Category Archives: Heart Attack

Not very Festive

My wife says thinking about Heart Attacks isn’t very Festive.

I agree.

I also think that having a Heart Attack isn’t very Festive.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend one at any time of the year.  They can be inconvenient.

Unfortunately Christmas is a risky period.  Apparently Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are the three days on which you are most likely to experience a Heart Attack.

I’m no medical expert, but when you read about the contributory factors, there appear to be some fairly basic things you can do to reduce your level of risk:

  • Keep moving:  Make a conscious effort to keep up with your exercise.  Take the dog for a walk.  Go for a swim. Do something.  Don’t let the poor weather or the warm fire stand in your way!
  • Avoid excess:  Enjoy all the trappings of the Festive Fare, but be aware of when enough is enough.  Eating too much places strain on your Heart.  Do not eat and drink so much that you run the risk of “that heartburn feeling” being something other than “heartburn”.
  • Chill out:  Unfortunately the Zen Meditation Book you receive on Christmas Morning is unlikely to be immediately effective in relieving the stresses and strains that the Festive Period can bring.  Create some “me” time.  Maybe a breath of fresh air and a little light exercise?
  • Don’t overdo it!:  Exercise is good, but too much exercise can be dangerous.  For example, (and much to my wife’s annoyance!), shovelling snow is not great for the Heart.  It’s basic stuff, but warm up properly and don’t overdo it!
  • Keep taking the pills:  Keep up your good habits, like taking medication.  Don’t let changes to your routine or environment distract you.
  • Keep warm!

Possibly most importantly… do not ignore the warning signs.  Apparently it is common for people to ignore pain or discomfort, not wanting to “cause a fuss”.  As a result, they wait rather than seeking medical attention.  This can make the difference between life and death.  Don’t!

Reminder of Heart attack symptoms:  http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Heart-attack/Pages/Symptoms.aspx

OK.  Sermon over.  Now, where are the Mince Pies?

Seven day hang over

Last Saturday Louise and I were invited to a Christmas Dinner Dance by one of my clients.  It’s an event we’ve enjoyed for the past few years, and has become a highlight of our Social Calendar.  I’d like to say our “busy Social Calendar”, but as the saying goes, we really don’t get out much!

Christmas-PartyThis year the event was a little bit different.  A “Work” Christmas Party without any alcohol was a new experience for me.  Usually I would expect the night to follow a predictable course, with me reaching a comfortable state of inebriation and spending the evening “in the middle of things” (or that’s how it felt!).  It isn’t unheard of for us to be the last to leave the Residents Bar of the hotel following the “after party”… whether we were staying or not!

This time was a bit different.  I drove and stuck to water.  I was going to have an Appletiser as a treat, but the moment never arrived (what a waste of a free bar!).  I spent the evening on the periphery, looking on at all the shenanigans.

Despite not drinking, and slightly to my surprise, I had a good time!  Louise even got me on the dance floor a couple of times!  Another strange experience for me… for some reason my “Dad Dancing” was a bit more sedate and under control than normal, my natural “fluidity” deserted me, but I felt like I fitted in OK.

We even rounded off the evening by leaving at a sensible time… before we were asked to!

***

Annoyingly, I woke up on Sunday morning feeling rubbish.  I had a stonking headache, and felt generally pooped.  Depressingly, I felt like a had a good old-fashioned hang over.  I initially put this down to having had a late night, but as Sunday rolled on I deteriorated.

Since then I have experienced many of the symptoms of flu.

  • A runny nose     Check!
  • A sore throat     Check!
  • Headache     Check!
  • A fever     Check!
  • A cough     Check!
  • Muscle aches and pain     Not so much actually,

imagesCA2QW4WZI had a flu jab a few weeks ago, another first for me.  It’s also another reason why it’s frustrating to get ill.

Despite my illness, I have valiantly battled on all week.  Each day I woke up feeling rubbish, improved a little during the day and then collapsed in the evening.

As a result of feeling rough I didn’t even attempt to exercise last week – the longest time I’ve “rested” since I was in hospital.  I just didn’t feel up to it, and knew it really wasn’t worth pushing myself.

I’m sure there are plenty of exercises and activities that I could have been doing to strengthen my core, or my legs, or other targeted areas, however my focus is primarily on building the strength and endurance of my “engine”.  Without it I’m nothing, and I started from a fairly low starting point.  So, I recognised that I needed to rest, get better, get strong and then get back to it.

***

After a week without exercise and a nagging cold my insides needed a good clean-out!

As the week went on, I slowly progressed through the various stages of the bug, headache, sore throat, cough, runny nose… and after a full day of relaxation yesterday I felt strong enough to get back in the saddle this morning.  I’m still not ready for anything serious, just a few miles on the bike to blow the cobwebs away and ease myself back into it.

About 45 minutes and 15 miles later I was done.  Hot and sweaty, but alive and feeling strong(ish).  An easy session to start a new week in the right way.

I’ve hopefully left enough gas in the tank for the major challenge of the day… some serious Christmas Present shopping.  Wish me luck!

***

It’s all about me

I originally wrote the majority of the following on 28th June, within two weeks of having my Heart Attack.  At the time I wasn’t comfortable publishing it.  A post I recently read, written by the wife of a Heart Attack Survivor (Wherein the Sh*tty-A$$ Heart prevails), reminded me of it.

Life is good for us now.  We’ve come a long way since June.  So, no particular reason for publishing this now, but I thought I’d share it to help complete the story.

***

It’s all about me

Actually it’s not.  Not even remotely.

When everything is going well and life is “tickety-boo”, it too easy (for me at least) to get caught up in my own world.  Oblivious to most of the goings on around me, at least those that don’t impact me directly.  I look after myself, deal with my business, and expect everyone else to deal with theirs.

Up until now, this is how I’ve tended to operate.  It’s how I am.

I don’t feel so independent any more.  My bubble has been burst.  The whole Heart Attack episode has given me a heightened awareness of the many personal dependencies, connections and influences there are in my life.

Of course, there are the children; totally dependent, innocent, scared.  There’s never a good age, but my girls are too young to see their Dad in a hospital bed.  They are too young to have to deal with something like this, I felt terrible for putting them through it.  They have been very brave. They provide support and make us laugh.  Just being around introduces a sense of normality to proceedings.

Louise, my wife is now more of a Nurse, Carer and, of course, Mum.  She holds things together.  She is generally cautiously positive, planning my recuperation and beyond.  I’m sure there are times when she is scared too.  It sounds silly when you write it down, but me dying would have a much bigger impact on her than on me.  I don’t really think about it… she does, a lot.

Then there’s our Family and Friends, Business Partners and Clients.  The news of the Heart Attack will impact each and every one in a slightly different way.  For some the news will generate the biggest impact… Why?  How?.  For others it’ll be the consequences, immediate and longer term… So what?, What now?  What will change?.

After the surprise or even shock, with most people there is genuine concern for me combined with a hint of selfish curiosity; “What could this mean for me?”.  I totally understand.  What else would you expect?  Apparently the 40-somethings are concerned… sales of salads are rocketing in the office.

Even strangers pay more attention than normal.  They want to understand how it could have happened, how can they prevent it from happening to them.  I wish it was simple…

Me:  “I had a Heart Attack because I used to eat 15 Snickers a day.”
Them:  “Oh, that’d do it.”
Me:  “I’ve given up Snickers so I should be fine now.”
Them:  “Oh, that’s a relief!”
Me:  “Do you eat too many Snickers?”
Them:  “No.”
Me:  “So, you should be fine then.  You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Them (Smiling):  “Yes, thanks.”

I wish it was that simple.

It’s tough because there are few easy answers.  I want to be able to get my head around it all.  I want to understand why it happened.  I want to know what the implications are.  I want to be able to explain it to everyone.  Then I want to get back to normal.

Unfortunately that’s not going to happen.  Some things may become clearer in time, others will remain a mystery.  That’s life I guess.

So ultimately it is all about me… but not just me me, it’s about you me, and her me and him me too… it’s all about us!

Dinner suit disaster!

Yesterday we discovered that my wife used to be married to a fat man.  It might sound strange, but it was as much a shock for her as it was for me.

It all happened quite innocently…  a work Dinner Dance offered a rare opportunity to wear my Dinner Suit or, more correctly, one of my Dinner Suits (as I have accumulated several “emergency” suits over the years).

I’ve always thought I looked good in a Dinner Suit too!

I’ve always felt good in a Dinner Suit.  I’ve enjoyed getting dressed up ever since I bought my first one from a Charity Shop to attend my first “Ball” when I was at school.  Yes, it is easy for men; we always get to wear the same outfit, no particular thought is required, and we can accumulate accessories over time.

Generally the key pre-requisites have been to (1) remember to get the suit cleaned after particularly heavy / boisterous nights out and (2) make sure the Dinner Suit is in the right location for the Bash (this has been the primary contributor to me owning multiple suits).  On top of this, there is the concern of whether the suit will still fit – the irregularity that the Dinner Suit is usually donned means it provides a good commentary on the (usually expanding) waistline.

My latest Dinner Suit was my favourite.  A simple, single breasted Ted Baker Suit with a light grey lining.  Nothing special, but it was a good fit and I always felt very comfortable in it.  I looked after it, and it looked after me.

Organised as always, at around midday on the day of the Dinner Dance, I got out my favourite suit for a last minute readiness check.  I knew I had lost some weight but I anticipated a belt or, in the worst case some braces, would be all that was required to make it “fit”.

This used to be a snug fit!

When I tried it on I was shocked!  Louise was shocked!  The suit was HUGE!  How could it ever have fitted me?  It looked absolutely ridiculous!

With growing desperation, I tried on the other suits in the wardrobe… they were all way too big!  Even a made-to-measure suit I had made about 5 years ago, when I thought I was fit was way too big.  A disaster!

It takes a lot to get me to visit a shop, particularly a clothes shop, but even I had to (reluctantly) admit that an emergency visit to the Menswear Shop was required.  Fortunately, thanks to the help of a very understanding Assistant Manager, I found a suit that would meet my immediate need.  It’s not quite my old favourite, but I think he’s history.

Now all that’s left is for me to do is to pluck up the courage to go through the rest of my wardrobe and get rid of the clothes that in all probability I’ll never be able to wear again.  Even packing some of the clothes away “just in case” is too depressing a thought… that would mean all my hard work has been in vain, and wouldn’t augur well for my future health.

In sickness and in health

I don’t know any of these people, do you?

Today is our 15th Wedding Anniversary.  A lot has changed since two fresh-faced, fun loving, enthusiastic youngsters got together and formed our very own Anglo-Scot alliance.

Most of the changes have occurred slowly and comfortably, as we’ve drifted into new habits over time.

Some changes have been sudden and life-changing;  parenthood was thrust on us with the arrival of two beautiful bouncing babies (in reality they arrived one at a time with a little gap in the middle!).

Other big changes have taken courage, preparation and effort;  amongst other things, we’ve upped sticks to live in a new country twice.

We have been very lucky together.  We are fortunate that most of our marriage has been “for better” rather than “for worse”, and “in health” rather than “in sickness”.

Just the one glass, thanks!

***

Looking back on it, the events of the summer already seem like just a minor blip.  They did however result in accelerated change… I guess Heart Attacks have a habit of doing that.

The obvious changes relate to my lifestyle.  I am physically a very different person to 6 months ago.  Mentally I guess I’ve changed too… some things that were very important in the past just don’t matter so much.  I like to blame my medication for not getting so wound up about things, but it’s also down to the fact that I’ve developed a new perspective on life.  Some might call it “balance”, but it still doesn’t always feel that natural to me.

Less obviously, the whole experience has changed Louise and “us” too.  We don’t talk about it much, but I think we’re still in the “lucky to be alive” and “things could have been different” phase.  This might fade in time, but it’s definitely a big factor now.

Louise has been great throughout the whole experience.  I even got a bit of sympathy for the first few weeks of my recuperation.  (A very rare occurrence!)  She has been incredibly supportive throughout, and has even started to come to terms with my early morning swimming (although alarms at the weekend are strictly forbidden!).  Again, I am very lucky.

imagesCAV1VRKD

The gifts we exchanged this morning summed up our current situation well:  Flowers, Chocolates, Festive Liqueur & a pair of Swimming Trunks.  Can you guess who received what?

***

Health scares change things… and they should, but we look forward to many more years of gentle, drifting change with the occasional moments of excitement… but only on our terms of course!!!

Changing treatments

I heard about two more Heart Attack Survivors at work recently.  Apart from the fact that there seem to be more cardiac emergencies around today than in the past (probably more to do with me than everyone else!), I was struck by the way they had been treated… the two gentlemen had received 8 and 12 stents respectively.

Apparently the guidelines for treatment have changed recently…

When I had my Heart Attack, the approach was to just treat the blockage that was causing the immediate problem.  For me that meant fitting two stents in my Left Anterior Descending or LAD artery.  During the procedure they identified that another of my arteries (Right Coronary Artery or RCA) was partially blocked, but as it wasn’t causing any distress so it was left untreated.

Apparently now the approach has been revised so that they address any blockages during the initial procedure.  As a result, the patient leaves hospital safe in the knowledge that they have no blockages.  I guess it maximises the value of the angioplasty procedure, and reduces the chances of having a repeat performance,

There is a point of view that stents aren’t great for you.  Yes, they are helpful in an emergency situation like mine, but many people are treated with stents as a preventative measure.

The argument is that the stent treats the symptom rather than the disease, and in the process reduce the chance that any action will be taken to address the root causes themselves.  In addition, they leave the patient dependent on a concoction of medication and exposed to the side-effects and potential complications (for example, risks associated with future, non-heart related medical procedures).

Personally I haven’t thought much about whether my situation would be significantly different if my other artery had been treated at the same time.  Given the emergency nature of my treatment, I obviously didn’t have an opportunity to think about it in advance.  There was certainly no debate or discussion as I got wheeled into the “Cath Lab”  (See:  The Cath Lab (FD ~02:30)).  I didn’t have an opportunity to weigh up the pros and cons.

There was no cosy chat for me when I arrived at the hospital!

To be honest, it doesn’t feel like a huge deal right now, but I recognise that it could turn out to be a big deal at some point in the future.   It seems strange to me that if I’d had my Heart Attack today I might have been treated in a very different way than 6 months ago.

I guess I have little option but to carry on taking my medication and stay disciplined, it’s up to me to do the work to address the underlying disease (or at least to prevent it from getting any worse).  For me, watching what I eat and drink as well as exercising regularly are the key to my long term health.

I can’t rely on stents to return me to “normal”.  Now it’s all about establishing a new, safer, healthier normal.

Really not so cool…

images (15)Last week Michael Jamieson, the Scottish Olympic Silver Medallist Swimmer, announced that he had to have his heart re-started to get it back into rhythm after a particularly hard training session.

His Twitter announcement (@mj88live) included the comments:

“Not really sure the reasons behind it happening, but I went into an irregular beat after reaching 203 heart rate in a session (max is 193).”

“Specialist said he’s only seen this three times, all Olympic medallists – pretty cool!”

Apparently he’s made a full recovery, and returned to training after just 48 hours.  Personally, I think it’s fantastic news that he is fit and well!

I don’t however believe that it’s “pretty cool” to push yourself so hard during a training session that your heart gets knocked out of sync.  Any suggestion that it’s a good thing has to be nuts!

The fact that the Specialist has only seen it three times would suggest to me that perhaps others may have experienced the same issue, but not been so lucky.  Not cool!

imagesCA475PQPI guess I’m particularly sensitive to the story as I spend so much of my time trying to keep my Heart Rate within reasonable limits.  Personally, one of my biggest challenges is to make sure I spend enough time warming up and cooling down so I take care of my Heart.  Going “from rest to maximum effort as quickly as possible” definitely isn’t an option for me, and I would suggest shouldn’t feature in most people’s exercise regimes.

So, horses for courses… I’ll continue with the gentle build up to my Euro City Cycle.  I wish Michael all the best in his build up to next Summer’s Commonwealth Games!  For everyone else… go easy out there!

Just the three of us

The maintenance work at the Local Pool finished yesterday bringing the week-long closure to an end.  I don’t usually swim on a Saturday, but I was keen to get back in the pool, particularly as we have visitors this weekend and an early morning swim seemed like a good way of getting some exercise without impacting our plans for the day.

Not being a regular on a Saturday, I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Given it had been shut all week I assumed the pool be busy.

I arrived to find 6 lanes marked out.  Normally the swimming team would have been using 4 of the lanes but today they were all available to the public.  There were some early comings and goings, but shortly after my arrival there were only three of us in the pool, and it stayed that way for the duration of my session.  What a difference it makes to have a dedicated lane.  A rare luxury.  Bliss!

Sharing a lane can be frustrating!

After the session, one of my fellow swimmers asked me a question:

“What are you training for?”

I thought this was a fantastic question to ask in a Swimming Pool / Gym type setting.  There’s no real downside… if you’re not training for something you’re likely to be pleased that someone considered you might be, and if you are it’s obviously a good conversation starter.

Personally, I was really pleased to be asked.  It’s the first time anyone’s openly mistaken me for someone who’s fit for a long time.  I took it as a sign that I’m making progress.

As it turned out, the chap I was speaking to is training for an Ironman event in South Africa in April next year (2.4 km Swim, 120km Cycle and a 28km Run).  Clearly he has a little more conditioning under his belt than me!

The delights of competitive Open Water Swimming!

I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous.  I suspect I’ll never be in a position to take on such a gruelling challenge.  I’ll continue to set myself challenging goals, but they will always be within the context of my medical history, long term medication, etc.

I was recently asked a question about what I can’t do as a result of my Heart Attack.  The list of things didn’t extend much beyond “some rides at Disney” and “scuba diving”.  I suspect in reality the list is much longer, but I’m not going to add Ironman events to it just yet.  Instead I’ll focus on doing what I can, taking it one step at a time.  Who knows where the journey will end up!

Probably a step too far for me right now!

Fat and Bald

I turned 43 this week.  I definitely consider myself middle aged despite the fact people try to convince me that I’ve got a long way to go… middle age starts at 60 apparently (mostly according to people too young to really care, or old enough to be horribly biased!).

images (13)Like many men of my age, I had been losing the battle to maintain the physical attributes of my youth… although, to be fair, I wasn’t fighting very hard.  I was drifting towards the stereo-typical look of a middle aged man who’s slightly let himself go… “Fat and Bald”.

My personal journey into middle age took an “interesting” twist with the Heart Attack in the summer.  I am quite proud of what I’ve managed to achieve since in relation to getting myself into decent shape…

It’s been 150 days since my first post-Heart Attack visit to the Doctor.  At that stage, I had been out of hospital for about 10 days, and I was able to walk for about 15 mins, twice a day.  My Body Mass Index was about 29 (Overweight, borderline Obese) and the amount of superfluous weight I was carrying seemed ridiculous (See:  It all smells a bit fishy – 28th June 2013).

Since then I’ve lost about 40lbs and really started to build some strength and fitness.  For the first time in a very long time, my weight is officially in the “normal” range:

Body Mass Index

To achieve this. I wouldn’t say I’ve dieted as such.  If I’m hungry I eat.  I just tend to eat much more healthily.  I have significantly reduced the amount of fat and sugar I consume.  I haven’t drunk any alcohol.  I eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  I also make sure I have Breakfast every day, which I think makes a big difference.  Regular exercise has also made a huge impact.

In summary, as far as the “Fat and Bald” equation is concerned, I am fighting back (and winning) on the “Fat” front… which brings me to hair loss!

I visited the Barber’s today.  A not particularly frequent or regular trip to get my hair cut.  I have to say, I look forward to these visits less and less as time goes on.  In particular, I don’t look forward to the end of the visit when a mirror is produced to check that I’m happy with the back of my head… actually, “No, I’m not!“.

Bald Patch

My poor baldy heid!

My hair is quite fair.  Technically I could argue I still have a reasonable covering of hair however it isn’t very effective at making itself seen!  In short, I have a bald patch that has been increasing in significance in recent years.

In the great scheme of things this really isn’t a big deal (although it causes much amusement to some members of my immediate family!) and I’m looking forward to the day when I get all my hair cut short so the patch becomes irrelevant.

In the meantime, I guess it acts as a good reminder that time only moves in one direction, and I should spend my energy on things that I can directly influence.

Let middle age roll on… I’ll fight it where it matters!

One of those weeks

It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been one of “those” weeks…

We had our first dusting of snow on Monday.  Winter is definitely on its way.  This means frosty mornings, traffic chaos and general disruption.  Great!

Snow Deer

Fortunately the snow wasn’t quite as deep as this!

The cold is one thing my medication doesn’t help with.  Whether it’s the blood thinners, my weight loss or something else, I feel the cold much more than I used to.  Gone are the days of me being a one-man, furnace with  unlimited internal heating.  Reluctantly, I have had to invest in extra layers to keep me warm.  Perhaps I’ll even be “ne’er casting a clout” come next May!

Tuesday was my birthday.  Another year older.  I’m grateful for the gifts and cards, and it was nice to be the centre of attention for a day (at home at least!).  I guess it’s natural to have some sort of emotional reaction to my first post-Heart Attack Birthday… a reminder that I’m well and truly in the “lucky to be alive” club!  To be honest, I’ve just found myself feeling a bit colder and older.

Birthday

To compound matters, it feels like I’ve hardly done any exercise recently.  I think this is largely because the grind of the week has made the days seem longer.  I was therefore looking forward to my swimming lesson on Wednesday evening.

As I arrived at the pool it looked like there was a gala on and my plans would be ruined (“Please, not those pesky Brownies again!!!”).  There were cars everywhere.  Just my luck!  Fortunately the pool was just busy, “Zigzag down the pool to find some space” busy as I had a quick swim to warm up (in more ways than one!) in advance of my lesson.

Although my swimming has improved, and the distance I’m covering in each session is gradually increasing, I’m still finding it exhausting.  I guess this is positive as I want it to be good exercise, but I’m not progressing as I hoped I would.  Discussions during my lesson focussed mostly on this… and we concluded that I’m a “sinker”.  I have not been naturally blessed with buoyancy.  As a result, I’m generally too tense, and a lot of my swimming effort is spent preventing myself from sinking (or drowning, whichever way you want to look at it!).  I am therefore inefficient, using much more energy and “puff” than I should need to.

Swimming Unbderwater

My natural swimming position!

Short of getting floats installed, the only way I can see of addressing this issue is through patience and practice.  So, more of the same.  Onwards and upwards (to the surface of the pool at least)!

Only 30 days until the days start getting longer!  🙂