At the time of writing this, I had my heart attack 4 years ago. 16th October 2016, (not a date I will forget in a hurry!) I’ve wanted to share my experience for a long time now, in the hope it will help someone else going through what I went/am going through but it has taken me this long to feel strong enough mentally and physically to write about my experience.
I have to say, (not to panic anyone) the first two years following my heart attack, were probably the worst two years of my life!! (That takes some doing, as I lived with an abusive partner many years ago).
Thankfully, I have a wonderful family around me who have been there every step of the way. How they have put up with me is anyone’s guess but I am so glad they have!
I had been feeling what I can only describe as “off” for a few days, not really able to quite put my finger on why. Thinking I was coming down with a cold or flu I didn’t pay much attention. On Sunday (16th), I felt really ill. I felt so hot I could have jumped into a pool of ice cubes. I felt irritable, I really didn’t want to be bothered with anyone or anything, I was feeling very overwhelmed and slightly confused. I had pain in my chest that was excruciating on both sides of my breasts. It felt like someone was trying to push a poker through each side. (Don’t believe what you see on the telly about a sudden sharp pain in the middle of your chest, this is not always how it happens). My pain was gradual, not sudden or sharp but rather slow and dull.
I have since learned that everybody is different and their experience can be very different from the next person. I have also learned that (statistically) most heart attacks happen at the weekend. Why? No idea!
Anyway, that afternoon, Jeff (hubby) had taken our daughter to the local funfair not far from where we live. She is mad for funfairs and has to go to everyone that come anywhere near us. Well, about an hour after he had left, things took a turn for the worse, I was sweating terribly, my confusion seemed to get worse yet I was still very much aware of what I was doing. I felt weak, shaking all over, sick and very low, I’d never felt this way before in my life.
I became quite concerned and scared. I just knew I needed an ambulance. So I rang Jeff and tried screaming down the phone that I needed help and an ambulance. He was at the fair so he couldn’t hear me very well. I found it hard to talk as I was now finding it hard to breathe. Now I didn’t mean to put the fear of God in him but I was extremely scared and all alone in the house. I put the phone down and just waited for them to come home. I don’t know why but it never crossed my mind to phone for an ambulance myself, this is what I mean by feeling confused. I knew I needed one, I knew how ill I felt, yet I just waited for Jeff to come home first. Silly right?
When he got home, he took one look at me and he went white. I mean the blood just drained from his face. He rang for an ambulance immediately! That was the last thing I remember until I was waking up in his arms. I had obviously passed out. When I came too, my eyes opened & I looked at Jeff with terror in my eyes as I tried to speak but was unable to. I wanted to ask for help, for him to explain. He held me while telling me everything would be ok. Of course, I knew it wasn’t!
The first-responder arrived and got to work on me straight away. Attaching leads, sticking something under my tongue, (I was told later it was aspirin). She asked me questions and I remember trying to comprehend what it was I should be answering. It seemed to take me forever to get the words out and answer her. While treating me, I remember hearing her say something about a heart attack to Jeff!
A heart attack? Me? Surely not, that only happens to older people, other people right? How wrong was I! It can happen to anyone, anytime and at any age.
I was feeling worse by the minute. Whatever was being put into my mouth (GTN spray/aspirin) was not doing the trick. I felt so nauseated I got sick, thankfully a basin was at hand. While being sick, I ended up wetting myself, I was mortified. Shortly afterwards, the ambulance turned up. A few exchanges between first-responder and ambulance man and I was being put into the ambulance. Jeff must have rung our son at work and told him what had happened as he was in the hallway as I was being wheeled out to the ambulance. I remember the look on my son’s face as I was wheeled out the door. (Wow this is still so hard to write about, I’ve been trying for 2 years to write this). I just knew he was thinking if he would see me again. My son (who was 25 at the time) stayed at home with our daughter (12 at the time) while Jeff came with me to the hospital.
Having My Stent
We were taken to Hammersmith hospital A&E where a lovely doctor called Ben attended to me. Again, medication was given to help with the pain, not that it did of course. It wasn’t until about 1am/2am when it was decided I needed to go to theatre to what I found out later, was to have a stent fitted in one of my valves. I was awake through it all.
The procedure itself (Visit the BHF website to find out more: https://bit.ly/2G1Cyyz) took around an hour to perform. I had to lay on my back flat for an hour, which for me, was extremely painful due to my disability but of course, I knew it had to be done. But do you know what the hardest part was for me? The fact that in all that time, not one member of staff in that theatre and there were many asked me at any point if I was ok, or explain what on earth was happening to me/my body, not even how things were going or how much longer I would have to be in pain!! One member of staff stood against one of the counters using his phone!! I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. When the procedure was over, the surgeon walked past me and just said give up the fags, you’re too young and carried on walking, actually, he never stopped walking!! And that was it!!
I was taken to ICU where again I had to stay on my back for a further couple of hours to help with bruising/swelling in my groin, as this was the entry area they had to do the procedure. They feed a wire through my groin all the way up to my heart to insert the stent. No, I didn’t feel a thing…..Thankfully.
I Thought You Went To Hospital To Rest & Get Better?
Why are hospitals so damn noisy? You would think ICU of all places, would be a calm, quiet, stress-free place. Not bloody likely! Well the ICU I was in was as noisy and as busy as a main London train station in rush hour and this was approx 3/4am in the bloody morning.
All through the night, you got cupboard doors being slammed shut, metal trolley’s banging together, phones ringing, nurses talking, temperature being taken, pulse being taken, heart monitors being put on/off and beeping every god-damn minute. it never ends, just like Piccadilly bloody Circus.
I was in ICU for approx 48 hours before being moved to a cardiac ward. (I sure hoped it was going to be a bit quieter than ICU). Now I don’t really remember being in ICU but I think this has something to do with the brain fog I now suffer with, as a side effect from my heart attack. I was told this might happen, I was told it may stay, or improve, everyone is different, so they couldn’t say for sure…..More on that later.
Well, Mrs Bathurst, you have had a heart attack you know!
Every day, the cardiologists would do their ward rounds to each of their patients. Every day I would ask my cardiologist questions regarding as to what happened to me, or other health questions and even questions about where/what I do from here. Every day I would get the same response: “Well, Mrs Bathurst, you have had a heart attack you know!”, yes thank you, that much I am fully aware of! I want to know if the pain I am experiencing in my chest is normal? Why does my arm feel heavy? What are the dos and don’ts? Etc etc. Why is ever little thing I do, taking my breath away? (Again, more on that later). None of these questions was answered by anyone in the hospital. I felt so alone and very let down!
Here I was, a survivor of a heart attack, no idea what this meant/means for the rest of my life and no one seemed willing to take 10 minutes to sit and talk to me. Even at my follow up appointment, the cardiologist may well have been speaking in Klingon, for all I understood! In the end, I gave up asking, knowing full well my cardiologist, (I won’t name names) wouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered to answer anything I asked.
I Have What Now?
Towards the end of the week, a lady came to my bed and handed me some booklets. I looked at them and saw they were all about diabetes. I said to the lady I didn’t have diabetes. She replied, “oh yes you do, read these as they will tell you what you need to know” and then just walked off!!!!! Unbelievable!!!!! Ironically, after her visit, another doctor came to my bedside to explain all about the medication I was now having to take for the rest of my life and guess what? I was now taking Metformin, a diabetes drug! So I DID have diabetes! (When was anyone going to let me know this?) He explained my diabetes was borderline but indeed I had Diabetes.
I left the hospital a couple of days later. I had been in the hospital for a week now. I was so glad to get home. My own bed, peace and quiet, a decent cup of tea lol. Now all I need to do is recover and get back to my life!! Hmmm yeah right!!
Home At Last!
As my first week home went by, I knew there was still something very wrong with me. I wasn’t right, every time I got up to do anything, I was getting very short of breath and had to keep taking breaks. It got to the point I couldn’t string a whole sentence together without gasping for a breath. I went to my GP surgery. The Dr I saw, told me it was my asthma playing up and prescribed me a steroid inhaler. I knew it wasn’t my asthma, this felt very different from how I experience short breath due to my asthma.
The steroid inhaler made no difference whatsoever, in fact, I was getting worse by the day. I went back to the Dr’s and saw one of the other Dr’s. She ended up contacting the local hospital (West Mid) who told her to get me to go straight to their A&E , where they would be waiting for me.
After arriving, I was put on a heart monitor and a fluid drip. They wanted to test the oxygen levels in my blood. Knowing how impossible this was the last time I had this attempted on me, oh and painful. I told the Dr’s they couldn’t do it. (They have to inject into the underside of your wrist to draw the blood from the artery). As a child, my wrists were operated on and fused into place, therefore nothing is really where it’s supposed to be in my wrists and it mostly bone and gristle, which is why this procedure is so bloody painful for me.
After many tests and an ultrasound on my heart, they realised I had way too much fluid around my heart and lungs. I was immediately taken off the drip and given medication that made me pee something stupid like 100 times in an hour. I was once again admitted.
West Middlesex Hospital
I have to say, the medication worked fast, within 24 hours, I felt a whole lot better. It was while I was admitted here at West Mid, that I found out I now had heart failure and high cholesterol. So not only was I now on medication for the extra fluid around my heart/lungs, but I was also on medication for my high cholesterol. Oh, boy were those tablets rotten to take. You had to dissolve them in a drink. Absolutely putrid!!!! So now, I was on approx 15 tablets a day!
It was also here at West Mid where I was told that in the future, approx a year down the road, I would need an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) fitted. What the hell was one of those, I thought, doesn’t sound good at all and not quite sure I’d like one of those thank you very much!! An ICD is a small device which can treat people with dangerously abnormal heart rhythms. It sends electrical pulses to regulate abnormal heart rhythms, specifically those that can be dangerous and cause a cardiac arrest. This link tells you much more BHF – ICD what is it?
A Cardiac Arrest, I knew what one of those were for sure! Bloody hell, am I being told I could have a cardiac arrest at any given moment? Well, as you can imagine, I was terrified and just broke down in front of this poor Dr. He was so nice though. Here I was was a blubbering wreck in front of him and he comforted me and said that it was for my benefit and protection. He took the time to explain what it was, how it was fitted and what the benefits of having one was. He then explained I would continue under the care of the heart failure team and that someone would be down later to talk to me further about it.
Indeed a lady did come and talk with me later in the day. Jeff had arrived by then and I explained what the Dr had told me about the ICD, had another cry but was thankfully composed when the heart failure nurse arrived. She told me what would be involved in being under the care of the heart failure team. I would be monitored on a regular basis and medication doses would be increased where/when needed.
A few days later, I was allowed to go home, I was told I would receive a letter with my heart failure appointment and my ICD clinic appointment in the post soon.
Learning To Live Again!
Recovering from such a traumatic experience is different for everyone, everyone deals with trauma in their own way. Me, I couldn’t, or maybe I wouldn’t believe that what had happened to me was all that serious. Yes, I’d had a heart attack but in a couple of weeks (at the most), I would be back to my old self. One problem, what happened to me was very much serious!
Over the next few months, I had visits from my heart failure nurse who kept putting my dosage up on my meds. This was playing havoc with my vertigo. Something she believed wasn’t a very important issue as she seemed more bothered about meeting the dosage cap I must be on. Of course, I understood the importance of my meds but was so my quality of life on a daily basis. Something at this point, I was not having!
Every day was a struggle. I couldn’t focus on things properly, (not good when in control of an electric wheelchair). I felt physically sick all the time. I didn’t dare go outside, the noise just overwhelmed me, I have no idea as to why. Some days I didn’t even want to get out of bed!
Being left alone at home terrified the pants off me. The thought of being on my own led me to have what I understand now to have been major anxiety leading to mini panic attacks. This, I believe was due to the fact I was because still experiencing pain in my chest on and off and always feared this was the start of another heart attack.
I would sit and clock watch until Jeff or one of the kids would be home. Minutes would feel like hours! Dreadful thoughts would keep running through my head. What if one of the kids came home and I was dead in my chair? How would that affect the rest of their life! What if I had another heart attack, would I be able to call for help, would the turn up in time? What if I passed out and fell out of my chair or knocked my controller and drove into something? It was a never-ending battle with my own mind and body.
In this time, something that affected me the most was the crying for absolutely no reason, I would burst into tears about 3-5 times a day and would never have a reason as to why. The anger. Boy was I angry! I was angry at myself, I was angry at having to take so many damn pills, angry at Hammersmith hospital for being so cold and uninformative, the list just went on and on! I would say, this went on for about a good year.
I got to the point where I was so pissed off with myself always feeling so scared, angry and crying. This was not who I was/am!! I knew I had to change, it was dragging us all down!