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Lessons from the Heart

hat+chairNavy blue, that is the colour of the ceiling of the ambulance. Or so it seems just before the door closes out the last bit of natural light cutting through the space across my left shoulder. My name, I hear you call it, your voice wet with tears, “I love you!” Desperate to see you, I pull against the restraints pinning me to the stretcher, twist my head to the left and up. There you are, a slice of you at an angle in the closing doorway, an arm outstretched, your blonde hair dishevelled. “I love….” The words, I choke from the strain. Then the door shuts and you are gone. I am alone. Not absolutely, for there are attendants, but really, truly. In my heart, the dull demanding pain, the rationale for the ambulance’s presence, bursts huge swamping the vehicle in a constrictive ache. Will we ever see each other alive again?



It is some ugly B-grade film in which I am forced to act a clichéd role. It cannot be. The script is wrong. Surely, this must be someone else’s part. After all, am I not always to be found in the audience? If only I can just get up and put everything back in its rightful order. It should not take long. But there they are, the stage crew, popping a pill under my tongue, piercing the vein in my left forearm and attaching a drip before they disappear. The next moment we are off.

And then it is there, here and everywhere, dread spreading like a dark, billowing cloud, muffling everything in its cold, clammy, nape-shuddering, parching presence. And I can do nothing. This is the true horror of it all, the potent awareness of my utter impotence, that and the knowledge that up close and so absolutely personal at the coalface of life, I am completely and utterly alone.



Surely I can simply surrender, resign myself to my fate, whatever it may be. Indeed, what choice do I have? Yet the notion is ludicrous. To whom will it matter if I do or don’t? Me, who may be about to be snuffed out like an annoying gnat that has strayed too close to an indifferent hand in some other grander protagonist’s play? Yet again, I am probably succumbing to insane hyperbole. A heart attack does not necessarily entail death, does it? Most people survive it, don’t they? But then again, there are those who do not.

Suddenly it is there again. A slit of sunlight tripping up and along the edges of the doorway at the rear. I thought that I had seen it but then it had seemed to disappear. There it is again. We must be travelling eastward away from the setting sun, towards tomorrow’s dawn.


Tomorrow, yet even if there is none for me to greet, surely I have far outstayed the welcome an accidental child could have hoped to receive? And has it not been a stay wild with the excitement of life? And Vicki, surely she will not want? Not for anything material anyway, as we have no reason to doubt the reliability of my life insurance policy.

It is to the moving strips of vivid sunlight that I am drawn and then the cushioned shudders of speeding vehicle beneath me. The relative silence is occasionally punctuated by an unintelligible comment from the attendants somewhere behind my head. Suddenly, I am aware that the pain is muted. I breathe in and then again, this time consciously, drawing the air deep down into my abdomen. Consciously, I relax my upper body and lower my energy to my belly. Here in my core the sensation is one of spreading calm. I am fine for the moment, but is there any other which is relevant? Is this not the horse within me, just being?



The emergency ward is a huge cavern dissected by rows of beds facing each other along its width, a hive of busy humans, the caring and the cared for, hugging pain in lonely beds, bright digital displays recording their shattered lives in graphs and figures. Located at one of the two entrances, I watch in fascination as electrodes and cables are attached to my upper body and a computerised drip is attached to my left arm.

Visitors are allowed in and suddenly I spy Agathe. If she is here, surely her twin sister cannot be far behind. On her way, I am assured, and a little later here she is, my love, my partner, my wife, my friend. If this is medication, they have chosen well. There is only time for a fleeting kiss before I am bundled off to the first of numerous tests but perhaps the most important, for it will help to determine whether the injury to my heart is internal or external.

Learning to accept together

Learning to accept together

The cardiologist is professional and friendly. Employing what appears to be cutting-edge technology which fills the room and consists in part of a mobile X-ray component and an array of six massive electronic displays, the technicians feed a catheter into my upper body towards my heart. I am mesmerised by the images of travel through my blood vessels so vividly on display. The test is over and the technician returns. The news is reassuring. Although not entirely conclusive, it would seem that my blood vessels are clear and not obstructed. The inside of my heart would also appear to be strong and healthy. Wow, and that with a diet generous in salt, butter and wine. Perhaps I should spread the news.

It would seem that my condition is affecting the external casing of the heart, probably due to some type of infection. This makes sense as it ties in with the fever and muscle pain which I had been suffering during the days preceding my admission into hospital. What has complicated matters is that the symptoms of such an external cardiac condition resemble those of a full-blown heart attack up to a point. There is hope. I am exhausted and sleep almost comatose that night.



Saturday morning commences with a body bath and a change of bedclothes. One of the last to undergo this mixed blessing of welcome cleansing and undignified probing, the nurse is clearly flustered. Cables are pulled and attachments come undone. I try to rearrange everything as best possible when she is done. And then it starts. The horror returns, more severe and demanding now than ever before. The beast must surely have his full.

My torso propped against the raised upper half of the bed, I will away the dull ache travelling up my left arm and spreading through my chest. Instead of yielding, it claims more flesh. I try to regulate my breathing, slow it must be and deep down in my core. My body resists. Help, I must call someone. I do. “An attack,” I whisper, “please….” It is taking over. I cannot stop it. Go with it. Try and tame it. Breathe. I do but my breath is deepening, becoming more laboured. I sense people gathering round, women. Some start checking the cables and adjust this and that. A low groan, it emerges from me like a disembodied voice. I am trembling. Pain, it claims me as its own. The faces, perhaps a dozen, begin to merge into a jostling array of smudges. A high-pitched strain is audible, mine. Then a roar seizes my ears. Shaking, I am losing it….


And then I hear it, my name, proclaimed firm and unswerving, like a sentry in the fury. A lifebuoy, I turn to its source ahead of me and to the left, a bed-length away. There it is again, my name. A man, middle-aged, standing firm, he is calling me urgently but calmly, staking a place for us in the turmoil that is turning my world inside out. I do not know him but he has become the focus which I instinctively cling to. “Breathe slowly,” he calls. I try but cannot. The fury gathers pace. I am going to lose him, me, everything.

“Stop breathing!” The immensity of what the man is asking cuts through the mounting turmoil. It is the very thing that I am fighting to avoid. My eyes are riveted on his. We are connected. “Stop breathing,” he repeats and hold your breath!” I watch him breathe in deeply, then close his mouth. Transfixed, I follow suit. Silence. I watch the man closely. He has halted the fury. Only he offers anything. “Now breathe.” His voice is almost a whisper. “But slowly.” Tentatively I try and it is possible to do so. Slowly, deeply, I inhale the energy of life and guide it to my belly, close my eyes and will my torso to relax. It works. The storm abates, the horror recedes and calm returns. Surely, this I should have been doing from the start?



Opening my eyes, I look around for the man to thank him. In the distance I see his broad back disappear behind the criss-cross of passing staff and patients. He is lost to me for the remainder of my stay and beyond, but not what he has done. That will stay with me always for more than only the reason that I am immediately aware of. For the moment though, I am done. Sleep claims me, draws me to her breast and coddles me in her warm embrace.

Much later I awake to a tug on my arm. The next test is to be conducted, an ultra-sound assessment of my heart. The technician is young but proficient. Within minutes I am a spellbound admirer of the firm beat of a heart proudly beating on the screen, mine. Although not entirely regular, the beat is strong, as are the organ’s internal workings, so I am informed.

The test confirms that, although there is always a slim risk of any infection passing to the inner heart, my condition is confined to the outer lining: pericarditis, probably due to a virus entering the bloodstream. The irony is not lost on me. There are absolutely no grounds for any of the fears that I had entertained. Essentially, the chances of me dying of heart failure were perhaps just marginally greater than those of me winning lotto anytime soon, assuming that I take the trouble to buy a ticket, which I do not.


Then again, perhaps it is precisely this relative absence of risk which highlights the essence of this particular lesson from the heart. After all, a greater risk would have weakened its impact. And so, appropriately humbled but reassured, I rediscover the horse within and set about the task of recovery.



Apart from the medication which I am receiving in the form of tablets and a controlled drip, sleep, food and movement are my paramount requirements for the purposes of recuperation and recovery, yet they seem to be in such short supply. Although edible, if not sometimes also eatable, the food appears to be designed to undo all that the medication seeks to achieve. It is anything but healthy.

Movement, that great facilitator of the circulatory system’s essential nutritional and cleansing function, has also been rendered impossible. Come daylight and another bed bath, and I am painfully aware that I have been confined to bed for one and a half days with no prospect of leaving it in what passes for the foreseeable future in the emergency ward, not even to go to the toilet a mere hop, skip and not even a jump away.

Upon waking up for the umpteenth time at three o’clock on Sunday morning in conditions reminiscent of a sporting event in terms of available light and sound, or so it seems, it becomes clear to me that I am going to have to relocate from the emergency ward, if I am to receive a helpful amount of sleep, for it is simply impossible for me to do so in a situation in which the norm involves the constant ferrying and care of patients, many crying out in pain, the frequent performance of emergency procedures and the removal of the odd corpse.

For the moment, recovery appears to have been postponed indefinitely. The first step is to accept that this is the case. The second is to try and remedy the situation.



It occurs to me at a very early stage that the humans who are caring for me and all the others requiring care in this bedlam which passes for an emergency ward are both utterly dedicated and overworked. One carer attending me on the first evening confessed that he had completed a stint in a private hospital in the morning and had just started a 10-hour shift which was scheduled to end at 8 am the next morning. By that stage he is going about his duties as professionally as ever but as though moving in a trance. It occurs to me that it is impossible for errors not to occur in a situation such as this. Soon after I am at the receiving end of one, when my cables become detached in the course of a bed bath.

All of us patients are connected to a monitor which records three vital signs. Fortunately, I have a friend on the outside who is able to explain the graphs and figures through Vicki’s WhatsApp messages. Every now and then a cuff tightens around my upper left arm and my blood pressure is measured. The top figure records the figure as it is updated. It would seem that my blood pressure is a bit on the low side (in the lower eighties sometimes extending into the nineties), although not too severely so as to be a source of concern. The figure below it records my blood’s oxygen saturation through a device which clips onto my finger. In the upper nineties, this figure is comfortingly satisfactory.



It is the bottom figure which provides a source of amusement to me. It monitors my level of activity through a multiplicity of electrodes attached to various parts of my chest. I find that I am able to influence it to an extraordinary level simply by altering my breathing pattern and lowering my energy level. If I draw in my breath through my belly while consciously relaxing my upper body, I am able to reduce this figure by as much as 50% or more. My record is lowering it from 28 to 11. If only I had a monitor that could also measure the direction of energy in addition to its force. Expressed in figures, it does not surprise me that horses are capable of picking up on such a pronounced change in energy levels even at a distance.

Unfortunately, the monitor goes on the blink almost as often as it works. Staff regularly have to come by to reset it. What is disconcerting though is that they also religiously record the figures displayed on it at regular intervals and those figures are being used for decision-making purposes by the medical authorities who preside over the emergency ward, ruling on who stays, who goes, when and where.



Although the cardiology department has been aware for more than a day now that, strictly speaking, my situation no longer merits being treated as an emergency based on their tests, I am still stuck in the emergency ward. It is clear to me that, if I am to recover as soon as possible, I will have to escape to quarters in which I can move, get some sleep and obtain healthy food. I also have an urgent need to defecate and I refuse to use a bed pan for that. 48 hours on I am still imprisoned in my bed.

I ask to see a cardiologist and my request is granted. The cardiologist explains that I need to stay in the emergency ward, because they do not have enough monitors in the cardiology ward. I contend that the monitors are unreliable and that incorrect decisions could be made as a result. He sees the point and says that if I get through another ultra-sound test successfully, I can move within the next hour or so. I tell him that I need to move, if I am to recover and that I am prepared to relocate to a private hospital if I have to. The emergency ward is a place that I simply have to break out of.


Within an hour I am moved to a room in the cardiology department on the fifth floor in the absence of an ultra-sound or any other test. It is a comfortable room which I share with a likeable old fellow who does not speak a word of English or so he claims. Still we manage to communicate.

Finally, I am allowed out of bed and can move around. We have our own private bathroom and toilet en suite. I text Vicki to tell her she is free to visit but ask her to please bring fresh fruit and juice. Within the hour we are united again and chatting to each other as though we have just rediscovered ourselves and our love for each other. It is good to be alive.



That night I sleep my exhaustion away and wake fresh and ready for all that the day has to offer. A shower and shave to start off the day. Then the nurses start their rounds. Coffee I gratefully accept but breakfast I decline, waiting for Vicki to appear with another load of fruit, juice and yoghurt.

In the meantime another cardiologist pops in to conduct an ultra-sound examination. My heart looks as good as it feels: big and bold. I am pronounced healthy and ready to be discharged. Vicki arrives with breakfast, which we share with my roommate. Then it is time to pack, farewell my roommate and claim my liberation.


Lessons from the heart

Reflecting on my abrupt reacquaintance with mortality, I am aware of just how much we humans have in common with horses or could have if we seek to live consciously. Abandoning fears and regrets in an effort to live in the here and now, which seems to be such a major theme of this brief but so emphatic weekend, is akin to a journey of discovery to find the horse within the human.

Perhaps the single most vivid image of this experience which remains with me is that of the man who helped me find myself when my world seemed about to implode on that Saturday morning. For hours after the incident occurred I kept asking myself what it was that induced me to trust him, an utter stranger. Or was it trust and, if not, what was it?

In this respect I am reminded of Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling’s claim that all is settled between him and a new horse within the first few minutes of their initial encounter. While there is now ample proof to show that this is more myth than truth, we must similarly accept that this does seem to occur with many, if not most, equines who encounter the master who dances with horses for the first time. This Hempfling attributes to dominance and trust. Here he seems to be referring not to domination but to the dominant position assumed by a thoroughly grounded creature who does not for a moment doubt the authenticity of their actions, so much so that the creature is to all intents and purposes the personification of safety and security in a traumatised world and is recognised as such by the horse.

If I am to be perfectly honest, it is this essential quality which I instinctively recognised in the middle-aged man in my moment of need. Yet I must also confess that the experience was energetic rather than rational. I intuitively knew the man for what he was when my world began to wobble. No intellectual process was involved. And we connected with each other through an exchange of synchronised energy. To me he was for that brief moment the personification of the safety and security which I required there and then. For the very first time I have actually felt what the horses feel when they intuitively recognise this in a grounded, authentic human.

But perhaps the most challenging of the lessons from the heart which impressed themselves upon me during that brief weekend is the one that I can best frame with the question which Vicki and I asked ourselves when it was all over. What if it had been for real? What if we had never seen each other alive again? Are we living every single day with each other as though it may be our last? In a word, are we living?

Are we living?

Are we living every single day?


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5 Responses to “Lessons from the Heart”

  1. Patrick says:

    fascinating; thank you for sharing the details;…be well…..yes, do it…….good luck from Patrick.

  2. Heather says:

    Wow Andrew! What a weekend! What a fright! Certainly hope you are on the mend now! Take care!


  3. Petra says:

    Thank you Andrew for your honest, heart felt narration of the happenings of this weekend. I can feel your truth and authenticity and I wish you both uncountable moments of happiness and togetherness.

  4. WOW Andrew that has been quite an experience…glad you are alive and kicking….I would have missed your blogs and postings… and, of course, I would have missed you too… how can we not miss you … 🙂
    But more importantly indeed is your question “Are we living” ….
    Lots of Love from Geerteke

  5. Janet says:

    Glad to hear all is well with you Andrew! It makes me take a step back and ask that question, “what is my purpose?” and thinking about our choice we have to shift our lives from ambition to meaning. Get well soon!