Last Sunday I was supposed to be presenting the prizes at our annual village raft race. Instead I was spreadeagled in an ambulance having an ECG.
The drama began on Saturday night. As I was slipping into my white linen, short-sleeved summer pyjamas, I announced to the boyfriend that I didn't feel too clever. "I've got a bit of a pain in my chest," I said, weakly. "Whatever," he muttered, and I swear I saw him and the dog rolling their eyes in a simultaneous display of indifference. I was aghast. True, I do announce a number of terminal illnesses almost monthly and then we both share in the euphoria when I turn out to be wrong. But that, we all know, is just an elaborate comedy device. Mock hypochondria, queenly attention seeking, call it what you will.
But for once I really did feel bad. Couldn't he see the genuine fear in my eyes? Well, no. He'd turned the lights out and was inhaling and exhaling steadily, remarkably like someone sleeping.
I lay there in the darkness, monitoring my symptoms. My breathing had become shallow and laboured. The pain was definitely spreading towards my shoulders and up towards my neck. It was becoming more intense, even causing the occasional involuntary whimper of distress, though evidently not loud enough to disturb either dog or boyfriend. But around 4am, things ceased to be an amusing anecdote in the making and became rather more serious. I lay there offering God a deal: take the pain away and I'll never pretend to be ill for dramatic effect again. No deal. The pains kept getting worse. Something had to be done. I got out of bed, brushed my teeth and had a glass of water. No improvement. I treated myself to a Jaffa Cake and two Nurofen Plus, shuffled out into the garden and eased myself into the hammock, where I waited for them to take effect. Forty five minutes later I felt worse, so I went indoors to the computer and googled "Chest pains, causes and symptoms". It made grim reading. Angina or something called acid reflux were the least dramatic explanations I could find. More worrying was the talk of pulmonary embolisms, spontaneous pneumothorax or acute myocardial infections.
It was morning by now, so I woke up the boyfriend. I had to use my serious voice – the one I use when my taxi is late or I’ve run out of gin. “I really am in pain!” Within seconds he was up and on the phone to NHS Direct, barking questions to me about my symptoms and even asking me my date of birth. I might have been desperately ill but there was no need for that sort of talk. He hung up and told me I had to sit quietly.
Within minutes the familiar sound of an ambulance came wailing through our sleepy village. Two medics helped me into the back, where I was wired up to an ECG machine. “Your results are perfectly normal, nothing wrong with your heart.” Next they tested my lungs, and they were fine, too. I was mightily relieved and very grateful. Whatever the pain was – probably muscular – it wasn’t life threatening, they explained. I felt slightly sheepish about not delivering a full-scale emergency, but better safe than sorry, they said.
Still in pain, lying on the sofa that afternoon, I reached down to pat the dog and a sudden, almighty, window-rattling belch came out of me. Followed by another and another. What now? Was I turning into Wayne Rooney? Then I had a sudden, wonderful realisation: the pain had gone! The boyfriend ran in and I explained the amazing turn of events. For some reason he didn’t seem to share my happiness. “Are you telling me I called an ambulance because you had trapped wind?” he asked through gritted teeth. “So it seems,” I concurred. “But I’m still a little shaky. There was no carpet in the back of that ambulance.”