“The unthinkable happened”

Wilson recovered quite quickly after his first heart attack in 1991. But a more serious heart attack and a cardiac arrest earlier this year have proved more of a challenge. He shares his story.

Life is certainly full of ups and down, swings and roundabouts. There we were, our children almost off our hands, the arrival of our first grandchild (who just happened to be a perfect girl) and I had my first heart attack! I was only in my forties. I seemed to get over it quite quickly and was able to return to work and golf. Not sure which was more important, but I managed both.

Life carried on and about four years later we decided to move from Auckland to New Plymouth. I bought another taxi license, life was good. Then I got angina which had me in hospital a couple of times. Life was still good and went on pretty much the same.

By June 2019, my wife was long retired but I was still working part time. The children and grandchildren were all doing well. Unfortunately none of them lived in New Plymouth. We'd bought a unit in a retirement village six years before and loved it.

I decided to hand in my notice from my part-time job and finish at the end of June. Then the unthinkable happened and I had another heart attack. This one more serious. It was Friday night and Jean called the ambulance and I was off to Taranaki Base Hospital (TBH).

The doctors at the hospital said I was being flown to Hamilton. The weather on the Saturday was too bad to fly and so I flew up on the Sunday. Meanwhile Jean drove up and met me there. Our daughter, Amanda drove down from Auckland and also met me there.

Waiting for bypass surgery

It was a worrying time. On the Tuesday I had an angiogram. It found one artery blocked 100%, one 90% and one 80%, and a leaking valve. The surgical team had a discussion and decided on bypass surgery as opposed to stents. I was in a room with three other men with similar problems. It was a friendly room with wives and patients all chatting. One by one the other patients had their bypass, stents or whatever was needed.

While waiting for my surgery, I was still walking the corridors for exercise, playing cards with Jean and catching up with grandchildren and Amanda in the weekends. I was having a few problems with low blood pressure and a rash.

On the third week I feel a little dizzy after my shower and had a tightness in my chest. so I went straight down to the cardiac ward. The next morning Amanda was in A & E with a small cut on her eye and Jean had gone back to Te Whare Taurima (accommodation for people supporting patients in Waikato Hospital) to have a shower and breakfast. I was in the shower when I went into cardiac arrest and had the paddles used once.

When Jean and Amanda came back into the ward I was being wheeled out of the room and into the end of the ward. Surgeons were called and it was all action. The surgeon said it was not the optimum time, but the bypass needed to be done. The leaking valve would have to wait in case there were complications.

By lunchtime the surgical team had gathered. I was anxious. Jean and Amanda waited anxiously, and I was wheeled into theatre.

Recovery after the operation

Five hours later and in recovery (not that I remember), Jean and Amanda were called and were able to come in to see me. Later when I was awake (again, not that I remember) Jean and Amanda came to see me again. 

I was sent back to the ward the next day, where followed the recuperation period. I did very well there and was allowed home to New Plymouth on the Thursday. Amanda and Jean drove me home, where my recovery was to continue.

We had been told what to expect with tiredness, in all probability some depression, and coming to terms with such a big operation. This however proved easier said than done. To start with the huge scar on my leg didn't seem to be healing.

Two or three weeks later I started the cardiac rehab programme at TBH. This had a big impact on my recuperation. The cardiac nurse arranged for a district nurse to call around and dress my wound. This helped greatly and finally, around week 12, I could see the end was in sight (great sigh of relief). I found the team most helpful with lots of information, easy to talk to and lots of positive affirmations. My blood pressure was taken each time and I found it so easy to ask any questions.

I was still having afternoon naps most afternoons. Unfortunately I didn't take all the advice given and decided that I was well enough for a round of golf, driving the golf buggy. It did seem to be OK but on the following couple of days I was very tired and a little depressed. Depression, although not constant, did rear its head at least once a week but not enough that I felt I had to consult the doctor.

Follow up appointment

Finally, it was the long-awaited day to see the cardiologist. We arrived nice and early and I had my blood pressure and weight done before seeing the cardiologist. It was straight to business. I explained how I felt, was examined and talked to in a straight forward manner that I could relate to.

Although I gave up smoking 30 years ago, there was the 25 years I smoked before that. Unfortunately the damage was done. My valve was not the problem causing my breathlessness, there were other things that could be contributing to it.

I had tests done to see what the next step was. The best outcome was that medication can help, the worst outcome that I have to suck it up and get on with life. The doctor stressed the importance of getting out and exercising.

In November 2019 I had another visit to the cardiologist. I was hoping for better news but such is life. There are three factors that are causing my breathlessness: the lungs, the heart and the irregular heartbeat. I am now going to see a lung specialist to make sure I am on the right inhaler. I was a bit down on the afternoon after the visit as I felt I now had a limited life span. Then I thought, I could get hit by a bus or slip on a banana peel (will make sure to steer clear of both) but I intend to live each day to the fullest and plan for the future.

Footnote from my wife:

It was a surreal time at Waikato. It was like living in a bubble. Your life consisted of supporting your spouse, family member or friend; keeping family and friends informed and dashing out to the shops. As well as that, there was your washing to keep up to date, food to be cooked or organised. Thankfully there is a subsidised café in the hospital and that allowed you to get the odd meal of meat and veg. At the Whare there was a kitchen for cooking but by the time you got home from the hospital you quite often just made toast, (that good old standby). Te Whare Taurima, which is accommodation for family of seriously ill patients, was a god send.

Shared November 2019

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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