In March 2022, I celebrated my 54th birthday and my overall feeling was one of gratefulness that I was still able to do all the things that I love doing, the things that got me up each morning keeping me focused and motivated for my day ahead. These ‘things’ included Running, swimming, spin classes, and long walks whilst listening to a podcast or audiobook.
On the morning of Sunday April 3rd, I decided to walk to the gym and attend a virtual spin class; I hadn’t done one before and was curious to know what these were like compared to a live spin class, so off I went with my bag on my back. The walk to the gym takes around 15 mins, and after 10 mins I noticed I was feeling really out of breath and my chest felt quite tight, a sensation I hadn’t experienced before. I sat on the kerb and contemplated on going home.
“Come on girl, mind over matter. Stop being lazy it’s probably a little bit of indigestion” I said to myself.
I started the class still feeling a little unwell but felt re-assured that if something happened, at least someone else was in the room, but I didn’t think for one second that it was anything serious.
Sure enough, the pain subsided, and I did enjoy the class; I then walked home not giving the incident a second thought. I spent the rest of my Sunday having some ‘me-time’ enjoying a hot bath, a long nap, and watched a light-hearted enjoyable NetFlix series.
Fast forward to Monday morning at 5am, that same feeling re-surfaced. It was like a clamp pushing down on my chest causing it to feel really, really tight. I hadn’t experienced a pain like it, it wasn’t sharp or stabbing, it was tight. I was breathing ok, but I was perspiring, and my neck and arms were tingling and hurting. No mind over matter conversation to myself this time, I knew there was something wrong.
I called 999 and weakly told them the problem. I was overcome with terror. I was terrified I was going to keel over and die. No chance to tell my three boys all I wanted to tell them, how much I loved them and how proud I was of them, no chance to be part of my beautiful grandchildren’s worlds.
The 999 lady on the other end of the phone told me that it may take up to 6 hours for an ambulance to reach me, I vaguely remember saying I may be dead by then, please can you stop this pain. I hung up, managed to get downstairs and unlocked the front door in case I fell unconscious and the ambulance did come, at least they could reach me (no idea what made me do this!)
I called my son, sister and mum who all live in close proximity and whoever answered first would save me, I thought. My son turned up at my door 10 mins later. I didn’t know what to do, but asked him for paracetamol, Ibuprofen and something sweet to eat.
I was perspiring and couldn’t move, lying on the living room floor. I told my son what 999 had said about the wait time and I asked him to take me to A & E. He took matters into his own hands and rang his dad Inderpaul Birdi who is a Heart Surgeon at The Keyhole Heart Clinic. As they were speaking, by some miracle the ambulance appeared.
I felt a sigh of relief. I wasn’t going to die; the medical team were here to help me. But I was still in pain and felt very, very weak and out of control.
After taking my ECG and blood pressure, I was taken to the A&E Department to try to find out what was going on. My son looked on helplessly as the ambulance drove me off, unable to accompany me due to post COVID hospital restrictions. Emotions, emotions everywhere.
Lying in the corridor of the hospital wondering what was happening, back to the confusing thoughts of, is this it? Is this the end? I asked the nurses to make sure I wasn’t going to die, I needed to get home to my family. Nothing prepares you for that feeling.
There is no doubt that the NHS staff are indisputably incredible at what they do. However, the decision to send me to A & E was the wrong one, I should have been sent straight to the Cardiac Dept due to the ECG showing that I was on the verge of a massive heart attack but I wasn’t and in my opinion, crucial time was wasted.
I know Inder’s intervention along the way played the biggest factor in me being saved. The memory of being taken into a room to have two stents placed in my heart to unblock the arteries at the front of my heart – one was 99% blocked, the other was 60% blocked – flick between a blur and vivid flashbacks. Terrifying to say the least.
I remained in hospital for 2 days and was then discharged, all my family still in shock trying to absorb the whole event. With my new FIVE prescribed medicines intact for blood thinning and BP etc, I went home to my mums for my healing and plenty of TLC. Fresh vegetables from the garden cooked for my amazing curries with chapati’s I hasten to add, I might just move in permanently! 😊
I was advised to remove my HRT patch (for menopause) for a 4-week period, to be sure it doesn’t combine with the other new medication. I have now decided to go cold turkey, so will not be going back on these again (another story altogether!)
For the first 2 weeks I was in shock. Numb. By the 3rd week I was an emotional wreck, trying to hold it all together but unsuccessfully. I was anxious, tearful and was waking up at night panicking, feeling my heart pounding and I was terrified the event would happen again. I was also aware my paperwork was not in order and had been giving this a lot of thought too (my will, my power of attorney etc).
At the start of the 4th week, I called the ambulance due to palpitations and pains in the chest. I was re-admitted into the A & E dept again where I remained for 7 hours whilst blood tests were done to clarify what was occurring. Again, I was then transferred to the Cardiac ward and was monitored overnight. The verdict was there was nothing to indicate another heart attack had occurred or was occurring and I was discharged again. The diagnosis was muscular spasms and was very normal. I do believe that it wasn’t until this point, that I believed that I was going to be OK.
I went home and peacefully slept and slept and slept.
The point of this, is definitely not for sympathy. The old cliches although corny, are the best. If this article/report/blog/self-therapy helps ONE person to get checked for potential heart problems, then this makes it worthwhile.
Healthy discussion of similar experiences or not so similar along with different viewpoints are welcome, seeing things from another perspective is always a good thing.
The key factors for heart attack prevention include maintaining a healthy weight, having a low cholesterol level, low BP, follow a healthy eating regime, no smoking, minimum alcohol and maintaining low stress levels, to name but a few.
What I would like to highlight is that my lifestyle is what would be considered as healthy. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I eat well and exercise lots and lots! BUT my cholesterol levels were HIGH, VERY HIGH and due to underlying hereditary conditions, I was a sitting duck waiting for this to happen. I am sure my stress levels have been up and down over the years but no more or less than the majority of us. At no point did I think to get myself checked over but in hindsight it is crucial that everyone should know and understand the things that are going on within their body right? If I had had my cholesterol levels checked, would my story have been a different one?
On reflection, many questions arise and I will be searching for answers:
- I was in a very blessed position of having many medical family members – as things were happening, I did not know really understand what was happening and what was meant by half of the terminology, but I could ring Inder and get this explained. What if you DON’T have this?
- Why is the experience at the A&E department such an unpleasant one? Again, I applaud all the staff and how amazing they are under such pressure, it is more about the system in place
- The impact on my family and friends – what support is there for them?
- The terminology used on reports that mean nothing to the average person! This has to be simplified. On my discharge notes, words such as ‘minor atheroma’, ‘LAD dilated’, ‘POT with 3.5 x 8’, ‘urgent PPCI’……….it is my body, please can you talk in a language that I understand?
- Why does the NHS appear to be curative as opposed to preventative? Heart disease is in my family, I should have been tested for cholesterol levels etc a long time ago
- How I felt in the first few days – the things no one tells you.
And of course, many, many more questions keep surfacing.
Interestingly, when my life was flashing in front of me (drama queen I know!) I wasn’t thinking about the places I hadn’t visited, or the languages I hadn’t learnt or the recipes I hadn’t made. It was about wanting to spend as much time as I can with loved ones, to continue making those happy memories. The journey is far from over!
Moral of the story: Please, Please, Please put you and your family members first and GET CHECKED!!
If your GP won’t do the necessary tests, then look at what other options are available.