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When ‘light-headed’ signals heart trouble

John felt ‘off’ all day at work, and despite seeking help he still struck delays in getting the medical attention he needed. This is his story in his words.

It was November 4th 2016 and I was working on my designated dayshift roster checking sheep & lamb carcasses for disease, defects or any abnormalities, which is my core duty as a meat inspector at the meat plant.

I realised, throughout the day, I was feeling a little light-headed and mildly dizzy but didn’t think too much of it until the symptom increased in severity. I felt like I could faint, then came two to five seconds, maybe, of not quite knowing where I was; even the music in the background was no longer audible. But after a time I realised where I was again and my senses returned.

Looking up at a nearby clock I noted the time was approximately 9.30am which I then programmed into my mind, merely for the fact that this had frightened me and was not something I had previously experienced to that degree.

I then decided to soldier on as morning ‘smoko’ was nearing at 10.00am and I’d be able to go downstairs to see my supervisor (who I assumed would be there in his office) to ask to be let off so I could see the on-site nurse, or even go see my doctor. But upon inquiring, I found out he wasn’t in at that particular time.

So again I continued to work after morning tea believing that all would be okay, which it was until about 11.00 am when I again experienced a similar feeling – this time lasting around three to five seconds.

So again, I went downstairs to see if my supervisor was in but was told by a trainee in our office that he would not be coming in until the night-shift started as he was filling in for another inspector who was sick. So then I worked on until lunchtime at 12.30pm at which stage I told my colleagues on the shift with me that I was just going over to see the nurse at work, on the boning room side of our plant. I told her I was not feeling too well and asked her to take my blood pressure.

"I was actually afraid to drive home..."

She did this which reportedly was okay at 130 over 82, I think from memory. I don’t believe my pulse rate was taken, but the nurse did advise me that a virus was going around affecting the inner ears of staff whereby many were getting dizzy spells & having balance and co-ordination problems. That seemed to settle my concerns and fears for most of the afternoon until I had another episode (as I now know) at 2.55pm just as I was about to go for my afternoon break. There were also a couple more not too long after that. I managed to shake them off and travel downstairs where I firstly rang my wife explaining my condition, but not really knowing what the heck it was. I also called my supervisor but was still unable to get him on his cell phone, so I tried another staff member who was also unable to come in earlier to relieve me because he was also taking his wife to the doctor that afternoon. So I again decided to work on until 4.45pm – the end of our shift – when finally I was able to get off so that I could go see my doctor at our local medical centre.

I was actually afraid to drive home but because I couldn’t get anyone at my place decided to drive home slowly, basically hoping all would be well. Luckily this also panned out okay. I did stop at the medical centre on my way past only to realise the time was now 5.15pm. I was told by the receptionist that my doctor had already gone home at 5.00pm, but that she’d ask the nurse in charge to ring me at home when available...

Once home I was one relieved person and told my wife of my day and how frightening it was for me and how I endured so much and the pitfalls of trying to get relief and help when needed most.

Anyway later that evening the nurse rang and asked if I could come in at 6.20pm and the doctor on duty would be able to see me, which I duly did after waiting approximately 30 minutes before seeing the doctor on duty.

She again took my blood pressure which seemed to be okay and no real cause for concern, and after further checks I was allowed to go home. I don’t recall having my pulse rate taken by her either, but because all seemed to be okay – which I somehow knew it wasn’t – I went home thinking a weekend of rest may be the best cure.

Over the weekend I rested most of the time as was not able to do anything too strenuous. I felt continually tired and even going to the toilet a few metres away from my bedroom was such an effort. It felt like I had run a marathon and left me totally fatigued. I knew there was something not right with me plus I was still feeling somewhat dizzy on and off.

So come Monday morning I made an appointment with my GP, arriving at his clinic at 10.50am. I told him my story while he took my blood pressure and my pulse, then quietly he asked me to go to the nurse’s room to have an ECG. I knew by the look on the nurse’s face that things were not too flash and again I returned to my GP’s office to be told the news – to go directly to hospital. I did just that as my wife was my driver and heeded the doctor’s words.

In fairness, the doctor wanted me to go in an ambulance immediately but I would have refused, choosing to go by my own transport which was readily available. I felt, by now, if anything untoward was to happen to me it would surely have happened by now, with all the carry-on over the weekend, so I was prepared to take this risk anyway.

On arriving at A&E, the nurses asked why I didn’t come by ambulance, to which I replied I came on my own ambulance and was not going on theirs, irrespective of orders to the contrary, and here I was anyway. I was duly given a bed, hooked up and monitored by a nurse until the doctor came to check me over. I was later admitted to the ICU ward to be monitored and cared for.

For the first time throughout this ordeal I felt I could finally relax: all that anxiety, stress and uncertainty regarding my condition was somewhat eased now knowing I was in the right place and in good hands, so much so that after a night in there I was later that Tuesday afternoon discharged to another ward as things seemed to be going well, or so I thought. I was returned to ICU again on the Wednesday, at midnight, as things were not panning out as they were supposed to, with indications my heart rate was still regularly too low (mid-20 to mid-30 beats per minute) and somewhat uncooperative (fluctuating up and down).

I stayed in ICU requiring regular attention & precautionary monitoring while allowing my body to expel the known beta-block effect of the medication I had been prescribed to lower my elevated blood pressure. I can only assume it must’ve had the dual effect of also slowing my heart rate down too much, so as to cause further problems. They took me off it to see if my heart rate would return to normal on its own, but were aware there could be further underlying issues hindering this process. So I remained in ICU until the in-house cardiologist, in conjunction with the cardio specialist at Waikato Hospital, decided the best course of action to proceed with.

With an ECG, they picked up that I had chronic hypertension and a heart defect – mild concentric left ventricular hypertrophy – which seemed to be causing my problem. It was agreed I needed to be transported to Waikato for a pacemaker implant.

On Saturday 12th November I was flown to Waikato Hospital by air ambulance with my wife, in preparation for the operation presumably on the Monday. But then an earthquake hit, at 12.03am on the Monday morning, which set everything back a day. Infrastructure, buildings, machinery and equipment had to be checked because of it.

Tuesday was then the day of reckoning and at 2.00pm I was taken from the ward to the pre-op room and prepped before being whisked into theatre for the pacemaker implant under local anaesthetic.

Afterwards I was taken to the post-op room for recovery and monitoring, then returned to the ward around 4.30pm a bit sore but alert and okay. A while later I was taken to the x-ray room to see if the pacemaker wires were correctly placed within the heart structure.

I spent the rest of the night recovering from my ordeal but felt quite well and spent most of the next day resting and recuperating as best I could until the doctor was able to assess me. All was well which meant I could be discharged and transported to Hamilton airport for air transportation back home to Gisborne, under medical supervision.

The transfer from Waikato Hospital to Hamilton Airport and the flight back to Gisborne went well and I must thank the flight and medical team for their awesome and professional assistance and care throughout both flights, to and from Hamilton. It was so much appreciated – well done team.

My message to any others who may be in a similar type of situation is to immediately let someone know you have these symptoms and to immediately ring or see your doctor, if possible, or immediately call an ambulance. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Also, ensure you have regular check-ups with your doctor and don’t be afraid of doing this. It’s better to have you here with family rather than just another statistic.


Shared March 2017

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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