Island Life by David Slack

Vital Signs

Here are some things you can’t do if your blood pressure is too high and your heart is rendering the wrong kind of ECG test:

1. Go deep sea diving

2. Fly a 747

3. Get a nose job.

Of all the ways I thought yesterday might turn out, the one eventuality I had not contemplated was getting a ride to North Shore Hospital in an ambulance. The short story is: I have the same nose I had yesterday. The long one is contained in the patient’s notes:

Patient arrives at clinic, changes into gown, signs forms, gets blood pressure tested.

Patient sits, waits, gazes out window, picks up iPod.

Anaesthetist arrives, patient puts iPod back down.

Anaesthetist seems more stern than the others. Announces: “Blood pressure looks a bit high. We’ll wait five minutes and check it again.”

Five minutes elapse, check again. Higher.

Five more minutes. Anaesthetist now begins searching battery of questions about patient’s cardiac history. As questions proceed, anaesthetist’s concern about results of pre-operative ECG test emerges. Wave pattern not what he would like. Suggests heart under load.

Check blood pressure again. Now through roof.

Patient remains composed in mind, wishes to proceed with procedure. Body now rebels.

Anaesthetist continues to press matter of cardiac well-being as patient’s head begins to swim. Reluctantly discloses sensation of dizziness. Expresses need to lower head to this pillow here. Expresses apology as head falls.

Patient comes around to sea of anxious faces. Theatre now full of personnel in blue uniforms swiftly attaching patient to ECG monitor.

Patient is given oxygen mask, is informed that operation will not proceed and that ambulance has been called.

Patient is soon travelling through Takapuna on his back, looking out at the clear blue sky and feeling nauseous.

Emergency department at North Shore Hospital has full complement of junior doctors and efficient nurses who have patient swiftly attached to ECG monitor. Blood tests and X-Rays follow. House surgeon has reassuring diagnosis that troubling elements of ECG appear historical in nature – legacy of 19 year old heart attack. Patient has several hours for contemplation as tests are analysed and vital signs remain under observation.

Patient finally gets around to listening to podcasts of Ricky Gervais show. Hilarious.

Patient watches people come and go, observes noses of great variety, all interesting in their own way. Reads notes on admission board alongside patient names. Most denoted “C.P”. Later, challenge friend to translate. Sympathetic friend thinks for moment, then declares: “Complete Pussy.”

Actually stands for Chest Pain.

Consultant arrives in mid-afternoon. Declares patient safe for discharge. Patient should see cardiologist. Patient as good as word, sets events immediately in motion with trip to GP. Patient explains day’s events, wonders if blood pressure might reflect pattern of drinking. GP assesses data, concurs.

Patient reflects on lessons drawn from day of contemplation. Wonders if nose surgery really what patient needs. Asks self if nose being broken in first place in state of intoxication suggests patient could be overlooking issue as plain as nose on patient’s face.