Here I am in sniper’s alley, dodging bullets and pills…

Here I am, more or less in one piece, nearly three weeks on

A friend who had his heart attack 17 years ago tells me the decade between 60 and 70 is when we are most likely to be hit by fatal ailments. It’s known as sniper’s alley for that reason.

If you reach 70, there is every hope of attaining a ripe old age.

So that’s where I find myself, dodging bullets and pills, with two-and-a-half years to go.

Hold me upside down, shake me, and I rattle. All that medication, statins the size of cough lozenges. God, I never used to take anything, and now each day I swallow a fistful.

But that’s the price of staying alive.

Having the heart attack was a profound shock. Surely not, I’m healthy, eat sensibly. Play squash and badminton, cycle, tramp through the countryside nattering to old friends. Don’t smoke, only drink a bit, nothing to scare the horses. Or the cardiac nurse I met the other day. “Don’t worry, we’re not the police,” she said cheerfully as she made a note of my modest enough weekly total.

That nurse was lovely and kind, as everyone in the NHS has been to this owner of a busted heart. A heart now replumbed and rewired. Reconditioned like the engine in that MG Midget I owned decades before anyone mentioned stents or heart attacks.

Yes, it is a shocker suddenly to have been so ill. That’s why I chose to share the harried, churning moment in my blog. Afterwards you cannot help pondering about mortality. Or feeling something. The big thing, the one you don’t want to talk about, is that, yes, everything could have ended just like that.

That’s the price of being alive. You are here, then you are not. The trick is to enjoy to the fullest the gap between those two markers. To take pleasure in many things; gawp at the blossom or spy a passing cloud. Bake a loaf of bread. Watch good television and rubbish television. Read more books, drink good beer and wine. Play with your granddaughter if you have one. Savour your friends and loved ones.

The cardiac nurse talked to me about diet and exercise. My diet is good, apart from when it is not, mostly down to a liking for cheese and unsalted butter.

“You put a lot of cheese in your sandwiches” has long been the view of the unofficial cardiac nurse at home.

Ah, there is still cheese, there must always be cheese; cheese on toast in all its gooey joyfulness; shavings of strong cheddar, squidges of brie or the delightful decay of Stilton. Just not so much or so often. Other food is available, apparently.

The nurse slipped me a leaflet packed with stern information about food. I had a glance later, and thought, oh, right. More things to remember; more things to forget. More to swallow or to not swallow.

Everyone has been so kind while displaying friendly furrows of concern. Wife and children; mother and brothers; the wider family; old friends, new friends; all have been worried. Everyone is pleased to see me upright and smiling. I am good as people say nowadays. Tired but good, glad to be here in the tender care of the cardiac nurse at home.

Why did I have a heart attack? This is not only a why-me moment, but an actual question. Plenty of impromptu medics say it must be because of the hernia operation the day before. Connecting one thing to another, blaming one thing on something else, is what we like to do, indulging in causality, that nagging relationship between cause and effect.

Did righting that bulge in my groin send a clotted bullet into my heart? I have no idea, and perhaps I will never know, although the question will be asked. I already had a tug of angina, though, so who knows for sure.

As well as the dietary nitty-gritty, along with the pills and more pills, there is advice about exercise. Nothing but walking for now. The first instruction was to walk for four minutes. Four minutes! That’s to the end of our garden and back. I am now up to 20 minutes or more, twice a day,

A month or so more may see me with a racquet in hand again. I’d like to point out that I won my last squash session 4-1. And that never happens.

After the unwanted excitement of the big event, I am settling down, hopeful, moving on. The friend who had a heart attack long ago said it took him a couple of years to accept what had happened. My second scariest moment came one week after the heart attack. I sat downstairs reading and listening to music, as I had on the day. I kept glancing at my watch, waiting for 10pm. My wife was upstairs in her studio, as she had been on the night.

That knot in the wood of time came and went without incident.


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