The spasms started around midday. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a vice was strapped to my chest and very slowly being tightened. I did what any normal human being does in such circumstances – I panicked. As I got more alarmed, of course it became even more difficult to breath. This felt like such a cliché…the rapid onset of what could only be a heart attack, I was certain. Yet why was I certain? I’m not a doctor, after all. “Can you take me to the hospital please?” I asked my wife. “Do you mean the GP?” She clearly hadn’t grasped how I was feeling. “No, I mean A&E.” We beat all the traffic lights.
Of course I didn’t die. I’m still here to tell the tale. Although the pain in my chest is easing, I still feel like I have been pummelled there for weeks by a nasty squat demon. And six weeks later, I still feel like shit and the pain is disappearing very slowly, after almost a week of medication.
My body has been trying to eat me
So I was discharged, even though I had an unexplained diminishing pain in the chest. I felt pretty bloated, as though there was a lot of gas in my belly, and the pee was still closer to Rancid Jack’s than I liked – but the docs professed themselves at a loss. I went back to my normal habits – eating a bit late, not drinking enough water, back to 175 mg of aspirin just before bed (to fend off strokes)…and wham! The horse kicked me again within a couple of days. What the hell was going on? This time, I was completely laid out – exhausted, total loss of appetite, couldn’t face drinking anything.
Over the course of the last six weeks I have had around 60 litres of hydrochloric acid slosh around inside my upper body
There are some very powerful drugs that can help, called proton pump inhibitors. The one I have been prescribed – omeprazole – is even on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. What it does is kill the acid production, giving my body a chance to heal itself. For the first time in six weeks my body is not a cannibal. When I think about what my thorax might look like after six weeks of regular acid drenching, I imagine a downmarket butcher’s shop window. Instead of all the enticing cuts of meat neatly arrayed to set the mouth water, this butcher – my butcher – has dangling from a rack a series of ghastly entrails, sometimes lividly purple, sometimes fatty and white.
So, oesophagitis – for that’s what I have – is at least not death, even though it put on a thoroughly convincing performance as far I am concerned. For the next two or three months I need to practice a racist policy about my diet – white foods only, such as rice, mashed potatoes, white bread. Absolutely no smoking or drinking of alcohol. And never, ever again any aspirin – probably the very worst thing. Instead of fending off heart attacks and strokes all I was doing was causing my guts to meltdown.
For some reason I have become addicted to tinned peaches and pears (both fine), and one day craved doughnuts. One day I will be sent by my GP to have a camera tube inserted into by oesophagus, just to see how bad the damage is. But for now the sun is shining; children are delightful; I am still alive.