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Phil asks, ‘why me?’

Fit and healthy, Phil was shocked to find out he was suffering from angina in 2012, but after an angioplasty with three stents, he’s back climbing hills like there’s no tomorrow. Here is his story.

It was only during the few weeks before I made an appointment to see my GP that I knew there was a consistency about the discomfort I could feel, particularly when walking up hill. At the time, I lived in the suburb of Brooklyn and frequently walked down to Wellington city centre and home again. The week leading up to making the appointment, I suffered the same sensation on the bike going uphill.

Over the years there were occasions when I would feel tired on returning home, sometimes after work or especially if I had walked into town, then gone about some shopping. It’s quite understandable. But such weariness is not necessarily a symptom of anything seriously wrong, and on all these occasions there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with me.

A visit to the doctor

So when I saw my doctor and he asked me why I’d come to see him, I said it was most likely hypochondria. He was very perceptive and asked me to describe my `hypochondria’. I said that each time I ascended Brooklyn Hill, or any number of other hills I climbed regularly, it came on as a deep-seated feeling in the back of the throat, almost like a cold coming on except that it eased off when I stopped.

The doctor checked my blood pressure and heart rhythm while I was there and even though they were both “perfect”, as a precaution he gave me a little bottle of Glytrin (Trinitrate) spray and told me to use it under the tongue if future, or more severe, events occurred. He then referred me to a cardiologist. The suspicion indicated that it was angina.

Now to be fair, I had surfed the internet beforehand and read that angina was possible. But I could hardly believe it. Why me?

I should put myself into perspective. I was aware of what the medical world, the Heart Foundation and the popular media had been saying for years. We’ve all heard about the risk factors many times; being overweight, not doing enough exercise, bad diet, smoking, too much alcohol and so on.

So what was I doing presenting with possible angina? All my adult life my body weight has been between 57 and 60 kg, and I am of average height – about 175cm. I went lots of places on foot, occasionally by bicycle, and still do. At the time of the heart event, (2012) I was 67 years old. Apart from being within the typical age group for heart attacks, I could claim virtually none of the other risk factors.

Diagnosis confirmed

The cardiologist’s treadmill test quickly confirmed angina, so I was still full of the `why me?’ syndrome. I did not see how I could fit the usual risk factors for heart disease, although I did admit my mother had died of a heart attack.

My cardiologist looked at my symptoms positively. He pointed out that if I had been a couch potato I may not have experienced them. He added that it was easy to blame family history or some other factor, but at the end of the day, they didn’t really know why some suffer heart problems and others do not. 

Within weeks, the angiogram and subsequent angioplasty with three stents fitted into my coronary arteries had me back on the road again. My cardiologist told me to keep climbing those hills! I have, and I haven’t looked back since.

Also I guess I may just have caught the disease in time to have avoided a heart attack. I didn’t use the spray and haven’t since, but I always carry it with me. And I know I was lucky, and so grateful, that the means to treat heart disease is available these days.


Shared July 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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1 Comment

  • Melissa 5 December 2022

    Thank you Phil. You’ve been very helpful with my mindset of Why Me.