If the electrical impulse of the heart fails, the heart has a back-up system. That’s what we learned this weekend. The back-up system’s not particularly efficient but it’ll keep your heart beating for long enough to give its own wiring time to recover.
My mum, Ela and I learned this from the Professor of Cardiology in the Cardiology Unit at the Hammersmith Hospital. Wanda had just ended up as its newest in-patient.
The Hammersmith Hospital was old, rickety, drab and a centre of teaching excellence. I paused at its entrance. It was bittersweet to be back. I hadn’t been here since the end of 2007 – my last day at work at the IVF unit. I’d spent my twenties working here, saw the Twin Towers fall here and given birth to my own children here. I found the paint still peeling off its doorways and the staff as excellent a group of health professionals you could hope to meet. If in doubt, ask the rats in the back alley – I used to see them scuttling behind the bins every morning walking from the staff car park. Rats as big as cats.
Then there’s the prison next door. This site was once a Victorian workhouse with an adjacent infirmary. It’s since been converted to Her Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs and Hammersmith University Teaching Hospital. Both buildings are built on a Roman road as straight as an arrow.
The doctor performed a portable echocardiogram on Wanda. He blushed when we alluded to the fun my grandma was having during his exam. It wasn’t our fault -Aphrodite could have had a hand in creating this doctor.
He finished, still blushing. Surely we weren’t the only people to point his beauty out?
He said, ‘What we don’t want is for your grandma to be walking across the road and have the same thing happen again. Her heart kicked back in this time, but she might not be so lucky again.‘
Wanda was busy adjusting her nightgown, a smile still plastering her face. Not a care in the world.
I asked, ‘Is Wanda too old for a pacemaker?’
The doc didn’t like that. I could tell by his sharp, baby-faced glance. ‘We don’t discriminate by age.’
‘No,’ I said quickly, trying to recover his opinion of me, ‘I meant that it might not be so effective for older people.’
He nodded slightly. Phew! Off the hook. ‘It’s true we have to balance intervention against the risk of infection and operating procedure. We’ll make the decision on Monday.’
With this, came Cecile. Like so many nurses in the NHS, Cecile’s from the Philippines. She took over from the Adonis – chatting, whipping out cannulas, making us all feel good. No surprise – our friend Mick is married to a woman from the Philippines. He told us once that becoming a nurse there means being the top of your school class. Entering nursing school is as competitive as being accepted to medicine in the UK, or veterinary school or law. That cultural insight made complete sense watching Cecile work her clinical magic. She was good – really good. Plus she was ushering us out.
‘Go on,’ she said, ‘get a good night’s sleep before you come back tomorrow. Call me in the morning and I’ll give you an update on Wanda.’