Tuesday 25 October 2016

Posy tries to find a fatal spot in my poor heart

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan

Last Sunday, my beloved terrier, Posy, did her best to kill me. What follows is fact, always weirder than fiction.

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I had pulled up outside the local Spar, dashed in for the Sunday Independent and a takeaway coffee, and came back to find myself locked out of the car.

Posy, who had stepped on the electronic ignition button, stared at me brazenly like the wagon she is, before moving to the back seat so I could savour the full horror of the scene.

Dolly, my wife's pretty Bischon Frise, tail wagging, took Posy's place, stretching her lead taut.

Taut because the other was wrapped around the steering column so that Dolly would hang herself if she jumped to the floor.

As I stared in shock, I had the sudden feeling that Posy was punishing me for bringing dainty Dolly into the house six years ago.

Posy, at 16 years, is in rude health. She's also what in Dublin is called a wagon, a hefty, dragon lady who comes down hard on pretty, young bimbos.

What followed was a 40-minute nightmare. Trying to divert Dolly's attention, I called the AA, begging them to make haste before the hanging.

They did. John Cummins arrived, inflated two small but powerful balloons to force the door open an inch without damaging it, deftly drew up the window lock with a length of wire, and departed, leaving me in his debt for life.

But the stress took its toll. I became aware of a crushing pain in my chest. Having a high pain threshold I ignored it at first.

But why I ignored it for another 24 hours, despite demands from my wife, Gwen, and family to call an ambulance, is something I can't explain.

Basically I had four bad reasons. First, I surmised it was simply a return of pericarditis, which I had suffered last summer.

Second, I had indulged myself to indigestion level in a perfect Christmas pudding made by Gwen's mother, Mairead, as well as a peerless Christmas cake made by Tish Barry.

Thirdly, I come from a culture where you do not call ambulances unless you have been knocked down.

Finally, I did not want to endure a fourth A&E experience in six months.

These delusions were nearly the death of me. As I found out the following morning when I turned up at eight sharp at the emergency department of Blackrock Clinic.

Patricia Houlihan, the consultant on duty, saw me straight away, refused to be distracted by my diagnosis of pericarditis,and immediately carried out an ECG, echocardiogram, and blood tests.

She then told me I was having a heart problem, which would be dealt with promptly, as indeed it was.

Ms Houlihan's frankness calmed me - as did the fact that she is the niece of the late Con Houlihan.

Within minutes I was lying in the cardiac theatre and a cheerful consultant surgeon, Ross Murphy, was threading a wire from my wrist all the way to my heart so he could put in a stent to open a completely congested artery.

During this, Mr Murphy chatted with me about Patrick O'Brian's brilliant series of books on the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic wars.

Recalling Russell Crowe's role in the movie Master and Commander stimulated some of the nurses to join in the chat - while never missing a beat of my heart.

As Mr Murphy turned the wire around the corner towards my heart, it transpired we also agreed about the miscasting of Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin, the half-Irish, half-Basque ships doctor who should have been played by a swarthy actor of substance, not a pretty boy like Bettany.

Mr Murphy was intrigued by my theory that the cranky Crowe probably made sure no strong actor played against him - a low defamation which the nurses deplored.

When we finally stopped talking, I found Mr Murphy had finished threading - and I had never felt a thing.

On a screen he showed me the 'before' picture - a completely blocked artery - and the 'after' picture with blood flowing freely.

Last Tuesday, I rested in my hospital bed, coming to terms with the fact I had suffered a serious heart attack.

But I was bucked up by a text from Fergal McCarthy, principal of Kinsale Community School, telling me about a student project on the shining, blue algae of Lough Ine, my favourite place on this planet.

That night I mentally mourned Wesley Burrowes, who, as always, had postponed his last deadline until RTE had transmitted a fine tribute,Well Holy God It's Glenroe,

Brian MacLochlainn, producer of Glenroe, was the other star of that show, pointing out that being a Northern Protestant had helped Wesley see us with a warm but unblinking eye.

I was sorry to miss his funeral. Few would remember that Wesley, with whom I had worked on If The Cap Fits, had also written sharp, satirical sketches.

Although RTE wiped the tapes, I can still recall a snatch of dialogue between two decent but sectarian Presbyterian bachelor farmers, discussing civil rights for Catholics. William: We had a Fenian employed on the GNR. James: Ye did not! William: We did - till we found him out.

I went to sleep smiling. But I woke worried on Wednesday morning, waiting to hear how much muscle damage had been done by my delay on Sunday.

At 10, a picture popped up on my phone with a ping. Terri Kearney had sent me a stunning shot of Lough Ine.

A happy omen. Soon after, Geraldine Lynch, a cardiac nurse, called in with great news. Against all the odds, no permanent damage had been done. I could go home, literally in good heart.

But on Thursday morning, I woke with a mission in mind. Gwen gave me some wheatgrass juice. But knowing my ways, she spared me a sermon about taking it easy.

Slowly I walked to the Dart station, took the train to Sandymount, and slowly walked to the RDS and the BT Young Scientists.

Shaun Holly, the brilliant but modest science teacher at Kinsale Community College, took me towards my target, stopping briefly to talk to Ava White who found out that the optimal pH for wheatgrass grown in water is 11.5. Gwen will use that.

Finally, we found the two West Cork students whose project had brought me to the RDS: Helen Kellet and Aisling Hurley.

These articulate, young women discovered the luminous, blue algae on Lough Ine had dimmed slightly due to insecticides - so now we can deal with it.

Serendipity was now firmly in the saddle. Eamon Landy, showing me a short cut to Sandymount station, turned out to be another admirer of Patrick O'Brian's nautical novels.

Since my stent was working well I stopped off for soup at the Wooden Spoon in Blackrock. And found myself sitting beside maritime historian Hal Sisk - who was reading Patrick O'Brian's biography of Sir Joseph Banks who sailed with Captain Cook.

When I got home, Posy was sitting on my chair. She gave me a gauzy look. It said: we're even.

Posy and me. Hearts of oak.

Sunday Independent

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