Health is a freedom passport most people take for granted until it’s taken away from you. I have always considered myself to be fit and healthy and barely set foot into a hospital as a child. I do remember falling off an older boy’s bike when I was seven and having to wear a sling the following day. Trips to the doctors were comforting back then. If anything it was a chance to play with toys somewhere other than home.
By the time the human body has circled the sun for several decades, I take a dimmer view of hospital waiting rooms. Through human error and abnormality I found myself vulnerable to their presence today. A hapless figure lying sideways with a black pipe thrust down my throat, bereft of the independence and freedom I so often take for granted.
Choking on an innocuous piece of chicken the night before, I had been retching over my sink into the early hours. Initially I felt annoyed that I had wasted an evening to discomfort and stress. Although I was sure it would pass the following day.
Listening to the Arctic winds lacerating the tree behind my window, I lay motionless as the stray television aerial whipped the adjacent balcony. Storms are strangely comforting in times of stress. But after hours of choking I gave way to unflinching reality that my throat wasn’t functioning with the same lucidity it once did.
Checking into my local GP and immediately being transferred to hospital, I found myself with no toys to play with apart from my smartphone. Despite not being able to swallow or eat anything, I still wanted to work and get on with my duties as normal. I even brought my laptop to the hospital with the hope of completing some articles in the waiting room.
Sitting alongside trauma victims and watching old ladies on green trolleys, I found myself passed from one expert to another. Watching each doctor strip my independence and freedom from me, it became obvious that I required an emergency operation.
The doctor said it was a life or death scenario, as I could potentially choke to death and was physically unable to sip a glass of water. A large black nurse then gave me two baby wristbands and booked me an overnight bed. I politely refused saying I wanted to go home after the operation.
‘Do you have anyone to pick you up after the operation, Mr Agnew?’ I politely said that I didn’t have anyone, and they agreed not to sedate me. Consent forms were thus signed and it’s getting serious now. There was a 1/1000 chance of severe bleeding and lacerations.
Unlikely I know.
Placing my body on the exam table, I found myself surrounded by six medics in blue coats and green breathing masks. A fuzzy helplessness emerges when you lie down in surgery. You cease to mean anything at all.
The maternal surgeon then began discussing Greek terms such as Oesophagus and shoved a garden hose camera down my neck. Tears involuntary burst out in shock and my body’s gagging reflex was horrible. Suddenly I was nothing but a lump of breathing flesh, a vulnerable specimen entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers.
Choking on an alien pipe inside my body, I started to panic and tapped my left foot to signal my discomfort to the doctors. But they kept pushing further down my neck and it took up to three expeditions before they removed the errant piece of chicken (5mm in length).
With my throat raw like a rusting mine shaft, I remember the machine green lights and the blind glare of the overhead lamp pouring over me. Someone’s smartphone was vibrating on the shelf opposite. I took some comfort in that. It was alive and buzzing with life. Funny how someone’s phone was the only thing I could relate to in the entire room.
Afterwards I thanked all the doctors and nurses for looking after me. A nurse removed a needle from my hand and I was told I would get a confirmation letter within a few weeks. Eating properly will ensure I don’t ever have go through that operation again.
Only I realise now that my independence and freedom is a temporary facade. It can be removed without notice or care. A person’s health is entirely dependent on benign cells, organs and most importantly luck. I have been fortunate on a number of levels on my journey to adulthood.
My throat is still sore, but my body works and functions as soundly as before. That certainly gave me something to think about, as I walked home unscathed, listening to my stomach silently roar.