Well, no, I didn't - my heart is still firmly ensconced in its chamber, but it was because of my hollow muscular organ that I found myself spending the past six days in Pretoria, the seat of the executive branch of the South African government. The tale unfolded late on Wednesday last week. On a night when I was having difficulty falling asleep, I got up from the bed to walk over to the dresser, where a bottle of over-the-counter sleeping tablets was kept. The problem was I rose too quickly. I passed out, hitting my head and right shoulder on the dresser as I fell to the floor. I'm not sure how long I was lying there (it could've been seconds; it could've been minutes), but when I came to and made my way back to bed, my heart was racing at a breakneck pace.
Despite the pounding in my chest, I eventually fell asleep, but the next morning I was feeling winded. Arriving at work I went straight to the health unit to be examined by the physician, who confirmed I had an irregular heartbeat. From the embassy I was taken to one of the better hospitals in Addis Ababa, where after a series of tests I was diagnosed as having atrial fibrillation. I would end up spending Thursday night at the hospital - due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in Ethiopia's capital, all the beds were filled and so I ended up spending a long, noisy, stressful and sleepless night in a bed in a corner of the emergency room.
The decision came down that I was to be medevaced to South Africa, which is how I found myself strapped to a gurney inside an air ambulance that departed Addis Ababa just before midnight on Friday. Following a refueling stop in Kampala, we arrived in Pretoria around dawn. From the airport an ambulance transported me to the hospital where I would stay the next three nights, hooked up to a heart monitor in the Cardiac ICU.
As you can imagine, it was far from an enjoyable stay, though I did seem much better off than some of my fellow patients in the CICU. I was confined to the bed most of the time, reading a book or watching TV. I was allowed to get up and take walks around the hospital floor, even though it meant having to unplug myself from the heart and blood pressure monitors (followed by having to reattach myself when I returned from my corridor strolls). Boredom was relieved with the 4:30 a.m. blood drawings, and morning anti-coagulant injections into my stomach. I was examined by a cardiologist, who had me undergo two CAT scans (one for the head, the other to map my heart), and an EKG. The most unpleasant experience was by far the tilt-table test. This involved being strapped down on a table, then having it tilted upward until I was almost vertical. The intent was to measure how one's heart rate and blood pressure respond to the force of gravity - in my case, I lasted around 15 minutes, feeling dizzy and finding it hard to breathe before the nurse took pity and mercifully ended the test.
In the end, it was a relief to learn that my heart is for the most part healthy, and that the atrial fibrillation won't require a long-term medication regimen or major changes in lifestyle (though I do need to watch the cholesterol levels). I was discharged on Tuesday morning and put up in a hotel in Pretoria's Menlyn Park area. Following a final consultation with the cardiologist on Wednesday morning, and a Thursday morning session at the embassy, I had some time to myself until my 11 p.m. Thursday commercial flight back to Addis Ababa. I arrived in Ethiopia at 0525 hours this morning, so if this post doesn't meet its usual high standards of erudite insights, it's because I'm having trouble staying awake as I write this on a Friday afternoon.
The hospital where I stayed in Addis Ababa. It's a good facility, but it's located in a neighborhood of potholed and/or unpaved roads and crowded market streets, which must make it difficult for the ambulances to reach the ER: