doctors?
The best brains at Hammersmith hospital had decided that as long as I wouldn’t need a ventilator and intensive care there was nothing to stop them operating with a different procedure to replace the valve in my heart.