Bangkok: Swinging brick

I started writing this blog over a week ago.

I’d spent a few hours sat here, in this very spot (yes, I do have “a spot” where I write… Or try to) I’d written a couple of pages worth of text, in fact, I think it was pretty much ready to unleash onto (into?… Whatever) the world… But I didn’t post it, I kept it locked away because to me it just didn’t seem right to let people read it… It was missing something.

So… Today… I’m laying in bed thinking about finally finishing “that blog” finally letting people read it… Finally, get on with writing “something else”…. I came to the conclusion that the reason I hadn’t let people read the blog was… Well… It wasn’t honest.

It wasn’t the truth. Don’t get me wrong, It didn’t contain lies… In fact, none of my blogs contain lies… I always write the truth… What is the point in letting people read lies? It serves no purpose… It’s a pointless exercise… But as I say, the blog simply didn’t fully contain the truth… I’ll explain… Or try to.

I had a health scare recently. I’m ok… I’m going to be ok… But at the time when it was all going on, I didn’t know I was going to be ok…

I’d written a couple of pages of text telling the story of how I’d felt ill and how I’d ended up in hospital… But looking back at it I’d found the blog to be empty… It didn’t contain any true insight into how I ACTUALLY felt while it was all going on… I’d approached the blog in a (pardon the pun) light-hearted way… I’d treated it as a joke… Another funny episode in my life here in Asia… But the truth was my friends… It wasn’t funny. It was fucking scary.

I’ve struggled with maintaining a healthy weight for pretty much as long as I can remember… I’ve never been “sporty” I’ve never been athletic… In fact, when it comes to exercise I have always been lazy… There… I said it… I am LAZY.

When I lived in England I had a physically demanding job… I joined various gyms while in England but I always had the sort of “well I’ve worked so hard all week in the factory why should I go all out at the gym?” frame of mind… So, even when I was going to the gym I never actually pushed myself to work hard… I hated going to the gym, I hated the people who used the gym… I eventually found a gym I didn’t hate, Black Country Barbell in Stourbridge was a brilliant place, the people that used the gym were also nice, it was people actually wanting to be fitter… Stronger… It wasn’t full of posers and picture-perfect wannabe models just wandering around looking perfect… It was a gym that should have been perfect for me… Perfect if I had the frame of mind of a man who actually wanted to be in a gym… Yes, my friends… My old nemesis laziness stepped in and held me back once more.

So even before I left England I was already putting on weight… And then, when I moved to Thailand and essentially retired from work the weight continued to pile on… I have nobody but myself to blame, drinking, eating, and doing virtually no exercise took its toll.

Numerous visits back to England which included various comments from people “Oh you’ve put some weight on!” and of course the fact that I no longer could button up various shirts bought home the fact that I had indeed gotten fat. Very fat.

A visit to a doctor here in Bangkok hammered home the facts… I was (still am?) obese… My blood tests showed I was pre-diabetic and my cholesterol levels were very high… I was (am?) fat AND unhealthy… Time for a change my boy!

I began using the gym here at the apartment… Every day I was going downstairs, I’d spend half an hour using the cross trainer before heading over to the weights to build up my upper body strength, things were going well… I was feeling better, my weight was slowly coming down and my blood tests were showing some improvement… Then COVID happened.

The gym was closed, my exercise routine was buggered… Jo bought a treadmill for the apartment, I took to walking while watching films on TV… So, I was exercising… But let’s be honest here… I wasn’t exactly pushing myself.

So, there I am… I’m still drinking way too much beer… I’ve lowered my food intake a little, but I’m still happily enjoying a huge plate of food and i’m calling half an hour of walking “exercise”… Oh yeah, I’ve also started to blame my lack of shirts that fit on “shrinkage” yes folks I was full-on in denial mode.

A normal night of sitting in my apartment watching TV was interrupted one evening by a strange “fluttering” in my chest… It didn’t feel like a palpitation… It didn’t feel like anything I had felt before… There was just a strange fluttering in my chest which I couldn’t explain… Then as quickly as it had happened, it stopped… So, I put it out of my mind.

The next night, again as we were watching TV I became aware of numbness in my left arm… My arm wasn’t fully numb but it certainly didn’t feel “right”… My fingers were tingling and my arm just felt “weird”.. And then the fluttering in my chest began again… This time it was worse… This time it felt like something in my chest was flipping over… I was worried but I didn’t want to worry Jo so I (in hindsight quite stupidly) kept quiet… “let’s see how it feels tomorrow” and all that.

I struggled to sleep that night… My feeling in my chest wasn’t going away… My arm still felt numb… and now I was feeling light-headed too… Jo slept as I lay awake... Checking my heart rate on my watch and worrying that I was going to die in my sleep.

Spoiler warning… I didn’t die.

The next day and night continued as before… My chest would go from feeling fine to flipping and fluttering… My arm was continually numb, my fingers were tingling and the episodes of light-headedness were getting worse… I was checking my heart rate continually (amazingly it was sicking around the 60 bpm level) but still I felt something was wrong… I was getting more and more afraid… I was convinced there was a problem with my heart… I was looking online for symptoms of a heart attack… Doctor Google was telling me I wasn’t suffering a heart attack but with my numb arm and fluttering in my chest, I KNEW something was wrong… SLeep was an issue… I was convinced Jo was going to wake and find me cold and still… I was terrified.

I spoke to Jo about what was going on, I had a pre-arranged appointment with my doctor in a couple of days anyway so I decided I’d get things sorted out then… Well, that WAS the plan.

That evening I was feeling worse… Every flutter in my chest made me worry… In my mind, the next flutter was going to be followed by me clutching my chest and falling to the ground… an obese dead slab of meat.

I couldn’t handle it any more… I was tired of being afraid… Jo could tell I was worrying and gave me the option of going straight to the hospital…

In a matter of minutes, we were in a taxi and heading to the hospital.

By the time we walked into the hospital I was feeling awful… And scared.

Jo explained to the nurse what was going on and within minutes I was taken into a room and fitted with a heart monitor… A cannula was fitted (Oh how I hate needles!) blood was taken and I lay there in a hospital bed letting the medical experts of Bangkok do there best.

A doctor appeared and told me that the ECG was fine and my heart was working fine, but my blood pressure was high, they would rather I stayed in overnight for more tests (One thing about hospitals here in Thailand… They ARE brilliant… But they also like to make as much money as they can out of you… Thank God for medical insurance) I was taken to a private room and fitted with a heart monitor so as they could see how my heart behaved overnight… Jo lay down on the sofa in the room as I tried to settle down… Jo drifted off to sleep as I lay there… My chest fluttered a number of times and I remember thinking “Ah well at least the monitor will pick it up and they’ll see what is going on)… The monitor also gave me peace of mind… If I was at home and my heart stopped working I was just going to die… If it stops working here then the doctor will be notified by this monitor and they’ll come and save me… Jo slept as I lay awake for what seemed like an age feeling my heartbeat in my chest... At some point I fell asleep… I was awoken at 5:30 by a nurse coming in to take my blood pressure, she told me the heart monitor had shown no issues… She left me alone with a sleeping Jo as I lay in bed listening to her sleep.

I was told that the doctor wanted me to have a CT scan… A nurse came into the room to take more blood from me, she didn’t use the canula so I had to endure another needle… She found it funny that a man the size of me was afraid of needles, she laughed and said it was only a “small needle”… Before grinning from ear to ear as she waved a bigger needle at me and said “this is a BIG needle!”… She made me feel at ease, it was nice to have such a fun nurse… She left the room after saying she would arrange for the doctor to give me a big needle tomorrow.

Jo went home to do some work and I was left alone to watch dodgy Thai horror movies on the TV… A nurse appeared and I was taken by wheelchair to the CT scan room, I was laid down on a bed with my feet partially inside the machine, a protective blanket was placed over my groin area and I was instructed to hold my breath when told to do so when inside the machine… Soon the process began and the machine pulled me in… A robotic voice said “Hold your breath” and I did as I was told… Soon enough the scan was finished.

My nurse informed me the doctor wanted me to have a second scan with contrast dye… She told me I’d be given a large needle that would make me feel warm for a minute or two… The mention of “large needle” freaked me out and the doctor appeared by my side asking if I was feeling ok… My heart rate had spiked, obviously causing him concern… I explained I was afraid of needles, he sat and spoke to me as the nurse pushed the needle in… To her credit (and to the credit of every nurse I met at the hospital) I didn’t feel a thing when she injected me, she was so gentle.

I was again told to stay still and to hold my breath when instructed to do so inside the machine… The machine made a sound as I was pulled inside… This is where things got weird.

I’d been given an injection but had not felt any warming of the body “Lucky me” I thought… Suddenly, without warning, I felt incredibly warm, but only in my groin area… “Oh fuck, I’ve pissed myself!” I thought… I was laying still, unable to move as the warmth spread over my groin and down my legs… I lay there convinced I’d lost control of my bladder… Embarrassed and unable to move… It seemed like an age for the machine to stop… The machine made a noise as I was moved out of the machine… Still sure I had pissed myself in front of everyone… The nurse pulled away the protective blanket “Here goes” I thought… But nothing! I hadn’t disgraced myself, it was just the contrast dye playing a cruel trick on me.

I sat back down in the wheelchair and my heart monitor began to beep and flash red… The nurse checked it but didn’t seem concerned… I was pushed out into the waiting area and told to wait for a few minutes before they would take me back to my room.

The witing area was full of people… I saw a young child being taken into the CT scan room, people of various ages all waiting in the area… And there was me, a fat English bloke with a beeping heart monitor sat in the corner… The beep seemed to get louder (In reality I know it actually didn’t) the flashing red light seemed to get brighter… This was not making me feel any calmer, my nurse approached and I said “Is this ok?” while pointing at the monitor… She assured me everything was fine… I was taken back to my room to find Jo waiting for me, the doctor came to see me and told me the scan was fine, they found no issues with my heart, they had however found a small calcium deposit in one of my arteries, something that was not causing any problems now, but if not sorted could cause issues in the future… He concluded my issues were a mixture of muscle trauma and stress… The doctor actually showed me pictures of MY heart… Yes Mom, actually have one… I remember quite clearly you proclaiming on more than one occasion that I don’t have a heart just “a swinging brick”… He assured me I was not going to clutch my chest and drop down dead… As I was getting myself ready to leave the needle nurse walked in “Oh you’re leaving!” she said, “I was going to give you BIG NEEDLE!”… Bless her.

That night back at home I felt great, I was happy I was relaxed… The next day I slipped back into being anxious… I found myself doubting the doctor… Maybe he’d got it wrong… Maybe the scans were not done properly… Why was my chest still fluttering? I found myself going light-headed again… Jo banned me from wearing my sports watch because I was constantly checking my heart rate… I’d gone from feeling on top of the world to convincing myself I was dying again… I was in a spiral.

My appointment with my “Normal” doctor was on Tuesday, I had my paperwork and scans with me and planned to talk to her about my concerns… As it happened I didn’t need to, being as she decided she wanted to talk to me about it all instead.

My doctor is brilliant. She is kind, she is caring… She has a way of putting you at ease… She explained what tests I’d had done, she explained what the results showed… She talked about how she believed that what I was suffering from was a mixture of a torn chest muscle (which was causing the fluttering sensation) and anxiety… She actually at one point put her hand on my arm, looked me in the eye, and said I was going to be ok.

I know I’m ok… I know now I wasn’t having a heart attack… But, It was, I believe a wake-up call… A warning… It’s time to sort your life out fat boy.

I’ve stopped drinking beer, Well… Not stopped exactly, I may have the occasional beer but my nights of sitting there drinking beer all night have gone… Now If I drink I’ll choose spirits with a sugar-free mixer… I’ve cut down the amount of tea with milk I drink, I now drink mostly fruit tea… I’ve cut down on portion sizes and am now having a weekly fast day where I don’t eat at all… And I’m now doing regular exercise… I’ve discovered that I can, in fact, run (not very fast at the moment) but I’ve found that I can now run for 30 minutes (which believe me is something I’ve never been able to do before) I’m running a little over 4km in every session and I’m feeling myself get better every time I do it… I feel fitter and I think I’m looking fitter too… It will be a slow process but I believe I will be better and I’ll (hopefully) live longer too… The heart scare made me look at my life and made me put changes in place… I’m too happy living… I don’t want to die just yet… Plus, I want those shirts that “shrunk” to fit me again.

So until next time (which I hope will be more fun to read)…

See ya!

A working-class man from The Black Country, plucked from the factory and now living the best life in Bangkok