On Being Unwell

I haven’t felt right for at least six months now. I’ve had some mega dental work done during February and March of this year (this involved nine appointments with Jean-Luc, mon dontist). I thought I’d get the dental treatment out of the way first, to see if this has been the cause of me generally feeling like shite for many months now. Nope, not the tooth problems: after dental treatment I was still feeling very rough, which included a very bad chest infection (now in my 50s I remain a heavy smoker). Then, earlier this month I had a blast from the past: a girl called Nicola contacted me, a girl I only met once briefly 19 years ago, and I’ve only had one other contact with her in the intervening years. Despite this, Nicola gets a brief mention in two of my memoirs, The Yukon Queen and The Iberian Job. This might all sound a bit weird to you, dear reader, but if I tell you that in April 1999 Nicola sold her Citroen 2CV to us, a 2CV that became the No.2 car in the 2CV Alaska Challenge, you might understand the connection between Nicola and I.

Nicola kindly bought the two aforementioned memoirs in which she gets a mention. This prompted me to have a read of The Iberian Job, a book I haven’t looked at since I wrote it in 2014. This memoir covers the years 2000 to 2007, which were the most stressful I’ve ever experienced in my life. Reading The Iberian Job produced a tidal wave of emotion in me. Re-living it all again; phew! I mention this because of how your emotional state can really effect your health. I’ve been on the cusp of bronchitis for weeks now, and for the last week it’s turned into a full blown chest infection.

I’m familiar with bronchitis because I got my first bout of it 20 years ago, when I was in my mid 30s. At the time I was still living in London, and smoking three packs of Stuyvesant a day. I went straight away to a doctor – if you’ve had this lung condition you’ll know how terrifying it can be, because you can barely breath. My doctor in London diagnosed acute bronchitis and prescribed anti-biotics, which did the job. My doctor also said that I had “dangerously high blood pressure” (180 over 30, if I remember correctly). I wasn’t given any treatment for the high blood pressure. I gave up smoking for a while, but it was the usual thing: as I began to feel better I started smoking again. However, I gave up the three packs of Stuyvesant a day and smoked roll-ups instead, which I’ve been on ever since. Incidentally, since that bronchitis 20 years ago the only other time I’ve had to take anti-biotics was in 2005, 13 years ago, when my elbow was ripped open to the bone in a work accident.

Fast forward twenty years, to the present, and last Monday I went to see a doctor here in France. I began by explaining to luh docteur that when I was a baby, just 18 months old, I was very, very ill with something that almost killed me. My body became covered in big, black blisters – it looked like I’d been napalmed. The blisters were incredibly painful to touch. The doctors didn’t know what the disease was, and for want of any better ideas they put me in the tropical disease unit of Guys Hospital (this in 1960s London). I was in that unit for six weeks and during this time I was given the Last Rites on two occasions. By some miracle I survived, but that mysterious illness left my lungs wrecked. In childhood I suffered frequently with bronchial asthma, and in adulthood the aforementioned bronchitis. I wonder what a psychiatrist would make of the heavy smoking?

Earlier this week my doctor here in France diagnosed a mega lung infection. She prescribed not just anti-biotics, but a whole host of other potions and lotions (the prescription cost me 72 euros). I’m now so zonked on all these drugs that I’m somewhat surprised that I can type this post. During the examination my doctor of course took my blood pressure, and I saw the look of surprise on her face: my blood pressure was absolutely through the roof (no surprise to me, because I’d been told that by another doctor 20 years previously in London). My French doctor told me that with such ridiculously high blood pressure I was seriously in danger of having a stroke. As well as medication for the lung infection she also prescribed me medication for the blood pressure, which I’ve got to take for the next three months.

I mention all this because I’m one of those people who shouldn’t really be here: that very serious illness I had when I was a baby should have killed me.

But I survived.

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