Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 21st November 2010

The diary of the making of a film. and an on going fascination with birds and their accompanying cast of human characters. By Ceri Levy.

Thursday 28th October
This entry is a way to apologise for the sporadic appearances of the diaries over the last few months but there has been a reason and the diary entry attached to this one should explain why and what to made this an odd period of life for me.

Wednesday April 7th
I set off on the Central Line to Liverpool Street as I am filming David Lindo’s Tower 42 project on top of said building. The aim for the project is to study birds and their spring migration over London from the top of the tallest building in the City. If all goes well, David has plans to roll the project out in other major cities around the globe. David is The Urban Birder, and his website is all about birds in the city.
I am travelling burdened by camera bags and too much clobber and I am feeling weighed down, too hot and oddly exhausted on the Tube. I get to the Tower and David introduces me to all those who are helping out for the day. We get the lift up as far as it goes, and then have to pass through various corridors, up several stairwells and then to a wall ladder, which we have to ascend to get onto the roof. I huff and puff up the ladders with what feels like the weight of the world upon my back and rip the camera bags from me when I flounder onto the roof itself. It is a realisation that I really must lose weight. I feel a tingling in my arms and put this down to a loss of circulation. I set up my camera and start shooting but the tingly sensation does not dissipate. I shake my arms trying to get blood back into my veins. I am also sweating heavily. Then I get a wave of dizziness, which is really odd and completely disorientating. It can’t be vertigo as I was up here happily enjoying the height last week. I put my camera down and start to take deep breaths. I sit down and then I find myself lying on the floor with someone looking over me asking if I am ok. I have grazed my nose and cheek on the ground. Apparently I just keeled over. I stay on the ground for a while and someone brings me a cuppa. It all seems so surreal as I chat away normally but I am feeling so odd and just want to sleep. I am left to my own devices as I insist I just need to rest awhile. “It’s probably vertigo.” I hear from behind me. All I want to do is just rest and nuzzle into this warm black space that has opened up for me, it fits me perfectly and snugly. I lie down on the rooftop and phase in and out of the here and now. “Sparrowhawk!” someone shouts. I remember thinking how much I would like to see that bird as I lie foetal like, my eyes blinking as I stare at a puddle on the ground that rocks in and out of focus inches from my face.

People appear now and then to see how I’m doing and I finally admit, “Not good.” At this point my instinct kicks in and tells me that I have got to get off of this roof, that things are all wrong and I’m getting no better. My thought is that maybe I have concussed myself. I know it is imperative to get back down into the building. But I know that it is not easy to do this, especially whilst I keep disappearing into a fluffy black world. One of the guys from the Tower has been keeping an eye on me and obviously they are working out how to get me down. He helps get me upright and I feel the lack of control over my limbs but we know we have to press on. The roof feels like the Titanic, swaying mercilessly in the storm of my derangement. Picking out possible seats along the way we lurch from stopping point to stopping point. My breathing is heavy and unnatural. I keep fading to black every time I sit down. But I know I have to keep going as the only way off the roof is a helicopter and that would prove to be a really difficult feat as well as acutely embarrassing if it turns out that all I’ve got is a case of vertigo or a delayed reaction to something else.

I know I am not functioning correctly but I do know that I have to find a way to climb down the ladders immediately. We finally get to the first ladder and one person goes down in front of me and one waits behind me. I remember telling someone what goes in what bag and to make sure not to lose that small bag over there. Still bossy and still thinking of my camera even though I feel there is something altogether different that I should be concerning myself with. I step through the space to climb down onto the ladder. This is so hard as my internal life switch keeps flicking on and off. I remember standing on a hand on the ladder rail and try to apologise but I am brilliantly shepherded down the ladder. We carefully make our way back down to the security area with me pausing every few moments to sit and black out. The trouble is that every time I shut my eyes it is such a beautiful sensation. The guys keep me from dropping off and finally I am sat in a chair with a warm cup of tea. People keep talking to me and I keep replying but I feel as though I am watching this scenario rather than being in the middle of it. I find myself slipping back into the beautiful black calm that takes me into its warmth. And then there are ambulance men and women, who strap devices to me and one of them jokes to me, that he is grateful to me for making my own way down as he has a fear of heights.

Then I am told that I am having a heart attack and that I need to get to a hospital now to be sorted out. The ambulance man is brilliant at breaking the news and I am intrigued by his discovery that my heart rate is down to 36 and that is why I am blacking out all the time. Basically my body is shutting down and saying sayonara. He sprays something under my tongue, which hopefully will keep me going until we get to the hospital. I am calm. Let them do their job is all I can think. I am sure today is not the day I am meant to die. All these years working with musicians and various dangerous characters, embracing a bon-viveur lifestyle and it’s possibly filming with birds that’s going to kill me? I don’t think so. My survival instinct is strong.

I am strapped into a chair and I am wheeled through the building. This, I have to say, is embarrassing. Everyone looks at you. Heads turn and you see pity in the eyes that fix on you. We find ourselves at the building’s entrance and a city man is on his phone busily arguing in a high-pitched moneyed whine and does not move out of the way. Everyone shouts for him to get out of the way but he does not move. As we get closer to him all of my frustrations surge through me in one moment of anger and as we get in striking range I manage to get a leg free and boot him in the back of his legs, really hard. He turns to abuse whoever has done this to him, sees the situation and blusters an apology and moves out of the way. Note to self, you can get away with so much when in a wheelchair.

I am placed in the ambulance and as we tear away from Tower 42 there is a crunching sound as we hit a car on our way out. Judging by the shouts we have taken off a wing mirror in our hasty exit. There is an argument and the ambulance driver tells the person how to claim compensation. Then we are off. The crew look after me and tell me what is happening to me. They are calm and considered and help me over this mental milestone that I am in big trouble. There is a probable blockage in my arteries that is causing the problem, but they tell me that we are near The London Chest Hospital, which specialises in cases like mine. They also ask me about next of kin. We hear that term so much, but it’s only in situations like this that we understand the true meaning of it. Who do we deal with if you die, is what they are asking of me. I tell them that Jackie is my wife and that she works near by. They say if we can get hold of her they could pick her up on route. Unfortunately we can’t get hold of her. The drugs they have given me have perked me up a bit and I feel quite chatty. I also don’t quite believe what is happening to me and I can feel the shock of the new coursing through me.

We arrive at the London Chest Hospital and I am wheeled in and met by a team of people, all demanding replies to urgent questions. I answer with all the information I can give and finally I am asked if I would like to take part in a study to look at how the heart repairs itself after a heart attack.

I ask, “I’m having a heart attack now, correct?” “Yes, you are,” replies the doctor. “Well, could we wait and see if I survive it?” “ Yes, of course,” comes the sheepish reply.

I am then wheeled into the operating room they call The Lab and I have clothes removed, anatomy shaved, injections prepped and finally I am on the slab ready for surgery. The drugs kick in and I enjoy the mental swim through the super strong narcotics. I still feel the first push of the two dyno-rods they insert into my groin’s artery. The first is a camera to view the offending blocked pathways to my heart, and the second is to clear said blockage. I ask for more drugs as I can feel some pain and my request is granted. It gets a little fluffier. I lie back and drift off to semi-consciousness.

Then I am suddenly returned to awareness as I see a couple of high fives go up. The surgeon talks to me and I ask how it all went. “Good, would you like to see what we did?” And then like Match of The Day I get an action replay of all that happened to me. He nonchalantly flicks a large flat TV screen around to face me and he shows me the before and after of my heart. I see how the artery was completely blocked, I watch slow motion replays as the camera travelled through my arteries and then I am shown the last images of the now, fully cleared routes to my beating heart and I feel saved. I also feel surprisingly good. I am wheeled out of The Lab and taken to an intensive care unit. A cup of tea is brought to me. “Having a traumatic event? Then have a cuppa. It always works. I rest but feel ok. Surprised, shocked and realising there are calls to make, namely to Jackie, my wife, and I know it is going to be one of the hardest calls I am ever going to make. I am passed my phone and I dial her. “Hey,” I say, ” Today has not gone entirely to plan…”

Thursday April 8th
Feeling weak, I want to read a little and I unpack the book from my bag. I laugh when I see what I am reading. Any Human Heart by William Boyd.

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