If it’s Not a Heart Attack: A Portsmouth Novelist is Rushed to A&E

Last month, fantasy novelist Rick Haynes was sitting at his desk when he felt a slight twinge on the left side of his chest. Here’s what happened next.

Thinking nothing of the mild pain, I carried on. The word ‘heartburn’ came to mind. Yet the pain decided I wasn’t taking any notice so upped the ante with a stabbing sensation. I winced and rubbed my torso vigorously. I continued typing, trying to ignore the feeling of needles under my skin.

I should have known better.

The stabbing grew more regular and I called to my wife. The problem was beyond our knowledge so we called 999. I answered all the questions and within minutes was advised that an ambulance had been dispatched. I was a ‘priority patient,’ they said. Whilst I waited, the pain grew and my head throbbed with a wave of heat.

At 6.10 pm, just twenty minutes after making the call, the paramedics arrived. They were called Nigel and Carlton. Their taking command of the situation gave me a lift, but what didn’t go down too well was when they said that my blood pressure was so high I was on the brink of having a stroke.

They gave me a single aspirin and some spray under my tongue. The hurt in my chest dissipated and I began to relax. They asked questions which I answered with jokes.

We got into the ambulance, set off and then Nigel slammed on the breaks. ‘Trying to stop a 2 ton machine downhill,’ he said, ‘when some idiot slams on their brakes needlessly, is a tad difficult.’ On second thoughts, he might have used more vociferous language than that.

On reaching Queen Alexandra Hospital at 6.50 we waited our turn amongst the queue of ambulances. Did I fret? No, I was safe and well looked after. Eventually, Carlton led me down the steps from my blues and twos machine and I sat down in a chair on wheels. He pushed me into a line of beds holding other patients in the Accident and Emergency Department. An attendant gave my wife a chair and we waited.

Both Nigel and Carlton came separately over to say goodbye, both telling me one last joke to keep my spirits up. It was a simple, caring touch and much appreciated.

Time seemed to slow whilst I was in hospital, yet the comings and goings of both medical staff and patients appeared fast and fluid. It had been some years since my son fell off his bike and lay unconscious in the road. I remembered seeing him later on, semi-conscious on a bed amongst a throng of people all needing treatment. The staff and patients were in a constant state of flux, dark shadows grew in the corners and it was noisier than my local pub.

A&E had certainly changed since then, and for the better. Bright lights illuminated even the gloomiest of areas. The care of patients was carefully organised and, most importantly, an air of calm permeated the whole department. A composed demeanour amongst the staff meant relaxed patients.

I was moved from the booking-in area to the first appraisal section. A nurse took an ECG of me and removed copious amounts of blood from my arm. With so many capsules now holding my brightest and freshest claret, I thought of an old comedian who joked that his whole arm had been drained after he’d decided to become a blood donor.

Another ECG was taken – in all I was to have five or six that night – and, my blood pressure now under control, I was moved once more. The nurses were busy yet attentive.

Alex, the senior doctor, came to see me. The results of my first blood tests were in, he said, and they didn’t suggest I’d had a heart attack. The phrase rang happily in my ears. My body calmed and my brain reengaged. While Alex had likely seen this all before, my mouth was agape and I was grinning stupidly. I was so glad there wasn’t a mirror around. However, it was time to ask the big question.

If it wasn’t a heart attack what the hell was it?

Alex explained that acid rising up from my stomach probably caused the pain. That said, he’d liaised with the cardiac team and wanted to double check as one marker wasn’t quite right. I was moved to the observation ward, more blood was taken and, by now, I was certain my arm had lost half its weight. I could have tested my theory by trying to hold a full pint of beer in that hand, but, alas, I didn’t see any ale on the menu.

Alex made another brief visit to explain that he would need to keep me on the ward until the results of the last blood test had arrived. He wanted to ensure all was well before I was discharged.

It had already been a long night and now it was going to get longer. My youngest son joined us to cheer me up and support me. Food and drink were supplied, yet the minutes passed like water dripping from a very slow tap.

About an hour and bit after midnight, Alex arrived with the good news that I could go home, yet he still wasn’t taking any chances. At 8.15 am I was booked in to see a cardiologist. Now that’s what I call a caring service and one bloody good doctor.

We arrived home at 1.45 am. Knackered but relieved, I slept well, thankful that those wonderful folk in the NHS had delivered.

If I had a hat, I’d take it off in their honour.

I’d even buy them all a drink but their budget is just a bit bigger than mine.