As I mentioned in my previous blog, I had a minor heart attack just after Christmas and ended up having an emergency procedure called a cardiac angioplasty. It’s a very simple operation to unblock an artery in your heart. It’s completely painless and done under a local anaesthetic, which is only needed to numb the place where they insert a catheter, either through your wrist or through … um … your groin.
The catheter then wings its way up through your veins and blows up a tiny balloon in your heart, which pushes out the blockage. Occasionally they use a drill, which you can hear rat-tat-tatting in your chest, but this is also painless. Then they put in a little piece of metal called a stent, to make sure the artery remains open.
I think you’ll agree it sounds like a very Monty Python solution to the problem.
Because of a couple of minor post-procedural complications, I finished up spending ten days in hospital. Looking back, there was a lot that was quite amusing about the whole thing. A couple of incidents were genuinely farcical, including an argument between two nurses, one Indian, the other Chinese, about the best way to give me a body wash in bed, an argument which started after they had stripped me naked.
Suffice it to say, the treatment I received from the National Health Service was amazing, with committed and tireless staff from every corner of the world working punishing twelve-hour shifts.
Having a heart attack, it will not surprise you to hear, makes you sit up and think a bit. It is indeed, as they say, one of nature’s ways of telling you to slow down.
One of the cardiac consultants, an Irish woman called Doctor Connolly, came to talk to me about what would happen when I went home.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“I write material for English learners,” I replied.
“Oh good,” she said, “so quite a sedentary job?”
“Um … kind of.”
“I mean … not too much running about?” she added.
“Actually, I go to quite a lot of conferences in other countries,” I said.
I described more about my working life. I told her that I was due to give a talk in Qatar on the 18th January, in less than two weeks’ time, followed by visits to Istanbul and Tehran in February and Dubai in mid-March. There were other visits planned for April and May. Her eyes widened as I listed the destinations.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to cancel some of those trips,” she said. “I really don’t think you should fly anywhere for the next three months.”
I knew that my non-appearance would cause problems to some of the organisers, so before I say anything else, I want to thank Peter Grundy who stepped in at very short notice and did the plenary I was supposed to do at Qatar University.
But you know what? Despite feeling very concerned about having to give my somewhat alarming news to the organisers, I felt an immense feeling of relief when the consultant grounded me. The projected number of participants in Qatar was 500, and the lovely Çevre conference in Istanbul attracts about the same number. Even more than that had signed up to attend the first-ever IELTA conference in Tehran.
Knowing that I wouldn’t have to get on my hind legs in front of hundreds of people in the near future made me feel relieved. Giving talks at big conferences is an immense privilege and, when they go well, can bring feelings of great achievement and joy. But the more you do, the more people expect you to be vaguely interesting, and as a result the anxiety leading up to that moment when you clamber onto the stage gets bigger every time.
I don’t know if other conference speakers feel this way, but this is what my enforced period of reflection in hospital told me.
It was then that the question first occurred to me in the form of a sporting metaphor: Is it time to hang up my boots?
I’m going to answer that question in my next blog.
Before I sign off, another thank you, this time to all the people in Iran who made it possible for me to appear by means of a recorded webinar at the IELTA conference in Tehran. Especially the conference organiser Bita Rezaei and my webinar moderator Sara Medghalchi.
I recorded the webinar on my Macbook at home, using only the built-in microphone in the computer itself. And it was good enough for people to hear what I had to say in quite a big conference room.
Next time: how and when on earth did all this jetting around the world start?