I remember running into Jeremy Hardy after a gig in Róisín Dubh a few years ago. Having been a serious fan of his work for over twenty years, I gave him a nod of recognition. Having never heard of me in his entire life, he returned the greeting. That was the kind of guy he was – warm, open, maybe a little short-sighted.
Alas, I didn’t get a chance to chat with him. But what would I have said? Probably something embarrassing like how, in one of those weird and deeply meaningful coincidences, our parents had the same first names. I’d have a looked like an idiot, and for good reason. But what can you say to someone you genuinely regard as a hero?
If I could have found the words, I would have said he was the most insightful, important, and consistently funny comedian I knew. Which would be true, but also wrong. In a lot of ways he wasn’t a comedian, primarily. Comedy was the means, but the aim was to change the world for the better. His seemingly unstoppable comic inventiveness was employed to spread a passionate message of tolerance, sanity, kindness. And he succeeded in that aim. The world will be a less kind, less sane place now he is gone.
Britain in particular will miss him sorely. Recently he seemed almost the last voice of sanity left in that benighted place. He was certainly one of the very few British comics who understood Ireland. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of his sudden departure is that we needed him today more than ever.
All these things I would have wanted to say, now it’s too late. And there would never have been a way to say them anyway.
That’s how many people die during an angiogram, according to the warning on the consent form I had to sign. This is a rather distracting thing to learn just a few moments before you undergo the procedure.
How dangerous exactly is one chance of death in a thousand? Well, it’s more than 160 times safer than Russian roulette. That sounds… good. On the other hand if one breakfast in a thousand was lethal, you’d be dead within three years. So breakfast needs to be way, way safer than that.
These are the thoughts that pass through your mind as you lie on a narrow operating table, while someone makes a hole in your wrist and slowly threads a fine tube up an artery in your arm all the way to your heart.
Now that’s quite a novel sensation. If I had to describe it in one word, the one I’d choose would be… wrong. Not painful as such, just… wrong. That is not a place where you should ever feel something moving. It was a challenge to stay calm. And yet you had no choice. If my breathing became more anxious and deep, it moved my heart too much. So I had to maintain even, shallow breaths while undergoing one of the weirdest sensations – and weirdest situations – of my life. They were injecting X-ray dye directly into my heart.
And that’s where it got really interesting.
“Of your three coronary arteries,” said the cardiologist, “two are fine. The third however is almost completely blocked, so we’re just going to pop a stent in there.”
Well, that’s quite a bit to take in at once. For a start I turn out to have heart disease, when I was still steadfast in the belief that I was having this (one chance of death in every thousand) procedure just to rule the possibility out. I was almost sure it’d turn out to be a duodenal ulcer or something. But it’s much easier to fool yourself than it is to fool medical scanning devices.
But the real headshot – they were putting a stent in now? Well I suppose it makes sense. I mean, as they’re literally here inside my heart already. Doing it again would raise the risk of death to one in 500, which clearly does not have enough zeroes after it. But… right now?
I know, when I was signing the consent form they did say something like “… and if we find a blockage we can insert a stent”. But I’m sure I didn’t hear the words “while we’re at it”. Unconsciously I’d expected some kind of consultation, with nice diagrams and maybe even counselling, before taking such a big step as having metal scaffolding inserted in my heart.
And maybe it was like that, twenty years or so ago when stents were new technology. But now they seem to be taken for granted. Hell they’re made in a factory down the road, by people I know personally. It’s all quite normal now, my head says. But my heart…
My heart was straightway overruled. It was a little painful – actually it felt exactly like one of the attacks of angina I had so easily dismissed as indigestion – but I am a cyborg now. Well, a slightly cyborg.
I’m writing this while recovering in the cardio-pulmonary ward. It’s all been very fast and a little unreal, but apparently I got here in the nick of time. If the doctor hadn’t sent me in just as soon as I described the symptoms, and if they hadn’t processed me through the system about as quickly as possible – just over 24 hours is not so shabby for heart surgery – I would almost certainly have had a heart attack. And probably sooner rather than later; that artery was 95% blocked.
But even the disease was sudden. The pain had only become a regular occurrence in the last two weeks, which is why I had put it down to gastric trouble induced by festival worries. Can heart disease really strike so fast, or were there earlier warning signs I’d missed, months or even years before? Things like the unexpected shortnesses of breath, sharp headaches after exertion, even the temporary memory loss I had two years ago?
I wonder how many of the various illnesses I’ve had in recent years were ultimately due to a heart under pressure. And in what ways I will now feel more well, thanks to a bit of metal in my chest. I look forward to finding out.
I’ve a couple of cartoons I like a lot in the current Phoenix. This is my favourite of the ones they didn’t use. You always feel like you’ve done a better quality cartoon if you don’t need any words.
I assume you’ve all come to terms with this story by now. Yes processed meat definitely definitely causes cancer, but… that’s OK for some reason. You can frame it in more or less scary ways. A few years ago I heard one researcher put it this way: “There is no safe dosage for smoked or chemically preserved meat.” In other words, even the smallest amount increases your risk of cancer.
Which is terrifying. It’s only when you look at the actual figures that you get some perspective. I don’t remember them precisely, but the gist was that processed meats take the very small chance you have of contracting bowel cancer, and increase that by a small percentage. So yes, cutting processed meats out of your diet will decrease your risk of getting bowel cancer, but it reduces it from very small to very slightly not as small.
Or put it in another way: Among the reasons for and against meats, be they ethical, environmental, or nutritional, this makes bugger all difference.
The cartoon I admit doesn’t convey all the subtlety of that.
In other cartoon news – there’s something big coming up. I don’t want to talk about it much yet because, well, I guess I’m superstitious. Also, because I can’t really get my head around it yet. More details when I calm down!
That wasn’t even going to be my big news. Last night I drew the first comic strip I did for far too long. It’s for the Phoenix Christmas annual, and damn I like it. I was already fully excited by that, so now I don’t know where I am.
It’s weird how the Pope was fêted in the US almost as a left-wing radical, just because he doesn’t wholly approve of unbridled greed. People, he’s the Pope. He’s head of the vast thing, that does all the things.
I’m lost for words here. The one I did for the current Phoenix probably says it all.