Category Archives: Heart Attack

Preparing for a Long Haul Flight

International travel is a different experience than it used to be…

Back in the day, long-haul flight preparation would generally start with a visit to the Executive Lounge for a few stiff drinks – a quick start for an enjoyable flight.  I didn’t worry too much about what time of day it was, the impact of changing time-zones would just be accelerated by an early buzz.

My arrival on the plane was celebrated with a glass of Champagne and some pleasantly warmed salted cashew nuts.  A couple more pre-dinner drinks would help get me “in the zone”.  Then I’d have a glass or two of wine to accompany my meal as I enjoyed a film.

A well-executed plan would result in me being overcome by waves of exhaustion as the film reached its climax – leaving me ready to sleep through the rest of the flight.

How things have changed!

Firstly, long-haul flights are a much rarer occurrence for me. I still travel a fair amount with work, but the locations I visit are much less exotic nowadays.  As a result I no longer have a shiny Executive Club card; my pre-flight preparation therefore takes place with the masses.

Fortunately, not having access to the Executive Lounge is much less of an issue when you’re not looking to get “tanked up”. Since the Heart Attack I have severely reduced my alcohol intake.  I still enjoy a drink when I have one but I only drink very occasionally – my last was in October.

Houston Departure

As I write, I’m 37,000 ft. in the air above the North Atlantic on my way to Houston for a few days on business. I’ve just enjoyed the low fat meal option, I’m keeping myself well hydrated and I’ll stay active to keep the blood flowing.

The excitement of international travel has subsided somewhat for me, and the flights don’t pass in quite the same way as they used to, however, I’m sure I’ll arrive in much better shape and it’s clearly more sustainable this way.

When I arrive I’ve got a hard week’s work to look forward to… perhaps I’ll treat myself to a glass of wine on the flight home!

Starfish on a beach

Although postings to the Blog might suggest otherwise, Ride the North 2014 didn’t finish me off.  It wasn’t even the end of a blossoming cycling career   However, in retrospect, it did mark the end of a phase of my life. 

The year after my Heart Attack was one of significant change.  Fortunately it concluded with everything in much better shape than when it started.  Although I tried to look forward and “fight”, I think there was a considerable amount of “flight” in the mix.

I think I proved something to myself by successfully concluding my first summer of cycling.  The fear slowly dissipated over time.

… and so I gave myself a break.

Despite taking things a little easier, I have continued to be active and keep fit   I have also managed to maintain some of the better habits I developed.  I’ve started 2016 in better shape than I was a year ago, and I’m excited about taking on some more physical challenges (some familiar and some new).

Occasionally I receive emails from people who have stumbled across the Blog, have recognised some similarities or warning signs, and decided to do something about it.  I’m really happy to be able to make a difference, even a small one.  As a result, I’ve decided to start posting a bit more regularly, even if it’s just to let people know that I’m still here.

Training with Major Tim

It isn’t only Britain’s schoolchildren that have been inspired by Major Tim Peake’s Space Mission (Principia). The publicity around his recent launch caught the imagination of thousands of older boys and girls around the world too… including me.

Unfortunately space travel is another activity that is on my “not going to happen for medical reasons” list (together with bungee jumping and scuba diving). There are a number of factors that would rule me out, but in particular a history of heart problems wouldn’t look good on the European Space Agency application form.

Despite this, Major Tim and I have a number of things in common:

Firstly, we’re both British men in our forties who have jobs that require us to work away from home from time to time.

We’re also both working towards a physical challenge on 24th April 2016. I’ve selected the Loch Ness Etape (http://www.etapelochness.com/) as my first challenge of 2016 (a 66 mile cycle around Loch Ness), Major Tim will be participating in the London Marathon on the same day, and we’re both looking to complete our challenges in under 4 hours.

Despite Major Tim being in orbit our training conditions are more similar than you’d think… Our exterior environments are similarly inhospitable – the intimidating blackness of “space” is matched only by the monotonous greyness of a Scottish winter.  As a result we’ll both be spending a lot of time training inside on our own. Major Tim will be harnessed to his treadmill, I’ll be on my Turbo Trainer.

In order to succeed we’ll both need to battle gravity; Major Tim will be training to stay fit and healthy, overcoming the effects of microgravity on his body through physical exertion. I’ll be working hard to ensure I can overcome gravity too… Scotland isn’t flat!

So, I’ve decided to adopt Major Tim as my imaginary training partner.

I’ve found that space is a good place to let your mind drift to, to ward off the tedium of training.  Major Tim doesn’t have anywhere to go, so he’s generally a willing companion. Together we’ll work our way through the winter, spurring each other on to our goals.

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The view from Tim Peake’s window (Copyright Tim Peake)

flic.kr/p/BYXxSw

 

A message for Major Tim Peake:

Major Tim, if a little virtual companionship helps you on your way as you put in the hours of training on the International Space Station, I’ll be right alongside you… and I’m sure thousands of others will be too #TrainingwithMajorTim

 

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The view from my Turbo Trainer

Father’s Day (Approx. 00:30)

What a difference a year makes… exactly fifty-two weeks ago I was having a Heart Attack.

Tonight I’m enjoying the early stages of England’s World Cup adventure*. In a few hours I’ll be setting off to cycle from London to Brighton as part of the British Heart Foundation’s annual flagship event.

It seems an awfully long time ago that I was whisked into hospital to undergo an emergency angioplasty. It was surreal at the time, and doesn’t seem any less bizarre an experience now.

Symptoms

The intervening twelve months have introduced many changes in my life; some were sudden and immediate, the aftermath of the event itself, others have occurred a little more gradually, new habits and behaviours that have fallen into place over time.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like many people who experience Heart Attacks, or are given stents as preventative treatment, do not make much of an effort to change their lifestyle. They abdicate all responsibility for their long term health to their Doctors. This is one of the main arguments against extending the use of statins. This definitely hasn’t been the case for me!

One of the things with Coronary Heart Disease is that it doesn’t get better; it stays the same or deteriorates. Modern medication is fantastic in reducing the risks of living with it by lightening the load on the Heart and thinning the blood, however they don’t treat the underlying condition. Stents also treat the symptoms, not the disease.

Despite increased awareness and medical advancements, Coronary Heart Disease is still the UK’s biggest killer.  (www.bhf.org.uk)

Personally, changes to my diet and regular exercise have resulted in dramatic changes. I am fit and, although I wouldn’t describe myself as healthy, my life expectancy has increased significantly (to be fair, it wasn’t looking that hot a year ago!).

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For me the London to Brighton Bike Ride will be a celebration and, hopefully, a fun day out. For others who have been touched by Heart Disease, it may involve an act of remembrance or gratitude.  Good luck to each and every one of them!

Hopefully it will also serve as a reminder or a prompt for others… just think about the thousands of people that will be impacted by Heart Disease before the next Father’s Day,  Each and every one of us can make a difference!

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*Actually I’m sleeping as I was too tired to stay awake any longer, big day tomorrow, etc.  Burning the candle at both ends is a thing of the past!  🙂

A heart attack waiting to happen?

The driver who collected me from the airport this morning was concerned about his health:

As I got into the car he was connected to someone at his Doctor’s Surgery who informed him that there weren’t any appointments available today. Apparently he had been waiting in a queue for 30 minutes. He seemed slightly disappointed but not surprised.

I don’t know what his symptoms were. Fortunately he didn’t volunteer any details and I didn’t ask. Even I have learned that’s not a question to ask close relatives let alone complete strangers. Given I was in his hands for the duration of my trip to the office, and that we were breathing the same air, I hoped it wasn’t anything too serious!

As he drove however I was treated to a monologue on his general state of health and associated concerns. One of the major factors seemed to be his father having a Heart Attack last year, something I could obviously relate to…

Driving a taxi isn’t the most physically active of jobs. Since he started driving about 18 months ago he has put on a lot of weight. In fact, he said he’s put on over 20 kilos. This seems an awful lot of weight to put on in such a short period; it just goes to show what a combination of negative factors can do for you.

Doritos are his major weakness. He eats two family bags a day; one to pass time while waiting on his car, and one at home as a pre-bedtime snack. He felt that he was “unable to give them up”.

There are plenty of more healthy snacks available!

Eating healthily is a challenge for him. He doesn’t like vegetables. Apparently he’s scared of them. To be more accurate, he’s scared of the idea of the taste of vegetables and therefore doesn’t eat them. As he continued to talk about his fear of vegetables, it transpired that due to this fear, he has only ever tried two types.

To his surprise, he actually liked both of the vegetables he has tried; grilled tomatoes and okra. I would therefore put him in the “likes every vegetable he’s ever tried, but hasn’t tried many” camp.

Over the weekend he had been required to help push a friend’s car. He struggled; feeling generally weak, he tired quickly and it wiped him out for the day. An ex-smoker, he doesn’t do very much exercise. He’s often exhausted after a hard day at work, and tends to relax in front of the TV to unwind.

It is recommended that we do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

As our journey went on the number of risk factors increased. On one level I felt sorry for him as he was obviously worried and is stuck in a rut. Many aspects of his lifestyle are not that different to how mine used to be pre-Heart Attack.

On another level I wanted to shout at him; he seems fully aware of what he’s doing, not doing and the potential risks, but is seemingly unable to do anything about them.

I sincerely hope he does get an appointment with his Doctor, and I hope his Doctor is able to help him get back on track.

For me it served as a reminder of how easy it could be to slip back into bad habits. Any thoughts of skipping a trip to the hotel gym this evening due to fatigue were quickly erased.

 

Lucky (Part 2)

Eleven months ago I had a Heart Attack.  It was a bog standard, stereotypical Heart Attack:

  • Most Heart Attacks are caused by Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
  • CHD is when your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood) become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.
  • If a piece of this fatty material (atheroma) breaks off it may cause a blood clot (blockage) to form.
  • If it blocks your coronary artery and cuts off the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle, this is a Heart Attack.
    Learn more at:  http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/heart-attack.aspx

This is what happened to me.  Nothing special.

heart_coronary_artery

What this means is that a year ago I was a walking Time Bomb.  I was unwittingly living with a partially blocked artery waiting to “let go”.  The event that triggered my Heart Attack could have happened at any time and any place.

I’ve said it before, but I was very lucky to have the Heart Attack when I did. where I did.  It was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me.

It obviously alerted me to the fact that I had Coronary Heart Disease and the emergency treatment addressed the immediate risk.

Possibly more importantly, the medication I’ve been prescribed will reduce the risk of reoccurrence.  In addition, the whole event prompted me to get off my fat behind and to get myself in shape, an act that will further reduce the risk.  A combination of regular exercise and a healthy diet has resulted in some dramatic changes.

I’ve been given a second chance, and I’m lucky to be in good enough shape to take full advantage of it.

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We each make lots of decisions every day.  I’m much more aware of the potential impact of my decisions than I used to be.  I’m hoping with the benefit of my experiences over the past year I’ll be able to continue to make some better ones than I’ve done in the past!

 

Unexpected excitement (& boredom)

On Monday some research was announced linking Anger to Heart Attacks.  Given I wrote about a similar topic not so long ago (Anger Management), it was interesting to see some real research supporting my ramblings.

Don’t make me angry!

The story became a bit of a regular feature on BBC Radio throughout the day.  I wasn’t following closely, but suspect it was a bit of light relief from ongoing developments in Ukraine and the Pistorius trial.

Out of the blue, I was contacted by a lady called Liz, a Researcher from the PM Programme on BBC Radio 4: “Would I be interested in being interviewed as a case study?”.

After I’d convinced myself (1) it wasn’t a complete wind-up and (2) I wouldn’t have to provide any Bank Account Details, I responded… Yes, I was interested in participating but unfortunately I was travelling, so finding a convenient time to talk might be difficult.

To be honest, I was also slightly concerned about a live interview.  The last thing I wanted to do was feature as a case study on a “People who have Heart Attacks live on the Radio” feature in months to come!

So, I found myself talking to Eddie Mair about my Heart Attack and my feelings of Anger that preceded the event.  About an hour later I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.  All quite surreal!

Eddie Mair

You can hear the interview here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03wpjg6
(I’m on at approx. 41 minutes into the programme)

Prepared as ever, I had notified close family members that I might be on Radio 4 at 6 pm.  Unfortunately I was travelling at the time and got my time zones confused.  Amusingly this resulted in Daughter #2 listening to Radio 4 News for 30 rather tedious minutes.  She had a bit of a sense of humour failure at my mistake but, learning from her father, she took a deep breath and didn’t let it get her angry.  She is however much better informed on current affairs than ever before!

A brief mention of the Blog following the interview resulted in unprecedented “hits” for the following few hours.  It also resulted in many more Comments and Contacts than I’ve ever experienced before.  It was all very exciting!

Incidentally, a big thanks to everyone that has taken the time to get in touch!

It was a real, practical demonstration of the power of the media for me.  The exposure resulted in a daily traffic level over 5 times higher than I’ve had before.  It’s a level which is going to be tough to get close to again.  Tough, but I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve!