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  • Writer's pictureWEDossett

The Enormous Waterfalls of the Sun

Sunlight streaming onto a low waterfall
Ffos Anoddun (Fairy Glen)

One year ago today I had a heart attack.

I've been writing, in a self-conscious "hashtag iamwriting" kind of a way, about this heart attack for the last nine or ten months, on and off. I seem to want to communicate to any reader willing to subject themselves to it, what it felt like on the inside. I don't just mean on the inside of the exhausted coronary artery that finally decided the agonised, furious, flow of hot blood was too much for it. I mean on the inside of 'me.'

I’ve been wandering around in questions about what it’s like to have a body, or to be a body, and in the inadequacy of both those grammatical options. On the way, I got tangled up in the knots of my own history and those of the generations before me. I wanted to know why I came to be lying on the floor with pain in my chest and my left arm, with my mobile phone in a sweaty hand, calling 999, and mentally saying goodbye to my loved ones. The narrative that came in the writing had threads in it, threads that I started to pull to see where they went. That process has generated quite a few 'side poems', some of which I’m thrilled and terrified to say are going to be published quite soon. [Edit: they're here]. However, the little #iamwriting piece on my heart-attack morphed into a huge project that has, frankly, overwhelmed me. At the moment, I can’t see its horizon. 

What's more, the truth is that I sometimes get all Mary Oliverish and feel

You don’t want to hear the story

of my life, and anyway

I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway it’s the same old story - - -

a few people just trying,

one way or another,

to survive.

(from Dogfish). 

and I’d rather go out and look for swallows, or watch the sea at West Shore. 

Despite the glorious pull of the present, though, that one-year-anniversary does cast the mind backwards. One day I will write and share about why I think my heart finally broke, in that year, and on that particular day.

But today, I’m just feeling grateful for the people who were there for me when it did.

There were lots of them. A 999 responder, paramedics, clincians, nurses, hospital people of every rank, family members from a distance. But I’m thinking particularly of three friends, work colleagues, who happened to be in Chester that day. I know that other friends would have been there for me too. Some were hundreds of miles away dealing with their own heart-breaking stuff. 

Caroline had already done a long stint by my side in A&E earlier in the day while my by-then-medicated chest-pains subsided, and we thought I was probably 'just a bit tired.' She came back to the Countess of Chester Hospital after I texted in the afternoon with the surprising news that the blood results we'd been waiting for had come through and I was being admitted with a suspected heart attack. Another friend and colleague, Paul, came with her.

As I lay in resus rather bewildered and wired-up to a heart-monitor, Caroline and Paul problem-solved every single issue I generated for them - from the next day’s lecture schedule, to public facing events for which I was responsible, to pastoral issues with students, to anxiety about John being trapped without a car in Eryri, to requirements for clean underwear and overnight things.

With each problem they resolved, the numbers on my heart monitor were impacted positively in real time. All three of us were astonished by the undeniable, observable, reality of the interconnection of emotions and body. It was not just the relief of work issues being lifted from me, it was the experience of being on the receiving end of an absolutely unconditional ‘we’ve got you.’ No matter what the state of your notes; no matter what problems or messes there are; no matter what evidence we'll find that you're rubbish at your job and you're just winging it - which of course we'll simply keep to ourselves - no matter what you've left undone (and, man, there was a lot!) -- we’ve got you

After they eventually left for a high-profile university event that evening that I should have been attending too, the cumulative shock of what I’d just been through began to set in. I had an x-ray, a scan and an echo-cardiogram in quick succession. There was a lot of interest in my well-being, which was great, but also unsettling. There were frequent dramatic episodes with other patients in resus, where I was being held in a bay until I could be transferred to the heart hospital in Liverpool. All of this, including the bleeping machines, the periodically raised and stressed voices, and the bright lights, made it extremely hard for me to relax. What we didn’t know, until I had received a full diagnosis from an angiogram some 36 hours later, was that staying calm was absolutely essential in those early hours and days following the heart attack. There was a tear in my coronary artery that, at that stage, we didn't know was there. My heart was still beating okay, but any threat to homeostasis was a threat to life.

On hearing I was alone, another friend, David, came straight to resus to be with me. Ever practical, he helped me prepare for and navigate the conversation with the cardiologist, who came by at about 9pm. As the evening wore on, despite my protests, David stayed, and tried instinctively to establish what would help me to relax. We decided it might be worth him reading aloud to me. He settled down to read me a long literary essay written by Chris Arthur, my old PhD supervisor. Eventually, I was able to let go into the voice and presence of my friend and the contingent presence of my old teacher. Like an overwrought child cocooned in a bedtime story, I was finally able to fall asleep. I don’t know when it was, in the middle of that night or in the early hours, that David eventually tiptoed off, leaving me in the professional care of the night shift.  

I remember those kindnesses frequently. They are especially vivid today. The tender, unconditional, unlimited care that suddenly appeared in abundance when it was most needed. 

I’m not saying that kind of care is rare. They’re good, kind people, obviously, like most people. It might be very ordinary. They will no doubt say so. 

But that doesn’t mean that it is an unremarkable thing to receive it.  

While I do have another story still to tell about my heart attack, I just didn’t want to let this anniversary pass without remarking that being cared for by friends on that day, and in the days to come by a wider yet just as solicitous group, honestly did feel something very much like standing in the enormous waterfalls of the sun. 


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