Life in the fast lane

Cars have always been Lloyd’s passion, so it’s not surprising he’s a guy who lives life at a very fast pace. But following a heart attack, and subsequent triple bypass, learning to slow down became a very real priority.

Lloyd had plans for the evening of February 24, 2017. He was taking his wife out to dinner to celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary. Hospitals and heart attacks were the last thing on his mind.

The 59-year-old had never been hospitalised in his life and had always been fit and active. As well as the manual work that comes with their rural lifestyle block, there was also the physical activity that came with his line of work: a business building hot rod cars.

The first inkling he had that something wasn’t quite right came that morning after breakfast, shortly before going to work.

“I had a pain, or perhaps more precisely, a discomfort in my lower chest. Nothing which, in the first instance, gave me any rise to concern, in fact I wondered whether it might have just been an indigestion or some reaction to the muesli that I’d eaten.”

This pain was followed by a congestion in his throat, but the feeling passed quickly. The possibility of heart trouble briefly crossed Lloyd’s mind, but with no real chest pain and no pain or discomfort in his arms he dismissed the idea quickly.

With the discomfort in his chest soon dissipating Lloyd headed to work. Later in the morning, however, he experienced another unusual sensation in his upper left chest.

“Again it wasn’t pain it was just something a little bit unusual, it was a sensation. But putting that together with the other two physical experiences that I’d had that morning did elevate my concern.”

Tests confirm heart attack

Lloyd emailed his doctor asking if he should bother to come in. Not surprisingly the doctor was insistent that he did. When Lloyd finally made it to the doctors later that afternoon, an ECG test didn’t raise any alarm bells. But as the lab was closed for the day, he was transferred to the local hospital to get an x-ray and blood tests done. The results confirmed the surprising news that he had suffered a heart attack.

After spending three nights in the local hospital in Masterton, Lloyd was sent to Wellington expecting to have a stent inserted. Following an angiogram however, he was told the condition was more serious than first thought and that he would require bypass surgery.

Lloyd spent a further nine nights in Wellington and Lower Hutt hospitals, before finally receiving his triple bypass... 

“I had total confidence in the medical staff. In each instance the medical care was fantastic and I never had any qualms at all about the medical support I was receiving. That flowed into an absolute confidence that the surgery itself was going to go well. I never doubted that in the least.”

To prepare himself for what was to follow, he called a friend who had undergone a triple bypass some years before. “He said his experience was that it was like being run over by a Kenworth truck, so I guess I had that as my benchmark. Although for me, it was never that bad. So I was prepared for something that was going be more painful than what it actually was.

“For me the hardest part was immediately after the operation. Everything was focused on what was going to happen up to and during the operation rather than what I was going to feel like after, and the big unknown was how long the recovery period going to take.”

The slow road to recovery

Lloyd was discharged five days later – a more than long enough stay for a man impatient to get on with his life. “Even though the care was fantastic I was ultimately desperate to get out of hospital just because of the boredom.”

Lloyd expected to immediately return to life as before, but the recovery process forced him to slow down.

“The post-op process took longer than I had expected and I found that frustrating at times. Having been so active, to suddenly be incapacitated and not able to do physically what I had been doing a few months prior – that took a lot to get used to.”

“One of the things I personally struggled with, and as I understand it this is partially due to the anaesthetic, was just the mental fade and the physical tiredness, particularly in the afternoon and evenings. Mentally I found that frustrating because I was so used to my previous lifestyle of activity, busyness and general wellbeing. It probably took five months before that post-op fuzziness started to clear.”

Cardiac rehab proved to be of great benefit and was something Lloyd would highly recommend to others following a heart event or heart disease diagnosis.

“I found it beneficial on a number of levels: mixing with some other patients and getting a good cross section of information in the rehab courses. Plus it was very caring and practical. I would thoroughly recommend that for anybody that has been through a heart attack.”

Learning to slow the pace of life

Once recovered from his surgery, Lloyd set about making a number of lifestyle changes. He’s found reducing stress and slowing his pace of life has been one of the biggest challenges.

“I’ve got a lifetime of living at a certain pace – a very fast pace, so it is a major change remembering that if I don’t change that pace there could be serious consequences. So at the moment it’s a continual battle, I guess until new habits are developed.”

Lloyd has made a conscious effort to reduce the number of hours that he works.

“A major health incident is a wake-up call in terms of what you do and how you do it and what your priorities are. And so there comes a point, an awakening, where you realise that if you don’t make those changes you’re not going be around to have the option of making changes. So I have consciously made some changes to ensure that there is a long term picture for me, my family and for that matter, the business.”

Following advice from the rehab sessions, he has also introduced more regular and concentrated cardiovascular exercise. “I bought an exercycle and have used that during the colder months, and my plan is to get back into some more walking as the weather improves. It is different to the exercise that I did before which was regular but not for extended periods of time. So it is a discipline. I’ve always been active but this is a little bit different and pro-active.”

As well improving his physical health, the exercise also contributes to his mental wellbeing and relaxation. “Just the sheer discipline of going for a walk or spending half an hour on the exercycle is, by the very nature of it, taking you away from a work activity for example.”

A wake-up call for the family

Lloyd says his heart attack and bypass surgery were not just wake-up call for him, they were a wake-up call for the entire family, especially given the heart disease history in previous generations.

“I think it was as much of a shock to the family as it was to me. To go from being relatively healthy, certainly 100% active, and with no medical condition, to suddenly being in a hospital bed and getting open heart surgery. It was a wake-up call for the family as well as for myself in terms of the consequences and the implications of it.”

“My father had had a heart attack, and my grandfather and great-grandfather had both died of heart attacks long before I was born – but I hadn’t really considered that. So one of the changes going forward for us as a family has been making my kids aware of the need for them to have medical checks in case they are prone to the same hereditary condition.”

Reflecting on the experience

When he looks back on his experience, Lloyd encourages people experiencing any kind of symptom to seek medical advice as soon as possible.

“In retrospect, I’m really lucky that the situation didn’t turn out more seriously. I should have sought medical advice earlier for those initial concerns and the initial experience that I had. So that’s a lesson I learnt from that process. I didn’t think I’d had a heart attack and so really didn’t see the need to address it but in retrospect that could have been a serious, or even fatal, mistake.”

Now he’s thankful he’ll have the opportunity to celebrate further wedding anniversaries – even if he missed this year’s. As it is, he says he’s postponed that dinner rather than cancelled it altogether.

“I think she’s forgiven me,” he jokes. “I’d say it’s a rain check. I’m still going to do it.”

 

Shared October 2017

Picture credit: Wairarapa Times-Age.

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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