Saturday, 1 September 2012

A bit of a perspective shift

I'm in a bit of an odd place currently, but I definitely think the changes are going to be for the better. Please bear with a longer post than normal, but to be honest I think writing about my reasons for this shift will be quite cathartic and I hope by sharing my experience it can help and encourage others. 

My Dad thought he was suffering from indigestion on his recent cruise up the fjords, but then suffered a minor heart attack (with no damage to his heart luckily) when going ashore to Iceland. The ship's doctor was excellent, and he was transported to hospital in Reykjavik for assessment. I missed a call from my step-sister and I must admit I expected the absolute worst, so bizarrely enough hearing it was a heart attack was a small relief. The cruise company were brilliant and the following day I had the phone number for his hospital. A lady answered and said, "Please wait a moment" and then there was all sorts of strange rustling noises, followed by my Dad saying hello! It seems that hospitals in Iceland don't suffer from infection like we do (I'm guessing that means MRSA), so all visitors are in quarantine for 3 days from admission. The phone had to be inserted in a plastic glove which explains all the strange noises I heard! Dad sounded very positive that they'd be able to patch him up after his angiogram, we figured maybe drugs or a stent, and he'd be on his way home soon. I kept in regular contact with him via text, but it was upsetting to think of him alone whilst being so unwell and abroad too. 

For some reason, my gut feeling was that I was going to Iceland and I starting vaguely looking online at flight prices. When I finally spoke to my step-Mum, she explained that he would need a triple heart bypass and would be there for 3 weeks. I was initially gobsmacked, but then said I would go back out there with her. I've always wanted to visit Iceland, but I definitely wouldn't have chosen to go under these circumstances! After initially hearing about the heart attack on Sunday, I was then on a flight to Reykjavik on the following Friday. I am extremely fortunate to have a very understanding boss and left work saying that I would keep in contact, as I really didn't know how long we'd be out there. 

I am not a religious person, but I really feel like we were being looked after on our trip as things went so smoothly. The Landspitali hospital has its own apartment close by and it became free just in time for our stay. We were very fortunate to meet a nurse who lived just round the corner and she kindly walked us there and helped us up the stairs with our cases! Dad had his 5 hour surgery the following morning, and we decided we needed to find something to occupy ourselves with but hadn't worked out exactly what yet. During breakfast at our wonderful local Loki cafe, another English tourist kindly mentioned that there was a lunchtime concert at the nearby Hallgrímskirkja church, and we managed to arrive just in time after my final cup of fragrant Loki tea (Icelandic birch, arctic thyme and Icelandic moss). The concert was amazing, and Willibald Guggenmos treated us with pieces by Paul Huber, Bach, Georges Athanasiades, Omer Guiraud & Jan Janca.  

We then toddled off back to the hospital's intensive care unit to see how Dad was doing. As expected, he hadn't woken up yet but the surgeon explained that the surgery had gone very well and he was very pleased with Dad's progress so far. We then came back later and were able to be at his bedside when they removed the sedation. For some reason, I assumed he would come round slowly after surgery, but to be honest I nearly passed out as it was pretty upsetting and disturbing! He opened his eyes suddenly, thrashed about and looked like he was in pain and wanted to sit up. Immediately the nurse put her hands on his shoulders and asked him to calm down and I realised I'd been holding my breath due to the fright of it and had to sit on the floor in the waiting room for a bit. I didn't want to worry my Dad or step-Mum by passing out next to the bed! Patients can suffer from disorientation when coming round after this surgery and he was unable to swallow due to the ventilator tube down his throat too.  

He stayed only a day in ICU and was then moved onto the heart and lung post-op recovery ward. Helping to steer the hospital bed there was an interesting exercise in my co-ordination levels, as I had to really concentrate going backwards and chuckled at visions of me falling and bumping along underneath the bed! On leaving ICU, we hugged the nurses and one of them said, "Oh, English people are so lovely!" and I replied, "Icelandic people are so lovely too!" In the initial days after his surgery, Dad really looked like a shell of his former self unsurprisingly. The day after surgery, they got him up on his feet (amazing, eh?) and watching him get up was hard as he was obviously scared of falling or hurting his new wounds. In the end, he had a quadruple bypass and the veins were taken from one long one in his leg. Bizarrely that scar is much more impressive than the one in his chest and they did cut down his breastbone to reach the heart.  

He was discharged to the apartment an amazing 10 days after surgery and wouldn't need to go back into hospital on our return to the UK. The staff at the hospital were absolutely wonderful, and I got a bit tearful when meeting the surgeon for the final time as this gently spoken man saved my Dad's life. A final check up two days later confirmed Pops was well enough to fly home and we were really ready to return, but flights and arrangements were being made by the insurance company, so time to sit tight and try to enjoy our final days there. 

I admit it was a hard two weeks and I only started to properly relax once Dad had been discharged. My step-Mum and I made sure we looked after ourselves by getting fresh air, eating as well as we could and focussing on the positive. It's all a case of taking it step by step. We were a great team and Dad recently said that seeing our smiling faces coming into the ward made his day. I took my running kit with me and I know that this was an easy and great way to rid my body of the stress. I had some lovely runs down by the sea and Tjörnin (a small lake in the centre). On one of my first proper outings by myself I popped into an independent music shop called 12 Tónar and was delighted to find that they had some live music playing later and listened to Moses Hightower (who was also a character in Police Academy). If you're visiting Reykjavik, I'd definitely recommend that you visit the shop as they're very friendly, offer free coffee and you can listen to any CDs on the players available.

My step-Mum and I were also lucky to attend the Gay Pride parade which was great fun with lots of music, floats and dancing. It was a great turnout despite the rain and Dad enjoyed looking at my photos on our return to the hospital. Once Dad was in the apartment, I did consider going a bit further afield on a bus trip or whale watching, but I really wasn't that bothered and just enjoyed mooching about the centre by myself or reading in a coffee shop. On our final full day, it was a bank holiday and a culture night which meant there was live music, flea markets (little stalls with second hand goods) and an astonishing number of people out and about in the centre. We were watching TV in the evening and I suddenly realised it was being filmed only about 10 minutes away, so disappeared off into the crowds. I made my way near to the front, hoping for a boogie but the bluesy music wasn't quite what I was after so I went for a wander, amazed at the crowds full of all sorts of people. I felt very safe and only returned as we had an early start the next day.  

I'm nearly there, I promise!!
As part of the insurance package (and related to Saga in some way), an English doctor flew out to Iceland, gave Dad a check up and then was with us door to door all the way back home. He is also a full-time GP and rescuing ill Brits from abroad is his part-time job and he was brilliant. Stepping off the plane at Luton was like going on holiday as it was so much hotter than it has been in Reykjavik! Dad is recovering well, now able to walk for about 30 minutes and will be joining a cardiac rehab programme to help him start exercising safely. The doctors and nurses said that his deterioration and subsequent heart attack hadn't happened overnight and had probably come about over a 15 year period. He now needs to look after himself to enjoy this new lease of life and there's lots of helpful info at the British Heart Foundation site. I'm going to sign up to the Heart Matters free service, as it's never too soon to start looking after my heart.  

So, what can I really say to close? This time has made me think about how I want to spend my time and on what I actually missed whilst I was away. I know my mind was on other important issues, but I only really missed my loved ones and aikido. I'll be embarking on a major clear out as it feels time to shed all sorts of stuff I no longer use or need. For starters, I've given up tai chi to concentrate on aikido, and am considering deactivating my Twitter account as I've had so little interest in accessing it since being back. I realised whilst abroad that I want to use this as an opportunity to reflect on what's important to me and work on how to focus and enjoy these things.


  1. Hi Anita
    I'm sure your Dad will make a full recovery. Fingers crossed and my thoughts are with you...

    You know recently I too have been finding Twitter too much of a distraction, side tracking me far too much.

    Previously I have had Firefox and Tweetdeck open at the same time and sitting side by side on my big 27" iMac screen. But I recently tried out the newer Tweetdeck client but put it out of sight on a different workspace on the Mac.

    I started to realise I wasn't being distracted so much without seeing Twitter and even shut it down most of the time to concentrate on things I was falling behind on.

    To go another stage further I've started to unfollow a few people so my time line is less mad!

    I don't think I will give up on Twitter completely, but I've now got it in check!


    1. Hi Steve,
      He's doing really well, thanks :)
      I haven't deleted Twitter just yet, but I'm definitely more aware of where my distractions are & am still finding Facebook a bit overwhelming. Looking forward to seeing you in London.

  2. Hi Anita,

    Glad to hear this tale turned out for the best, and that, as is often is the case with tragedy, or at least mishap,there was wisdom to be gained!

    1. Hi Quentin & thanks for your comment. Maybe I can blame it on aikido, but I'm so much better these days at finding the positive in any situation & like you say wisdom as well.

  3. Hi Anita,
    I've missed you! Sorry to hear about your Dad and I hope he recovers soon. Make sure you focus on yourself too though!
    Thinking of you! Big hugs,

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for your kind words! I've had a bit of a break from all the online stuff as it was a bit too much after being in our little bubble in Iceland. I have been looking after myself too, thanks :)

  4. I also find Social Networking a complete distraction, i'm relatively new to Twitter i've had an account for a long time but never really used it until recently, I just feel I can't keep up with it and I don't really get it, the same with Facebook it's just a distraction that I could do without, i'm easily enough distracted as it is :)

    1. I feel the same way, Alison. There's some great stuff on both Twitter & Facebook, but I feel I can never keep up with it so stopped trying ages ago.

  5. Oh Anita! I don't even know what to say besides I'm so glad it worked out well! Also everyone seemed so amazing to you and your family. So glad it turned out well


    1. Thank you, Tracy :)
      I agree that everyone was very kind & my Dad says the experience has definitely helped restore his faith in human nature.