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Jock and family enjoying life after heart bypass surgery



Angina mistaken for strained muscle

Jock’s story begins 14 years ago, when he thought he’d strained a muscle digging in the garden. Tests revealed an ‘impossibly’ low blood flow to the heart and the need for bypass surgery. This is his story, in his own words.

I had been digging out a fish pond in the garden. I strained an intercostal muscle. It was quite painful and I couldn’t sleep. Helen drove me to A&E for treatment.

It must have been a quiet night. I was coddled and fussed over. They wanted to keep me in for ‘tests’.

Next morning I underwent an angiogram. This indicated that I had an impossibly low blood-flow to the heart. It was decided that I be kept in hospital until a vacancy occurred in the operating schedule of Wellington Hospital.

I spent three weeks in Nelson Hospital and I give it a 5-star rating. I had a comfortable ensuite room with a leather lazy-boy and a plug for my computer. 

I have had little experience of hospital life. On my first day I wore pyjamas and a dressing gown. I asked a nurse, ‘Do I have to?’  

‘Wear what you like.’ she said.

I soon had a routine. Get up, shower, dress for breakfast. A stroll round the corridors before returning to morning tea. Work on the computer until lunch-time. A post-prandial nap – a stroll before afternoon tea. After dinner there was the newspaper, crosswords and a relaxed read in the lazy-boy. At no time did I experience pain or discomfort.

About 11pm I would be visited by a nurse who injected me in the abdomen with a ‘blood-thinner’. Each injection left a small bruise. After three weeks I had a belly like a leopard.

Only two things marred this blissful existence – entertaining visitors and the dietician who, believing I had some form of diabetes, would blue-pencil the tastiest items in my chosen menu.

Bumpy ride to Wellington

I was to fly to Wellington for the operation. Helen and I were driven to the airport.  The wind was gale force and the small plane allocated couldn’t cope. We were driven back to the hospital to await the arrival of a larger plane.  

The flight for me, strapped to a stretcher, was no ordeal but Helen, seated beside me, had a very rough ride.

In the evening, I was visited by the surgeon, who said he was obliged to describe the possible dire consequences of the procedure – a triple bypass. He was followed by the anaesthetist, who apparently had a similar obligation.

I don’t remember anything about the operation. I came to and tried to speak to Helen but the nurse said I wasn’t allowed to be conscious and put me to sleep again.

Road to recovery

There are about eight beds in the ward, five were occupied. I was blinded by the glare of the sun. I asked the nurse to close the blind but she said it was broken and couldn’t be fixed. She moved me to another bed. The mattress was unyielding. My stay in Nelson had spoilt me! I just wasn’t used to standard hospital conditions.

I have a tendency to remember the unusual and take for granted the attention and kindness of the nurses and the lady who cleaned the ward and managed to find a newspaper for me.

The surgeon visited and said everything went well. ‘Should give you another twenty years.’

 He asked my age. 

’73,’ I told him. 

‘Make that fifteen,’ he said...

I was a little weak and wobbly but capable of walking down the corridor to the bathroom. I examined my scar. The lower half was neatly stitched but the upper half looked as if cobbled together with a sacking needle. The only significant discomfort was my right inner thigh from which the replacement blood vessel had been taken. It was covered by a dressing secured by a long piece of sticking plaster.

Life on the ward

In the ward I was attended to by a very large nurse. He seemed to be nervous. He carefully removed the dressing from my leg, cleaned it up, put a new dressing in place and meticulously measured a replacement length of plaster. When in place it didn't quite cover the dressing.  ‘Ach’, he said, ‘it is too short.’ and ripped it off.

Of the other patients I only remember one. He was an elderly man who lived in a remote part of the North Island. His wife and daughters had moved down to be with him. Every evening they visited him with lots of chatter and delicious food. He loved it.

He was due to be released but a condition of his release was that he had to have daily injections.   Every night one of the visitors would be given a supervised rehearsal. He exhorted them to be careful emphasising a small bubble of air would kill their father and they had to very, very careful. He made them so nervous that it seemed to me that he was going to be a long time in hospital.               

Stairway to home

The physiotherapist was a very earnest young man. We had a two-storey house with sixteen steps. If I could climb that far I could go home. The second day I managed eight and had to be rescued. The fourth day I managed 16. On the sixth day, Helen and I boarded a commercial flight for Nelson.

As I relaxed on the plane, I thought back on an eventful week. Flown in a gale to Wellington. The next day my ribcage was cut open and my heart interfered with. Now, six days later I was travelling home, still a little wobbly but, with Helen’s support quite confident about the future. A couple of months later I was back on the golf-course.


A thought has just struck me. I check the dates. Next year is fifteen years since my op!

Throughout this experience, Helen and I experienced a level of care we hadn’t expected.  Accommodation was arranged for Helen in Wellington. We were treated with a sympathy that was not merely professional. The nursing profession has a dedication to their work that is inspiring. It is a pity that often we are not in a condition to remember, or note their names, to personally thank them.


There are advantages in bearing spectacular scars. A few summers ago I was sitting in A&E awaiting attention for some minor ailment. Sitting beside me was a young lad with a roughly bandaged hand.  

‘What happened to you?’  I asked

‘I was out fishing and I cut my hand when I was filleting a fish. It’s a nasty cut.’

He pealed back to bandage revealing a deep gash.

‘It is a nasty cut.’ I said.  “Have you ever seen anything like this?’  

I pulled up the leg of my shorts exposing the long scar on my inner thigh.

‘Wow,’ he said, ‘What did that?’  A shark?


‘Wow,’ he said again and looked at me with real respect and admiration.

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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