I lay on my back looking up at the afternoon bright blue cloudless sky, part mulling the predicament we were in, and partly conscious of my 1 million decibel Taiko drum beating heart.
This isn’t good I thought!
We are in a long-abandoned quarry which at one time may have been a picnic area by a dusty Spanish motorway in the middle of nowhere in the heat of the Spanish mid-day sun. I am lying down on dusty bare earth that a few thousand years ago probably held a blade of grass, partially shaded by the bare, leafless, branches of the tree of sadness and judging by the lumps in my back probably a few sun-baked rock-hard Sabre-Toothed Tiger turds as well.
My eyes drifted left to see my wife looking at me with that exasperated ‘rolling of eyes’ expression that tells me I am in the shit.
I get ahead of myself!
A New Idea
Two weeks earlier my good lady came up with the brain wave of going to Spain for a few months while we waited in these Covid times to be granted permission to return to our small sailing boat currently located in Malaysia. Recognising this to be an interesting idea not thought up by me I immediately hijacked it and made it my idea by insisting we drive to southern Spain which of course was a completely different proposition and therefore a completely new idea (clever eh!). With her evident reluctance (because she thinks my driving is crap) ferries and accommodation were duly booked. It will all be another wonderful adventure I beamed like a twat!
We were already Covid jabbed up to buggery and all was well with the car ferry until we met Lucrezia Borgia at French immigration who of course found a problem with our vaccination status and made us wait for an additional 2 hrs until everyone else had long since left, before deciding that both vaccines being labelled 1 of 2 wasn’t enough to refuse us entry.
Stress level now 7.
I drove us to our first budget hotel 12 miles out of town which I had triumphantly booked the previous day for a bargain price and on arrival discovered it wasn’t a hotel at all. It was a small square block of concrete that resembled something rejected for poor aesthetics in the Soviet era. No staff, no lifts, keypad entry and with the surrounding industrial area resembling a scene from the film Night of the Living Dead’ it seemed prudent to empty the contents of the car up the three flights of stairs to our telephone kiosk-sized room. The final deciding factor was the shady geezer sitting astride a nearby broken wall necking a bottle of meths or something before vomiting down his frontage.
So, I hump up two cases, two rucksacks, numerous polythene bags containing various travel necessities (jelly babies and Kit Kats) and my aged but trusty Brasher walking boots which he would definitely have nicked to vomit into if nothing else.
PANT!… PANT!… 1st floor…
PANT!… PANT!… 2nd floor…
PANT!… PANT!… 3rd floor, sweating like an ‘owd heifer’.
Stress level now 8.
Down again and rinse and repeat until the car was empty and our arms resembled that of orangutans!
At 2 am we climbed into bed and slept fitfully occasionally disturbed by distant screams and sporadic gunfire. So, by 6 am having lugged all our stuff down to the car we were again on the road grateful that we still had four wheels… and a car.
That day I drove the remaining length of France and in the evening crossed the border into Spain very tired. My good wife Dawn who is less budget-minded had chosen the next hotel and consequently, we ended up staying in an expensive 5* lovely air-conditioned room, which with outside temperatures in the low 30s was essential.
Stress level 5.
We didn’t wait for breakfast but did ask the hotel for two small flasks of coffee (this proved a costly mistake as they had a dim, but identifiable caffeine fission glow about them). By 7 am we were on the road and happy to be in Spain. We stopped every two or so hours for a quick refresh but the Spanish motorway stops were not quite as well developed as those in France so often there was only a petrol station on the site. We stopped at one of these and filled the car but they didn’t sell refreshments so I drank my flask of high octane rocket fuel coffee to spark me up a bit.
Sure enough, 20 minutes later it did just that, in the form of severe palpitations so on the advice of my beloved (who didn’t fancy her chances with my driving at 70 mph) I pulled up at the next available area.
At that point, I had the choice of:
1) Doing nothing and let nature and my ICD sort it out.
2) Accelerate my heart rate to outpace the palps and then allow it to slow down again hopefully now in rhythm.
3) Take a beta-blocker.
I opted for number (2) which I had previously done with 100% success and started jogging on the spot. Of course, anyone with an IQ greater than 7 would have first considered extenuating circumstances,
A) Exhaustion and stress.
B) Probable dehydration.
C) The incomprehensible caveman stupidity of vigorous exercise when you already have palpitations.
D) The mid-day heat which had evidently baked the surrounding land to the consistency of that found on Mars.
(Now my wife is above all else an experienced nurse who had given me CPR after my original arrest at 4 am back in 2013 whilst waiting for the ambulance)
At 200 jogs my wife with her appealing face told me to stop.
At 250 jogs with now, a stern don’t be an idiot face, she told me if I didn’t stop I would cause my ICD to shock me.
Through gritted teeth, in the heat of the sun, sweat and aged lungs pumping like an old steam engine I carried on full Rambo for a full 500 jogs. With an odd sense of foreboding, I looked at her as if to say “It’s done” and then sure enough seconds later, I was done, as a grenade went off in my chest.
At that point I chose to go to ground in case I went unconscious resulting in an uncontrollable fall exploding my skull on someone’s abandoned beer can or something.
So, there I am laying on the Sabre-Toothed Tiger turds!
After a concerned 15 minutes, Dawn went and brought the car over and I picked myself up as she dusted the prehistoric shit off my back and like a naughty little boy who had been caught by the teacher drawing a penis in Carol Brown’s history book I duly sat in the passenger seat and took a beta-blocker.
My heart was still beating in tune……to well a weird kind of new-age jazz techno played by a blind deaf person with zero skill.
After an hour or so the beta-blocker kicked in and my heart was back at a normal beat. The immediate danger was passed but left us both feeling subdued, similar in fact to how we feel after watching an Arsenal football match these days.
Slightly disappointingly pissed off!
So, the next morning there I was in this lovely apartment overlooking the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea sipping a cup of decaf coffee deliberating whether to do a download or not when I heard the DEE….DAA…..DEE…..DAA of an ambulance. I reluctantly got up from my chair and peered out over the balcony looking for the blood and drama but there was nothing to be seen because the noise was coming from…
…err……me……my chest…..my ICD!
My first ICD fitted after my 2013 arrest did not alarm more than once but this newer model fitted in January 2022 did! So the next day I did an explanatory email to the download clinic and then did a download believing that undertaking the download itself would switch the alarm off.
Maybe five minutes later I received a call from Sherlock at the clinic to tell me that I had received a shock and I couldn’t drive. No, she hadn’t read my email and no she couldn’t tell me any more, but she would read my email and then speak to the Cardiologist before calling me back.
True to her word, and much to my surprise, she did call me back and told me she had spoken to the Cardiologist and he said to go to the hospital and that it wasn’t safe for me to fly back to England, and just in case I hadn’t heard the first time I couldn’t drive.
Now I have been shocked before this event so I have experience and providing I am not stupid (again) I should be okay. So, it was a huge surprise to be told it’s not safe for me to fly especially as I hadn’t asked that question. In fact, while I hadn’t thought I had done lasting damage, I now did, and that caused me to worry.
I asked if under the circumstances the Cardiologist could drag himself away from his play station and could call me to tell me how many hours I had left to live and much to my even greater surprise he did, but because he was enjoying a good game of ‘Doom‘ he called four days later.
The next day, in the same place, sipping my coffee while admiring the view the bloody alarm went off again. So, I can confirm that the newer Medtronic ICDs depressingly alarm at the same time EVERY day until they are reset by a Medtronic technician!
And it’s LOUD!
So loud in fact that if you sat on your bonnet everyone would clear out of your way.
My wife being a do-er immediately set about finding what to do and her keyboard smoked with the friction from her fingers until 14 seconds later she was on the phone to confirm she had found a hospital 20 kilometres away, and yes they could see us that day, and yes they could turn the alarm off.
That afternoon my wife drove us to a hospital in Spain and with the aid of Google translate we meandered through the corridors of hope and contrition until we found the Cardiology unit. There with incredible efficiency, they marched me into a room and this seemingly pre-pubescent bottle glasses-wearing 12-year-old Medtronic capable technician nonchalantly reset my alarm and showed my good Lady the results.
Apparently, my heart rate had peaked at 274 bpm before the ICD shocked me. That rather surprised me actually as I didn’t realise my aged clapped-out old ticker could beat that fast without exploding faster than a water balloon being booted by Beckham.
A couple of alarm-free days later my Cardiologist did call me, and based on my download couldn’t offer any explanation as to what exactly happened but he did tell me to go and get a blood test for thyroid.
Oh, and yes I can fly because I shouldn’t die for a while yet but did I also know I shouldn’t drive?
So, in Spain, you can go to your local Pharmacy where they can often take blood and send it off to be analysed the results being available 48 hrs later. In my case, they didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary but it was reassuring to know the service is available for a 60 Euro payment.
What’s the learning here?
1) Take your download machine* with you. They seem to work anywhere and so far I have used mine in Spain, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Malaysia without issues. Indeed my ten-year-old machine is so seemingly able to connect to mobile networks anywhere it’s a shame I cannot use it to watch Netflix movies really?
2) If you get a cardiac anomaly the manufacturer of your particular ICD will have a list of hospitals/clinics for the country that you are in which is a starting point for enquiries. It’s all very easy and doable so don’t worry and just go and enjoy yourself.
3) We travel a lot and have found the best place to source a Doctor or medical service anywhere in the world is a Pharmacy that will almost certainly be able to point you in the right direction.
4) If you get any kind of cardiac anomaly don’t be a twat like me by trying to cure it yourself. My self-treatment resulted in my near-permanent death and a six-month driving suspension. Ask a Cardiologist for their advice on what to do and then do what they say.
5) Laying on Rock-hard Sabre-Toothed Tiger turds hurts!
6) Get google translate on your phone it’s a real help!
*The general advice is for you not to take your remote monitor if you are travelling for a short period i.e. 2 weeks or less
If you need assistance with your ICD whilst on holiday use our ICD Support Centre page to help get you the help you need.
Nothing on this page constitutes medical advice!