I think perhaps not.
Here’s the thing; there’s a party at the end of July and I’ve been wondering if I’d be able to sing with the band. I’ve made some progress on the vocal front – I can sing – although quietly and with a somewhat limited range. So back in May I see Neil (Fat Freddy’s top cat) for a brief session along the lines of “if I sing like this, will it be embarrassing?” I know that he will give me an honest assessment. He listens while I wade through half a dozen numbers – mainly slower ones – I don’t have the breath for anything vaguely up-tempo. His response is encouraging – he joins in and so it seems possible that Fat Freddy’s Cat may yet wake from its 2-year hibernation.
That night I have a visit from the Gods of Arrhythmia – nothing dramatic – just a few ectopics. I try deep breathing because I know that can work, but after an hour or so resort to the Pill-in-the Pocket. A few days later Annie and I go on holiday to America and the heart – in spite of the huffing and puffing and the lack of oxygen around the Grand Canyon¹ – is on its best behaviour. All is quiet on that particular western front.
Fast forward to July. Three days before the party the band gets together for our first (and only) rehearsal. It’s a very emotional meeting – I didn’t think I’d be playing with these folks again. The magic is still there – and collective memory gets us through half remembered arrangements.
Rehearsals always seem to take longer than the actual gigs – going over things again and again – and by the end of the evening I’m exhausted. I’ve barely put my head on the pillow when the Gods come knocking. Much more dramatic this time – a full blown arrhythmia. It starts with relatively slow ectopic beats and then suddenly switches into tachycardia mode, like a nervous, fumbling get-away driver who’s finally found the gas pedal. The heart rate monitor shows 134bpm. There’s nothing to do but take the pill and wait it out.
I begin to wonder if the two things – singing and arrhythmia – are linked – although can’t imagine why. But if it happens again after the party …..
And so we come to it. I’m very nervous – standing up in front of people is not the same as playing in someone’s front room. I feel as if I ought to apologise to the audience for what they’re about to hear. My throat is dry and the first number sounds forced (a friend later mentions that she thought I was not going to last the evening if I carried on like that). But after a while my voice warms up and I calm down. And we put on a good show. The audience cheer, a few people cry and we all have a good time. As we pack up, Chris (guitar player Fat Freddy) asks me if I’m up to doing this again. Yes, I’m going to do this again.
Singing is exhausting; by the time we get home I’m sore along the left side of my body and there’s a pain in my chest around where the ‘tubular enhancing structure’² sits. (Note to self; if I am going to carry on doing this I need to exercise more). For the first time ever – and if you’re a musician look away now – I leave my guitar and the rest of my gear in the car; it can all wait until morning. I’m so tired; I just want to get to bed. But that’s not quite how the evening ends. At 2.00am the Gods return demanding tribute. And they throw the book at me.
So there we have it – I sing three times – I have three arrhythmias, with the last two occasions separated by just 3 days. Coincidence? I duly note it all in the diary for the cardiologist; my next appointment is at the beginning of October. I’ll see what he makes of it; I think the medical profession has moved on from superstition and coincidence.
In the meantime I resolve not to let this stop me – I cock a snoot at the Gods of Arrhythmia in the only way I know how; I buy a new guitar. For those interested in these things, it’s a Martin. Second hand, but a Martin nonetheless. For those not interested in these things, it’s made of wood.
It’s taken two years to get to the point where I can stand in front of a microphone again. Two years of frustration and disappointment and three operations on my vocal cords. I am so encouraged by the response – this is a life-changing moment. One friend – very ‘tired and emotional’ – grabs me at the end of the party and says “it’s a miracle – you couldn’t even talk last Christmas”. Yes it is a miracle. Thank you Mr ENT.