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Not the ‘traditional’ signs of a heart attack

A pain on the right side of the chest couldn’t be a heart attack – or so Allan originally thought.

Allan’s symptoms began during a walk on Brighton beach with a friend and his dog. After walking up the “very easy set of steps and over the sand hills” he said to his friend, “Hang on John, I’m getting a bit shot here, I need a spell.” They continued on with their day, but by the time Allan went to bed that night, he felt terrible.

“I can’t describe how I felt, I didn’t have the traditional symptoms of a heart attack – pain in the chest, left arm, face sore or anything like that.  All I had was this horrible uncomfortable feeling under my right arm and the side of my chest,” says Allan. “Nothing to indicate it was a tick-tock problem.”

He tried to treat the pain with an indigestion pill and an aspirin, but nothing helped. So after 45 minutes, he got dressed and drove himself and his wife to Christchurch Hospital – not once considering the possibility he was having a heart attack.  

“As I got to the reception desk, it really hit me and I knew it wasn’t good, and that there really was something wrong.” Before he knew it, he was in the emergency department with a shunt in his arm and “a drip of something” put through it... 

“I said to my wife ‘I love you’ and she said she loved me too. I thought I’m off, I’m not coming out of here”. But thanks to the swift action of doctors and nurses, he was feeling more comfortable after just a few minutes.

It turns out Allan had had a minor heart attack. He ended up staying in the intensive care unit for a week and having a stent put in.

Since then he has been on daily medication, such as blood thinners. Allan also has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which causes trouble in breathing. To keep this under control and remain active, he regularly attends exercise classes.

Looking back on his heart attack, Allan says, “I would like to get across to anyone thinking they are in pain that not all signs and symptoms will necessarily point to a heart attack and to take this seriously. If in pain, go and have a check up.” 

A heart attack is something that can happen anytime, anywhere and, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t have to involve pain on the left side of the chest. 


Shared November 2016

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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