I've never really suffered from indigestion. I knew that it existed, obviously, but it had never really impinged on me physically. This was fortunate, as I tend to bolt my food down like someone's about to steal it off my plate. Last Thursday, however, I got my comeuppance. After another long fairly stressful day at work, I got home at around 9pm, dead hungry to find that a large and delicious two course meal had been prepared for me. As is my wont, I tucked into it with abandon, knocking back large quantities very rapidly all washed down with nice cold Ciuc. Then as I sat back and started actually talking to the wonderful woman who had prepared all this, I felt the first inklings that I had overextended slightly. Just that bloated feeling you get when you've foolishly overdone it a bit. (I once knew someone who claimed that if you reach that stage, you can just eat some chocolate ice cream, and somehow that will allow you to fit more in. But he was a liar. And not the slimmest person I've ever met either.)
Anyway, I stood up to do something - maybe make some tea or something, and then it started to really hit me. This was more than just a bit of bloating. Hunched over, and grunting a little, I filled the kettle, before Erika ordered me to go and lie down or sit down or something. I staggered to the bedroom and attempted to lie comfortably - but comfortable was not available, and all I was now getting was pain and by now it was all the way across my chest, like I had something crushing my rib cage, and punching me in the diaphragm. By now the vague grunting sounds had become something more violent and rhythmic, kind of a metronomic UUUURNNHH...UUUURNNHH... (etc). Obviously my first thought had been that I had overeaten, or eaten too fast or whatever, but now I was beginning to think the worst. I remembered reading that when you have a heart attack one of the symptoms was a pain or numbness in the arm, and the fact that both my arms seemed completely fine was the thing giving me some hope in the situation. However on a couple of occasions I felt myself close to blacking out and imagined I'd be waking up in a hospital with tubes sticking out of me.
Erika, meanwhile, was attempting to phone an ambulance. I say attempting because this proved more difficult than you'd imagine. The thing is that a year or so ago we switched our phone provided from RomTelecom, the old state run national provider, to Astral a new, up and coming, smaller company which was providing much more competitive rates. [Astral has since been bought by US-based UPC which has made the service less reliable and customer service much worse, but that's just an aside]. However, the problem is that the short emergency numbers (like 999 in the UK or 911 in the US) don't work from non-Romtelecom phones. I mean how bloody ridiculous is that? I have no idea whose fault it is but someone needs to sort it pretty damn quickly. I don't know if it's dangerous pettyness from Romtelecom, dangerous rubbishness from Astral, or just dangerous lack of planning from everyone, but it's crying out for someone (ie government) to step in and make a law to ensure that you can call the emeregency services from any phone. It's bloody scandalous, as it stands.
Anyway, she failed to quickly get hold of an ambulance, and instead got a friend who works in the hospital to rush round. By the time he arrived I was beginning to recover, and was feeling that whatever had happened was receding. He diagnosed it as indigestion (which was still my diagnosis). As I slowly came back to reality, the three of us chatted, Erika found out which longer, regular numbers to call to get an ambulance should it ever come up again (and we now have them posted by the phone).
The panic over, I mentally and verbally resolved never to wolf down my food again, and began pondering over indigestion. Is this what all sufferers have to put up with? I assume not, since I'm given to understand it's quite a common complaint, and I have never found myself picking my way over the prone grunting bodies of diners when visiting the toilet in a restaurant, for example. Is it one of those things that is really not that common, it just seems that way from the number of commercials for products to deal with it. (When I lived in the US for example, it seemed like about 75% of all ads were for some drug or other, with indigestion/heartburn/whatever drugs narrowly coming second to erectile dysfunction remedies). I can only imagine that it is fairly widespread, but in nothing like the form I had it.
So, as the pain subsided, the flat slowly returned to something approaching normality, though I suspect none of slept especially well that night. The next day, eating with incredible slowness, I felt OK. The Saturday, I once again felt pain after a meal, but in a minor form, which I took to be just a reminder from my body to keep it slow. But, on Monday morning I woke up with the same pain. Before I'd eaten anything or touched a coffee of anything of the sort. This couldn't be right, surely? So, slightly worried, we pulled a few strings and fixed me up with a hospital visit to the gastrothingy specialist the following morning (since my current schedule involves me definitely having to be in a certain place between 10 am and 9pm, that was basically the only option).
As it turned out the only thing the doc was prepared to do on Tuesday was to tell me to go off for a blood test, which I duly did. The following day I returned with my results, had a quick blood pressure check from the nurse and then proceeded to wait to see the man himself. I have to admit, the room outside which I was waiting was not especially inviting. Watever went on in there it required nurses dressed in plastic sheeting to constantly be coming and going. Quite clearly the tests conducted there were of the messy variety, and that didn't fill me with happy anticipation. Far from it, in fact, since I am incredibly sqeamish around all things medical. I had hoped that the blood test I'd bravely sat through, barely flinching, the day before, would have been enough. And I was really hoping that I wouldn't be called to find out what was going on in the endoscope room (which is what it was).
So, it was with some trepidation that I was called for my test, but some relief when I realised I was going to a different room. I lay down, shirt off, and trouser legs rolled up, like in some bizarre masonic initiation ritual. This was odd. A old bit of electrical equipment was rolled in with various wires and things coming off it, and put next to me. Hmmm. What was about to happen here? The nurse then proceeded to drip water across my chest and my exposed ankles. 6 wired up suction cups were affixed to my chest, and then jump leads were attached to my ankles and I was given two more to hold in my hands. This was the reason for the water and the ankle thing. I was being electrocuted. It was all a bit like being in Abu Ghraib - well, aside from the barking dogs, the laughing guards, the bag on my head and the intense pain and suffering. So not a great deal like Abu Ghraib at all then.
This, in fact, was neither a torture, nor a masonic enrollment, but was an EKG (I think probably ECG elsewhere where Cardio is spelt with a C rather than a K). I am quite sure that ECG machines in more modern hospitals look very much more like they were invented in the computer age, and not like something which has been lying around for the last 40 years, but whatever. The process was painless, aside from a slight numbness in the arm (neatly bringing me back to the start of the problem, when the only thing good about it was that I didn't have a numb tingling arm), and some long lasting suction imprints on my chest. Thankfully. Then the doc took a look at all the results and told me that it had been indigestion and that the post-indigestion pain was some kind of aftershocks, since my muscles had been forced into doing something quite unusual and violent for a while, and they were just balancing themselves up again, or some such. He then went on to say that if it happened again I ought to come back and have an endoscope (I think that's the word - the procedure which seems to involve shoving some form of study instrument down your throat so he can look at your stomach from the inside). This is sufficient warning enough for me never to take any less than half an hour eating a piece of toast. When I'm in a hurry.
On the plus side, however, I reckon I shed about three kilos in the week. So, y'know, every cloud has a silver lining and that.
The Denuding Of Leyton Orient
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