Heart attack interrupts morning cuppa

Ever wondered 'What does a heart attack feel like?' Read Craig Lock’s story to find out.

As he sat there enjoying his morning coffee in October last year, Craig Lock suddenly started feeling cold and faint.

He wondered if it was the dollop of ice cream he’d put in his coffee.

“I felt really cold, like ice was flowing through my veins. Then I started to feel really nauseous and couldn’t stop shivering. All the time I felt sweaty and absolutely frozen,” recalls the 66-year-old from Gisborne.

“It was if I was going to die but didn’t really care because I felt so dreadful, sick and nauseated. It was like there was an elephant sitting on my chest but without the pain – just a pressing feeling.”

Retching repeatedly, Craig went outside for some fresh air.

“I was freezing so I tried to sit in the morning sun, but it made no difference. I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me.”

What Craig now knows is that he was experiencing typical heart attack symptoms.

What does a heart attack usually feel like? 

Many people ask whether there are differences between heart attack symptoms in men and women. Well, heart attack symptoms in women can be different to those in men. Like men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are more likely to experience other less obvious symptoms such as discomfort in the upper back, nausea, sweating and unusual fatigue.

Symptoms can include:

  • chest discomfort lasting 10 minutes or more
  • pain that spreads to the jaw, shoulders or back
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea

Craig’s response

Craig should have called 111 immediately but he did what so many Kiwis do – he told himself it was nothing too serious and decided to wait it out.

“Feeling absolutely dreadful and delirious, I lay on my bed for about six hours. I couldn’t stop shivering, so I put on a thick anorak, but it made no difference. I couldn’t even summon the energy to get to a phone because I felt so terrible. I just kind of accepted my fate. Crazy!”

Luckily, his friend Johnno stopped by in the early afternoon and suggested taking Craig to the doctor.

“I don’t think it’s serious. I don’t want to bother them,” replied Craig, who thought he was in good health and reasonably fit at the time.

That’s another typical Kiwi response. We don’t want to cause a fuss. But delaying help can be fatal or result in long-term damage to the heart.

If you or someone nearby is experiencing the warning signs of a heart attack, don’t delay – call 111 straight away.

Being a good mate, Johnno took Craig to the medical centre.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) revealed Craig had suffered a heart attack. He was taken to Gisborne Hospital immediately and admitted to the emergency department.

“I received wonderful care and I was closely monitored,” Craig says.

“The following day I was flown in the air ambulance to Waikato Hospital, accompanied by a great nurse who monitored my dropping blood pressure. Once there, I had an angiogram and two cardiac stents inserted.”

Recovering from a heart attack

Craig was also given a range of medications to help lower his risk of a future heart attack.

Three days later, he was back home embarking on a new journey towards better heart health.

“I was monitored by the cardiac outpatient department and my GP and I’m now stable. I also underwent cardiac rehabilitation exercise, together with respiratory rehab, because of my pre-existing asthma.”

Craig has taken all the right steps towards improving his heart health, including cutting ice cream from his morning coffee.

He says he’s incredibly grateful for the many health professionals who took care of him.

“Thanks to the wonderful medical professionals, both here at Hauora Tairawhiti and at Waikato Hospital, for the excellent care in my time of great need.

“New Zealand does indeed have a world-class health care and we can all be very grateful.”

Minutes matter

Craig is correct – we all have access to the very best heart care in New Zealand. But our health professionals can only do their job if we call for help.

So remember, if you or someone nearby is experiencing the warning signs of a heart attack, call 111 immediately.

The earlier the treatment, the lower the risk of long-term damage to the heart muscle.

Speed is critical.

Learn more about heart attack warning signs