Finding the silver lining

Anne has lived with microvascular angina for 25 years and more recently was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Despite the challenges of her heart conditions she chooses to see the positives they have brought.

Now 73 years old, Anne has experienced issues with her heart since her early forties.

“I suffered with sharp pains in my chest for a long time. I used to think it was indigestion that would wake me up at night and I put it down to that,” Anne recalls.

Anne’s parents both died of heart attacks, so in 1993, when the pain was getting worse, she visited her GP and was diagnosed with microvascular angina. Shortly after the diagnosis, Anne’s husband passed away and she decided to take early retirement from her job with the Government where she had worked for 18 years.

“I couldn’t do the work anymore; I was having too many bad days.”

The angina was managed with medication for a number of years and fortunately after a while, seemed to ease itself off. However, Anne was now struggling with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

A different diagnosis

It was nearly two decades later, in 2012, when Anne felt once again that something wasn’t as it should be with her heart.

“I was generally feeling unwell, but I put it down to my previous complaints with the heart. I left it until one day I got really bad and we called the ambulance.

“At that time I didn’t have any chest pain, only pressure. I was so weak, couldn’t do anything and felt really sad. It’s like a heavy sadness on you.”

Anne was taken to hospital and admitted for four days. While there she was found to have a very fast heart rate of 130 BPM and given anticoagulation medication to thin her blood and reduce the risk of stroke. At this time, Anne was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

She underwent a transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE) (pdf) and then her heart was shocked back to its normal rhythm by an electrical cardioversion.

Once Anne’s condition was stable, she was released from hospital with a prescription for beta blockers to slow and strengthen her heart rate.

You are not alone

After her diagnosis, Anne went to a local AF information event to learn more about her condition and meet others living with AF.

“You just don’t think there’s anybody out there that’s got the same condition as you. If you are suffering from something that someone else is going through too, you’ve got a bond with them don’t you? It’s just knowing that other people have it and that we can help one another. It’s wonderful to have that involvement.”

Heart rhythm changes again

In the following six years after her diagnosis, Anne’s heart rate mostly remained stable. However, in January 2018 she noticed a change - her heart beating irregularly.

“It was like a couple playing tennis and the ball going all over the field. It could knock me a little bit, you know, the vibration of it. I couldn’t find a comfortable place to lie.”

After a visit to the hospital, Anne had her beta blocker dose increased and was prescribed blood thinning medication. But she feels like her heart rhythm has not yet returned to what it was. “It’s changed my life really. I used to be able go for walks and do more exercise, that sort of thing. Whereas now I can’t do as much of that. My emotions, my sleeping, they’ve all changed their pattern and I think it’s to do with this.”

The positive side to illness

Anne says an upside to her illness is that it has forced her to stop working and spend more time with family.  She currently lives next door to her son and granddaughter, who visit her every day after school.

“For me, all these illnesses that I’ve had, they’ve all been for a purpose. If I was fit and healthy I’d still be working at my job I suppose because I was quite a workaholic in those days. So, in that way, I look at as the goodness that’s come out of it. What’s come out of my illness has been greater than the illness and the side effects.”

Her advice to anyone in a similar situation is to make the most of what they have. “Live life the best you can as each day is a bonus.”

 

Shared November 2018

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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