Like a Thief in The Night
When I envisaged writing this piece (certainly not under the above title) at the start of COVID-19, “new norm” represented for me a life-changing approach to dealing with the pandemic.
We have adopted – with remarkable ingenuity – innovative ways to greet friends and acquaintances, stay in touch via Zoom, attend online Mass, conduct our fitness regime through YouTube instructors, and shop for our daily necessities masked like Zorro and making payment through plexiglass shields at checkout.
We have managed to achieve physical distancing while still maintaining social contact, largely without compromising the health of our families, friends, neighbours, or indeed the broader community who could be affected by the transmission of this ubiquitous and dreaded scourge.
And then in the blink of an eye – or rather, a pain in the ..ahem.. neck, ”new norm” assumed an entirely unrelated and, I must confess, totally self-centred connotation for me, personally.
It all started about a month ago. There is a very interesting radio programme I listen to daily from midnight to 1:00 a.m., followed by a talkback discussion. My bedside lamp is turned off by 1:00 or 1:30, and I settle down for the night.
Unfortunately, as a chronic insomniac, I wake up in about 90 minutes, and have to will myself to get back to sleep. This pattern is repeated fairly regularly until 7:00 the next morning.
On the night in question I awoke at the customary time of 3:00 a.m., on this occasion my neck, chest and left shoulder wracked by severe pain which soon spread down my left arm. I should have recognised these as the classic signals of a heart attack.
However, I have always maintained a reasonable degree of fitness, walking five days a week for 45 minutes to an hour; I don’t have a weight issue; my blood pressure has always been on the low side, and my GP has repeatedly assured me that it’s people with a high BP who have cause to worry about heart attacks and strokes.
The next morning I felt slightly better, and in the evening rather unwisely set out with my daughter for our early evening walk along the river. For once I was oblivious to the gossamer blue sky or the sun casting myriad flashing patterns on the clear water below, the ducklings paddling and the rowers skimming its mirrored surface, or the birds twittering overhead.
The other walkers enjoying the late autumn breeze registered even less in my consciousness. In fact, only a few hundred metres into our walk I complained that the pain in my arm was unbearable, and we returned home.
A series of feverishly dizzy spells took hold and my world literally turned upside down as I blacked out at the dining table and slid to the floor. I awoke a quarter hour later to find paramedics bundling me into an ambulance headed for the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I was later informed that I had suffered a major heart attack with almost a hundred percent blockage.
Early the next morning a stent was inserted, and I spent the next six days in hospital before being discharged, armed with a dozen medications which I will need to take for the rest of my life.
That’s not quite the end of the story. Three weeks later I found myself transported back to hospital by ambulance, once again suffering severe pain in the back of my neck and left arm.
Fortunately tests and X-rays showed no further damage to my heart, and I was sent home that night with instructions to let Nature dictate the speed of my recovery rather than for me to try to hasten its progress.
And so began my own “new norm” (or N2, my self-styled acronym): less carefree, more regimented, completely in thrall to a battery of anti-platelets, statins, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, nitrates etc. etc.
Watch what I eat, exercise regularly but less strenuously, do this, don’t do that, maintain a healthy balance of activity and rest… my personal N2 which, almost refreshingly, has nothing to do with COVID-19.
All things considered, it’s not particularly onerous –just common sense practices I should be observing at my age anyway, to accommodate a heart not quite up to the demands I have inflicted on this vital but delicate organ that quietly and faithfully beats a steady (if one’s fortunate) two to three billion times, on average, from cradle to grave.
What has struck me most forcefully in the past traumatic weeks has been the overwhelming kindness I have received from every quarter since that fateful night a month ago. My immediate family have been constantly by my side, covering my every need, including cooking, cleaning and shopping.
Neighbours have been solicitous too; as have parishioners and friends, some of whom I had lost contact with for many years. Even the medical follow-up from cardiologist to GP to pharmacist has been total and committed.
The term “new norm” has demonstrably taken on for me a few unexpected implications – not the least of which is tied to the acknowledgment of my own mortality!
One generally talks about youth believing they are invincible; but even at my relatively advanced age I have tended to think of death somewhere out there in the intangible future. Now it is a very real spectre… beckoning, hinting subtly at its unpredictable advent, at a time and hour of God’s choosing.
What I do from this moment to that final time of reckoning is totally up to me and will decide my eternal future. I have been provided with the opportunity to set my housekeeping straight – literally and, far more importantly, spiritually. Am I prepared to meet my Maker without notice? Are you??