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Stomach pains mask heart attack

When Clive was admitted to Waikato Hospital with stomach pains, his initial concerns were that he’d parked in a 30-minute car park and he’d left his cigarettes at home. The nurse informed him the car would be ok and cigarettes were out of the question because the pain he could feel was a heart attack.

Clive’s story begins on a stormy night at the end of 2011. He was at home, 25km outside of Cambridge, when he began to get stomach pains. Initially he resisted acting on it.

“I had pain. Indigestion, flatulence or something. I’d had similar stomach pains before, so I’m lying there and I think a good fart or a good crap will clear this up but I couldn’t. So I lay there and it got a bit worse – but they were the only symptoms.

“By about 11 o’clock I thought maybe I should have it looked at. Because by then it felt as if someone was standing on my stomach. I could still move but it was just uncomfortable. No other symptoms no tingling, no nothing.”

Finally he made the decision to drive himself to hospital. He knows now he should have called an ambulance but he lives alone and, at the time, didn’t think the situation was serious enough to bother friends or family.

In the middle of a heart attack

“It was pouring down with rain. I drove to Waikato Hospital and I parked in the 30 min carpark thinking they could fix it swiftly.” On presentation at A&E, Clive was immediately taken to a bed in a wheelchair then hooked up to an ECG machine.

“The doctor or nurse came along to check everything and I told her what had happened. I said, “I’ve driven all this way and I’ve forgotten my cigarettes”. She said, “You won’t be smoking again, because you’re still having a heart attack.” I said, “Pardon? But my car is in the 30 minute zone.” She said, “Don’t worry about that”.”

After some more tests Clive was taken up to see the on-call cardiologist where he was informed that he would be receiving a stent... 

“They gave me some sedation. I remember it was a very narrow bed. I couldn’t get comfortable. They kept saying, “Keep still”. They tried in my arm first, but gave up. The next thing I know they say they’ll have to go in through the groin. Later when I managed to have a shower, I thought, what’s kicked me in the groin? I was black and blue.”

Post surgery

The next thing Clive knew, it was 5.30 in the morning. “Coming to, I was told I’d had a stent put in the day before. I was told they had spent an hour and forty minutes or two hours to do the procedure and normally it only takes them forty minutes. The cardiologist was just about to give up. If that had been the case I’d be in a ward waiting to be opened up with can opener and hacksaws!! I was pleased the cardiologist was on site and he could do it right away so there was no damage to the heart muscle.”

“I managed to call my mother in Whakatane, and some other friends. It was Friday morning so I thought I’d better phone them, although I was really still more concerned about the car being in the 30 minute park. I explained to somebody, and they said it was fine, so the car stayed where it was. So you can get away with parking in the 30 minute car park.”

Clive was then taken to the ward where he was attached to a telemetry monitor.  “It reminded me more of David Jason’s Open all Hours and Granville decided he wanted to become modern and got a Bournville cocoa tin lid and put it on a bathroom chain, hung it round his neck with big shades. I had visions of Arkright coming down the ward going “G,gg, g, Granville. Bloody get up yer lump.” I’m glad I didn’t have broken ribs.”

Clive was discharged after five nights in hospital. As someone who lives alone he says he was lucky to have a network of family and friends who he could call on for support when needed. One friend, arrived from Adelaide and his daughter came from Brisbane to look after him.

“The family, I mean we talk to each other often, it’s a very tight knit family. They were all realistic. Most of my friends couldn’t believe I’d had a heart attack. But if I needed things, like now, there’s people that I can call.”

Quitting smoking

There have been some lifestyle changes that Clive has made since the heart attack, the biggest of which was giving up smoking.

“In the hospital they told me off about the cigarettes and plastered patches all over me. I wore them for about two weeks and then I threw them away.”

It was not the first time Clive had attempted to quit. On previous occasions he’d been unsuccessful, finding smoking went hand in hand with his former career as a chef. “You’re in a kitchen, you’ve got four or five hours, its’ high pressure, and then you’ve got to have time to wind down. Usually you have too much to drink and it’s very easy to have a cigarette as well.”

This time he has been successful however - he’s not had a cigarette in the six years since his heart attack. He now also takes an anticoagulant.

Lifestyle choices had an impact

Clive is well aware now that his previous lifestyle choices probably had some impact on his heart event. “I couldn’t have told you any of the early warning symptoms. You could have told me, quite happily, that with my lifestyle I was a heart attack waiting to happen and you’d have been perfectly right.

“I was fit at school, but after that, being a chef, you were limited. Your off times usually end up drunk with mates, then you’re cooking breakfast, couple of hours rest in the afternoon, then cooking dinner, all nights of the week.”

Clive’s mother reiterated his own view. “She wasn’t surprised at all about my heart attack. She said, “Your diet? The way you drink? The way you smoke? You’re hedonistic!”

He currently keeps active assisting at a riding for the disabled programme, which involves a lot of walking. But feels he probably should do more. “I did try to get back into exercise when I moved to New Zealand. I played rugby a couple of times, but just about got killed, so I gave up that. Exercise is not my forte, I know I should do more.”  

He’s also recently moved into a new house, in town and opposite a dog walking park, so says a canine companion is the next logical step.

Emotions after a heart attack

He admits he was quite emotional at times following discharge, but he says it’s important to stay positive. Indeed he takes a very pragmatic view of both life and death.

“My partner died when she was 39, she basically dropped dead of an aneurysm. I was very sad about that, but I was realistic as well. My sister died of cancer when she was 24. My ex-wife died of cancer as well. So I’m a realist. These things happen – but not necessarily for a reason. I don’t believe in any greater power.”

He’s also made some plans for his own death. “I’ve offered my body to science, but realistically it has been so battered they probably don’t want it!  There’s one codicil in my will: apparently the prosthetics from my knee replacements won’t burn, they’re titanium. So I asked if, the day after I’m cremated, they could pull them out of the skip and give them to a friend of mine whose daughter wants to make a sculpture. The funeral director said, “Nobody’s ever asked before, but yup we can do that!” It’s cheaper than getting a gravestone isn’t it?”

In the meantime, his advice to others who’ve had heart attack is be sensible but don’t let it stop you enjoying life. “Don’t let it worry you. Don’t dwell on it. It’s happened ok. There’s things you have to change. Give up smoking. But it’s not going to stop your life.”


Story shared June 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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  • elena 11 December 2023

    I can totally relate to this post! Stomach pain can be such a persistent and bothersome issue. I appreciate the insights you’ve shared on potential causes and the importance of seeking <a herf=“”> stomach pain ka ilaj</a>.

  • Nageshwari 9 June 2022

    Thank you for sharing this content about gastro problems and other health issues