Double trouble

Married for 55 years, Harry and Ann have shared a lifetime of experiences, including that of heart disease. When they suffered heart events on the same day, they even found themselves sharing an ambulance.

As a married couple of 55 years, Ann and Harry truly know the meaning of 'in sickness and in health’. They have a lifetime of shared experiences, including that of heart disease. Harry was first hospitalised with atrial fibrillation (AF) in 2012, while celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in the UK. Meanwhile Ann was diagnosed with angina in 2014.

They had successfully managed their conditions until Anzac Day 2017, when not one, but both of them suffered a more significant event. They found themselves sharing an ambulance to the hospital. Both of them have told their stories to the Heart Foundation in their own words.

Earlier this year, over the course of four or five weeks, Harry suffered a number of blackouts, the last one being while we were having a coffee in the conservatory and making plans for a sunny Anzac Day. 

While we were chatting he suddenly put his drink down, his head went back and he was making gurgling rasping sounds and had lost consciousness. I thought he was dying.  

As he regained consciousness, I tried to keep him calm while I was a nervous wreck. I dialled 111 for an ambulance and before long it arrived. 

‘Two for the price of one’

The paramedics were seeing to Harry but while they were doing that I was taking my GTN (Nitrolingual) angina spray for a developing chest pain. The spray wasn’t enough and soon the paramedics had to turn their attention to me as I felt I was going to vomit or pass out. They gave me an aspirin to chew which helped bring me round almost immediately but the chest pain was still present.

They decided they’d better take us both to Taranaki Base Hospital and were joking on the way that we were getting two for the price of one! Word soon got around ED and we were told it was very unusual for couples to be brought in together. 

We both had various blood tests, ECGs, x-rays etc throughout the rest of the day and eventually were told we needed to stay in overnight at least. Luckily our daughter Karen had a key to our house so she was able to go in and get all we needed to tide us over.  

Tests confirm a heart attack

By the evening I was taken to ICU as the blood tests confirmed I’d had a heart attack. Harry was taken to a medical ward and we kept in touch by text. Over the next couple of days a decision was made for me to be flown by air ambulance to Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, for an angiogram and possible stents.  

The angiogram wasn’t as straightforward as the one I’d had in the wrist a couple of years back. Several nurses tried but couldn’t get my veins to perform, so the surgeon went through my groin. All went well and he found it wasn’t necessary for me to have any stents which I was pleased about. 

Hours later I noticed a bruise high on my right thigh about the size of a 50c coin and mentioned this to a nurse who said that’s quite normal.   

Waikato Hospital swaps Ann for Harry

As luck would have it our granddaughter Lara became a registered nurse this year and had just started work at Waikato Hospital. In her breaks she came to visit me and when I was discharged she drove me home to New Plymouth, visiting Harry in Taranaki Base Hospital on the way. 

Two days later came his turn to be flown up to Waikato as it was decided he needed a pacemaker. It was done in no time and Lara was there holding his hand as he came out of surgery. On the day he was discharged our daughter Karen drove the round trip to fetch him and bring him back home.

Bruising spreads

Meanwhile, by the time I saw Harry again, the dark bruising on my thigh was spreading down as far as the back of my knee and I also needed to take painkillers for the tenderness and pains in my leg.

Two weeks after the angiogram I felt I needed to see a GP as it was coming up to the weekend and I was still in a lot of discomfort. He put my mind at rest by saying the bruising is where the muscle acts like a sponge and the blood drips through the muscle as gravity takes over. What a relief! 

I’ve since spoken to a couple of people who’ve had angiograms in the groin and they haven’t experienced any bruising. I guess it’s because I’m on blood thinners. But I would like other people to know that this could happen as I lost a lot of sleep through worrying because I just wasn’t prepared.

We’ve been told to take it easy but are now well on the road to recovery.

 

Shared June 2017

This true story explains how I went from atrial fibrillation to pacemaker over five years.

Five years ago my wife Ann and I were on holiday in Kent, UK, where we lived before coming to NZ. It was to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary with some old friends and family.

The evening after the celebration I started to get palpitations. I’d had them before but they’d only lasted for a few minutes. On this occasion they were continuous and I decided to go to bed early hoping that I would be ok in the morning. However the strange heart rhythm was still there the following morning and it was decided that I should see a GP. She told me that I should go to the hospital immediately.

Once there they immediately linked me up to a monitor and intravenously injected a beta-blocker. After about an hour my pulse rate settled down but nevertheless they kept me in for a further three days before discharging me with a supply of aspirin and told me to go to my GP as soon as I was back home in New Zealand.

My regular GP then put me on warfarin blood thinners requiring regular blood tests. Over the next five years I went to the hospital with AF about six times.

Blackouts begin

About six weeks ago I suffered a blackout whilst heading for the toilet and ended up on the floor. I believe it lasted about one minute. Ann suggested taking me to the GP but I foolishly refused.  

Two days later I had a strange giddy sensation and this time decided to consult the GP. Whilst in his surgery explaining my symptoms I could feel it happening again. The next minute I was waking up with the GP one side of me and Ann on the other supporting me on the chair.

The GP advised me to go to the hospital that day and wrote a letter for us to take explaining what had happened, which he referred to as a syncope (similar to a seizure).

The hospital linked me up to a portable monitor and stopped the beta-blockers I was taking in the hope that I would get another blackout which would be recorded on the monitor. As much as I tried to bring one on by walking briskly around the wards it just would not happen.  

During my three day stay, on one night my heart had a four and a half second pause. The doctors were somewhat baffled and believed it was the beta-blockers that were the culprit. I was told not to drive for a month.

Ambulance staff get more than they bargained for

Three weeks later, on Anzac Day, Ann and I were sitting in the conservatory drinking coffee and chatting when suddenly I had a loud ringing noise develop in my head. I just had time to put down my coffee cup before I lost consciousness. When I came round Ann was holding me and immediately called for an ambulance while I sat there shaking with an erratic heartbeat.

The ambulance arrived very quickly and while they were treating me, Ann had one of her angina attacks and was also very ill. Both of us were taken to the hospital together. But this is another story.

The doctors then decided that my blackouts were caused by further pauses of the heart and thought it was time for me to have a pacemaker fitted.

Pacemaker fitted

I was flown up to the Waikato hospital in Hamilton and that afternoon I was taken to the theatre for the pacemaker fitting. It was done by local anaesthetic and placed just under the collar bone on my left side with two leads fixed, one to each side of my heart.

When I came out of the theatre my granddaughter Lara, who has just graduated as a registered nurse and is working at the Waikato Hospital, was there to hold my hand which was very comforting. I was, at this stage getting a high pulse rate, but, after a rough night, this subsided by the following morning.

I was then taken to the pacemaker clinic. The technician placed a loop of cable over the pacemaker area and immediately the previous night’s heart activity was shown on the computer screens. It confirmed the bad night I’d had.

The pacemaker was set to take over if my pulse rate goes below 60 and I was prescribed an increased dose of the beta- blocker.

I recently had my first visit to the pacemaker clinic at Taranaki Base Hospital. I have to say that I already have noticed a difference, I no longer get any palpitations or flutters of the heart like I used to. I used to think they were normal.

 

Shared June 2017

 

Update – pacemaker complications develop

Three weeks after my pacemaker was inserted (and after I shared my original story) I developed flu-like symptoms which included bouts of uncontrollable shivering, loss of appetite, nausea, coughing, a runny nose and generally feeling unwell. I thought it was a cold virus I’d picked up as there was a lot of it around.  More than three weeks later, I still had the symptoms so decided it was time to visit a GP who took a chest x-ray and prescribed some antibiotics.

After another two weeks I still had the symptoms and went to another GP who sent me to the hospital with a letter.

There I had blood tests and another x-ray and was told that I had nothing wrong and it would eventually clear up, but before I was sent home I had an echocardiogram (ECG). It revealed, on close scrutiny, that there was what looked like vegetation on one of the pacemaker leads.

Pacemaker lead infection

I was then sent immediately to Waikato Hospital in Hamilton for further treatment. There I had a transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE), which is a tube with a camera, sent down the throat. It showed that I had an infection caused by the pacemaker lead. The decision was made to remove the pacemaker immediately and I was put on antibiotics fed intravenously from a drip for about six hours a day.

I was then transferred back to Taranaki Base Hospital to continue the treatment.  A week later, I was fitted with a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) line, a small tube inserted into the arm above the elbow which drip feeds the antibiotics into a vein. I was given an antibiotic bottle in a bum bag which was strapped to me so I could go home. I needed to wear this for the next four weeks, with a district nurse visiting each day to change the antibiotic bottle.

The bottle released an IV antibiotic and in addition to that I had to take antibiotic tablets which also had their side effects including nausea, dizziness, unpleasant metallic taste, tiredness, weakness and dry mouth to name but a few, which I had 24/7 during this time. It made life very unpleasant.

Black outs return

Within three days of finishing the antibiotic course I was feeling much better.

But seven days after completing the antibiotic course I had five near blackouts in one afternoon and Ann called an ambulance. When they arrived and put me on a monitor they found my heart was beating erratically but then it settled down to a normal beat.

In hospital after more blood tests, x-rays and ECG the hospital cardiologist assured me there was no infection and would bring plans forward to get me up to the Waikato for another pacemaker the following week.

The second day in hospital, I had another blackout which only emphasised the need for another pacemaker.

On Wednesday 6 September I had a new pacemaker fitted. The surgeon believed that the infection came from the needle of a cannula inserted in my arm prior to having it fitted the first time, causing phlebitis (inflammation of the vein).

After the surgery, back on the ward, I had a dinner but as I lay down I came over hot and cold. My blood pressure had fallen considerably, which was put down to dehydration as I had had nothing to eat or drink since early morning. After several glasses of water and fluid given intravenously I felt much better.

Last minute flight home

The next day, after going to the pacemaker clinic, I was signed off and told I could go home. I pointed out that I had no idea how to get back to New Plymouth. The nurse standing alongside the doctor said she believed there was a spare seat on the plane returning that afternoon, so I was overjoyed at that offer. I arrived back at Taranaki Base Hospital later that afternoon where Ann was ready to take me home.

Two days later I had severe cold-like symptoms, a dry cough, runny nose and lots of sneezing. My biggest fear, of course, was that the infection had come back. I also developed constant bouts of hiccups which lasted two to three hours each time.

I decided it was time to visit my GP who also was concerned and arranged a blood test to see if any infection was present. The results showed that something was going on. Another blood test was arranged four days later which also indicated the presence of an infection.  

The GP then spoke to the cardiologist at the hospital who arranged for me to go in immediately for some tests, including blood cultures and ECG.

Infection concerns resolved

After several hours, it was decided that what I had was probably a cold virus and it had nothing to do with the pacemaker. I was then told to go home and to try and live as normal a life as possible and allow it to take its course and eventually all would come right.

The following day the pacemaker clinic contacted me with concerns about the hiccups I’d been having as there could be a connection between them and the pacemaker. But amazingly, after having hiccups for four days almost nonstop and it waking me at night, they suddenly stopped as quickly as they started and, after having the pacemaker checked, nothing seemed wrong.

So I’m hoping in time I will eventually get back to a normal life. It is now more than two months since having the second pacemaker fitted and I feel as though I’m back to normal and paying regular visits to the gym although I must be careful not to do any stretching with my right arm (the side the new pacemaker was fitted).

So I’m now looking forward to Christmas and no blackouts.

 

Shared December 2017

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

Find similar stories

View all stories

2 Comments

  • Karen 17 August 2018

    Thank you very much for sharing your story. I found it interesting and informative.
    I hope all is well with you and your wife.

  • Liz 17 August 2018

    I had a similar experience to Ann. I had an angiogram for a mild heart attack some years ago. Similar again to Ann I didn’t need stents thankfully but I suffered as a result of the angiogram. I had a large haematoma over the entry site in my groin. It was very painful and my leg was terribly bruised for want of a better word. They sent me home after 4 days to take it easy. Within 3 days when I stood up my leg felt tight and full and the bruising had spread all over my belly. Went to see the Dr and he said straight back to hospital. He didn’t even want me to go home so my husband took me in. A drive of almost 2 hours for us. Turned out I had 2 holes in the artery leaking. They filled them with thrombin and 5 days later I finally came home. It took almost a year to get back to normal.

    Dear Liz – it sounds like you unfortunately experienced an extreme case of haematoma followed by bleeding subsequent to the angiogram, which can happen in isolated cases. It’s less common these days, as a result of new technology, the shortened length of procedure, and improved access via the brachial artery in the arm.  However bruising and the risk of bleeding are two of a number of possible side effects that can occur after an angiogram. You can find out more about the associated risks in our booklet ‘A guide to coronary angiography and angioplasty’ (http://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/shop/heart-healthcare/angiography-and-angioplasty.pdf ). Despite the risks, angiography is an important diagnostic tool.  Before any medical procedure it’s important to discuss risks and possible side effects with your clinician.
    Kind Regards,
    Heart Healthcare Team, Heart Foundation