Sudden chest pains reveal ischaemic heart disease

When Nigel started having chest pains during a nasty cold, he took his daughters advice to seek medical attention. A blood test revealed he’d had a heart attack and he was rushed to hospital for treatment.

While feeling under the weather with a bad cold, Nigel was at home on the couch when he was suddenly hit with a major bout of chest pain.

“It was such an unusual sensation, it was right in the centre of my chest, but I assumed it was indigestion. I started sweating profusely and getting a strange tingling in both of my arms, like pins and needles right down to my fingers. After about half an hour I estimated, it slowly went away.”

The strange sensation returned that evening while Nigel and his son were enjoying a walk along the beach, but this time it was less intense and went away shortly after. Nigel didn’t think much of it but when the feeling returned the next evening, he began to worry he might not wake up.

Even so, it wasn’t until the next day that he called the doctor, and that was only because his daughter had urged him to do so, in case the cold he was suffering from had escalated into something more serious like pneumonia.

“I’m one of those guys who doesn’t particularly like going to the doctor, but I remembered what she had said, so I rang the doctor and got an appointment at around midday. I said to him what had happened and he gave me an ECG and took a blood test."

Blood test reveals heart attack

The results of the ECG showed no problems and Nigel went home. However, later on that day while he was preparing dinner, the doctor called with the results of the blood test, which showed Nigel had had a heart attack.

Nigel was told he needed to be admitted to hospital immediately. In the ambulance he was given aspirin to chew and was put on oxygen. However he remembers feeling “absolutely fine” while this was all happening.

“At no stage did I ever think I’d had a heart attack. It just didn’t occur to me because I’m pretty fit, eat a good diet and keep an eye on my health.

“It was only when they did an angioplasty that they discovered that my right main artery was blocked 95% and my left main artery was blocked 75%. They put in two stents and re-vascularised my arteries, which wasn’t painful or particularly unpleasant and only took about 45 minutes. Then I had two nights in hospital and they let me go home."

Home alone

Just before Nigel’s heart attack, his wife went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India for a couple of weeks, which unfortunately left him on his own during the first stages of his recovery.

“I didn’t tell her I’d had a heart attack because I didn’t want her to come flying home,” he explains. “Then of course, I’m in a rural location and you continue to have quite a lot of pain for the next couple of weeks after a heart attack and I was home by myself. Every twinge you imagine the worst. It was a terrifying experience.”

Nigel’s wife found out about the heart attack from their son and called him in the middle of the night insisting that she should come home, but he convinced her not to cut her trip short.

“In hindsight, I think that was probably me being a bit too staunch and if she hadn’t been in India, say she’d just been in Australia or something, I would have definitely said come home. I guess I was pretending I was doing better than I really was. When she did get home she felt very cut off from the experience and very guilty for not being there for me. The patient tends to get all the support and their loved one can easily feel ignored.”

“A sign from God”

About a week after his release from hospital, Nigel began to get very distressed.

“I started feeling really bad and just really stressed worrying if I going to have another heart attack and whether this was the end of my life. I felt so bad. I started crying actually, which I don’t do a lot. Then, at that moment, the phone rang. It was like a sign from God.”

On the other end of the phone was one of the cardiac nurses, who was calling to see how Nigel was doing. On hearing the state Nigel was in, the nurse jumped in his car and drove out for a visit.

The nurse assured Nigel that the symptoms he was feeling were very normal and also was able to refer him to a psychologist and cardiac rehab.

“I went for six sessions and the psychologist taught me some breathing techniques and helped me with some mindfulness and simple meditation. He really just gave me a chance to talk through what stresses me and how to deal with it more effectively. And that was all paid for by the Public Health Organisation. I was amazed by how much support there was. The cardiac rehab programme allowed me to meet other people who had had a similar experience and compare notes, which was really helpful.”

Stress induced heart attack

Before retiring, Nigel worked as the CEO of a not-for-profit organisation, and carried a lot of stress, due to the nature of the job.

“I believe my heart attack was stress-related, rather than so much involved with diet and nutrition. When you’re running a not-for-profit organisation, you have the stress of the staff reporting to you, but then you report to a voluntary board and you also have to raise all the money.

“As I got older, I found I got more stressed. So I believe that having high stress levels was part of why I had a heart attack. I can’t prove that but my intuition tells me that.”

Nigel had elevated cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels, due to a mild metabolic syndrome and believes that this also contributed to his heart attack.

“An ideal patient”

After Nigel’s heart attack, he spent a lot of time researching how he could keep his heart healthy. As a result he has changed his lifestyle accordingly by amending his diet, reducing his alcohol intake, exercising, learning how to deal with stress and making sure to take his medication

Six months after his heart attack, Nigel visited the cardiologist for a check-up, and as a result of his lifestyle changes, was told he was “an ideal patient, that had made a remarkable recovery, with no heart muscle damage”.

While heart disease is a lifelong condition, Nigel is happy in the knowledge that he’s in a better condition now than he was before the heart attack occurred.

“It’s quite good when the doctor says ‘you’re much better now than you were because before your arteries were blocked and you could have had a fatal heart attack at any time. Now we’ve put the stents in and you’ve changed your lifestyle, so you’re actually safer now than you were before.’”

 

 

Shared August 2018

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

Find similar stories

View all stories
  • Be the first to post a comment.