Reflecting on a heart attack
Approximately 11 years ago, Josie began to feel pain between her shoulder blades. A trip to the doctor revealed she was having a heart attack, and Josie was rushed to hospital for treatment.
“I first felt something was wrong when I was swimming.” Josie recalls, “I was at the pool, having coaching to improve my swimming and the teacher said to me, ‘you’re a bit slow today Josie’. Then, later when I was helping my husband to drag tree branches down our drive, I became quite breathless and had to stop.”
Josie, who was in her late 60s at the time, assumed the symptoms were the onset of a chill or an issue with her lungs. Feeling a little concerned, she headed to her local GP, who sent her straight to A&E as she was having a heart attack.
A shocked Josie arrived at A&E and was scheduled to have stents inserted the following day.
“I remember thinking how quick it was, within 24 hours. But also I remember lying in the hospital that night quite wakeful, wondering what’s happening to me. I was given some medication to calm me down and was looked after by a junior surgeon. He had to monitor me, and wake me every 15 minutes to check that I was ok.”
Josie doesn’t remember the angioplasty – the procedure where the stents were inserted into her arteries through the groin, but she recalls what happened afterwards.
“I remember being back in the recovery room, and I had to lie very still with this big sandbag weight on my groin to help it heal and prevent bleeding. I was instructed not to move. That lasted for about eight hours.”
On her return home, Josie was thankful to have the support of her husband as well as her cousin who had arrived for an expected holiday visit from South Africa, on the very day of the heart attack!
“It was really lovely because when I got home we had lots of lovely talks and walked on the beach. Between them, my husband and cousin gave me a bit of encouragement to get up and do something because it totally knocked my confidence, of course.”
After her heart attack, Josie was advised by family to get a mobile phone, in case she had another heart event while out walking on her own. She also attended cardiac rehabilitation classes.
“I did the rehab twice over. I remember I lost my confidence for doing anything energetic and so was just walking from lamp post to lamp post each day and not wanting to go very far.”
Josie was fortunate to have her caring husband by her side through her recovery.
“Len looked after me so well – more than enough. He fussed over me because he'd had a bit of a heart incident a few years before. His events were not heart attacks, but he has been in hospital a couple of times for check ups'.
After the second round of cardiac rehab classes, Josie’s confidence began to return.
“It’s best to do a little bit more walking each time you exercise, and that’s what I did. Living in Brighton, Dunedin, we’ve got the long beach at Ocean View, so I’d think ‘right, I’m going to walk up to that tree, then go back’. I did that for a long time, and then I found a good walking mate, who I still see. She encouraged me to push myself a bit harder each time. I do carry my mobile with me now always.”
Since then Josie’s worked on improving her fitness and has completed half marathons, and 10 and 5kms walking races, some of which were fundraisers.
“I can still do 10K now, even if I do get a bit tired by the end of it.”
Josie was given a prescription for beta blockers after her heart attack, but it took a while to find the right medication to suit her.
“My doctor’s been really good about getting the medication adjusted to suit me. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, I’ve challenged some doctors a few times on the pills and things I take. It took about three years really to get it properly adjusted.”
To anyone in a similar situation, Josie recommends to “be careful with your medication, ask your GP and consultants lots of questions, and be sensible regarding exercise. You will find your confidence really does come back.”
Finally, she would like to thank all the people she has got to know through being a volunteer for the Heart Foundation. “They are friendly and supportive and hearing their stories has given me a positive feeling for the future.”
Shared January 2019