Mu­si­cian Deb­bie Har­wood re­calls the year her life changed dra­mat­i­cally

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - As told to Paul Lit­tle.

Deb­bie Har­wood

At 56 years old, in 2017, my heart failed ... again. In 2009 (at 49) I’d had emer­gency mi­tral valve surgery and a hole in my heart darned. Post-surgery I haem­or­rhaged from my cen­tral line, with a young stu­dent nurse, her first day on the job, bury­ing her el­bow into my neck for 45 min­utes and me fight­ing her off with ev­ery tiny bit of strength I could sum­mon.

I woke up, one and a half hours be­fore I should have, fully in­tu­bated and watch­ing the pan­icked faces of the ICU nurses. A sham­bles for me emo­tion­ally — PTSD a con­stant com­pan­ion, since. And then the ma­chines scream­ing later that night — my new friend atrial fib­ril­la­tion (AF). What a day. Some nerves had been cut in the process of sav­ing my life and so I clung to a sled where the only way was down. By 2016, I knew some­thing was hor­ri­bly wrong but couldn’t rally the help. I was rel­a­tively young, smi­ley and could put on lip­stick with­out look­ing in a mir­ror. The car­di­ol­o­gist was fooled and sent me home.

I cried all the way, know­ing that I was ab­so­lutely munted.

And sure enough in Fe­bru­ary 2017 my heart hit its ex­as­per­ated zenith and was fail­ing se­verely — an un­de­tected left ven­tri­cle fail­ure meant I was sent home with a brochure on how to live with AF — but I couldn’t breathe or walk and those smil­ing peo­ple on the cover with track pants and Nikes made the rhino in my chest feel like mock­ery. For the first time in my life I could not “push through“.

Mu­si­cians have to turn up. We can never ring in and say, “Bad pe­riod Brian, can’t come to work.” Never. The show must go on, dead or not.

I had flown to Auck­land to per­form at a gig I had done for 25 years on the first Fri­day of ev­ery De­cem­ber with Hello Sailor, Jor­dan Luck, Ham­mond Gam­ble, Shona Laing, Peter Ur­lich and my beau­ti­ful band, The Band of Gold.

My mind was yelling at my body to work. It wouldn’t. I couldn’t swing my legs out of the bed and I couldn’t lift my arms and was try­ing to haul air into my lungs but couldn’t keep abreast with the need. How so very much we take for granted. The first gig in 37 years that I hadn’t made.

The body is one thing but the mind a whole other room of bang­ing doors — over-ac­tive but no way through — bang, bang, bang. I nearly went crazy.

I had al­ways be­lieved I had no re­grets but it wasn’t un­til I thought it was cur­tains that I saw clearly. I was an­gry that I had avoided shows and record­ings be­cause I lacked con­fi­dence and was so afraid of judg­ment. I was re­ally mad that I hadn’t been to Egypt — some­thing I had wanted to do all my life. So while still at 26 per cent-left ven­tri­cle func­tion I booked a bloody ticket and a few months later climbed on that big bird like a Miche­lin woman in a sun­frock. I dragged my oedema-sod­den can­kles around the sand in 37 de­grees and saw the won­ders of the world I had al­ways dreamed of. I sur­vived.

My heart func­tion has im­proved enough that I now wear day clothes and put lippy on and seek laugh­ter and love as much as I can. I have started tak­ing book­ings for gigs again — prob­a­bly not the three-hour rock marathons I used to do — but singing is heal­ing, as is the roar of the crowd.


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