A shock diagnosis but lucky save
Chest pain led him to the doctor, but for public health worker David, what happened next was a complete jolt. This is his story in his words.
At 57, I did not consider myself a heart attack risk. True, I had been warned about too high cholesterol but I had modified my diet appropriately. Swimming 30 lengths at least once a week kept me fit plus I had recently managed a 10-kilometre uphill trek to the Rob Roy Glacier.
When I got a new job in a new city I bought a bicycle to get there.
"I think I’ve pulled a muscle," I complained to my doctor who was examining me for chest pain. “Hmmm” he said and promptly wrote a script for an angina puffer.
"I’m referring you for a heart check-up, in the meantime take it easy," he said, even after finding there was no history of family heart problems.
Over the next months the bicycle rusted and I did use the puffer a few times after a brisk walk.
An ECG was done but a consultation with a cardio specialist did not go well when I was told off for not taking daily aspirin along with the statin prescribed (it upsets my stomach was my defence).
After five months, a test on a treadmill while hooked up to an ECG was offered. After only two minutes I was pleased to hear “you can hop off now” – surely a sign there was nothing wrong with me!
"Balancing on a narrow board with ridiculously long tubes inserted into me, I was not prepared for the next shock."
"We’ve asked you to stop because there was indication of a major heart problem," they said. The words brought me down to earth in a hurry.
An appointment was made for an angiogram procedure – being done I was assured, to locate where a stent may be needed to keep my clogged arteries open. Balancing on a narrow board with ridiculously long tubes inserted into me, I was NOT prepared for the next shock.
"We are sending you to Wellington for open heart surgery, probably within days..."
That meant I did not have time to worry, or even research what was going to happen to me. With three blockages of 100%, 90% and 75% I also did not have time to reflect on how lucky I was not to have suffered a heart attack.
Less than a week later I was operated on – Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (pronounced ‘cabbage’) with as many as 10 theatre staff assisting. What an audience!
Unfortunately, I proved to be a less than model patient. With both collapsed lung and pneumonia added to the pain, it felt akin to being hit by a bus. The hospital staff were amazing though and three days later I was able to have all the high-tech monitoring equipment disconnected and two days after that told I could go home.
Leaving a warm ward with around-the-clock care, unlimited pain killers was a wrench; it is no wonder the coronary care staff are often referred to as “angels”.
Discomfort probably sums up the next few weeks, but a welcome return to work meant everything was back to normal.
Now six years on, a large scar on my chest and a couple of foot-long ones on an arm and leg are reminders of a lucky escape.
I can do anything I like – tramping, snorkeling and cycling, but still battle to limit the cholesterol. I don’t ever give the heart a second thought if exercising, especially as being out of breath is expected for someone sitting at a desk all day.
My work is all about healthy living and I’m as passionate as ever about that – I once ran a competition with all my male colleagues to see who was most aware of their health.
I actually work more hours now than I used to before my heart attack, but it’s not strenuous – seems I spend most of my time fixing people’s computer mistakes, so no stress there!
Shared September 2016