My (very small) heart attack began at 8 pm on Wednesday 6th February, while I was cooking up the last of my Shrove Tuesday batter: a tight feeling in the middle of my chest over the sternum, and some discomfort in the left arm around the elbow. The sensations seemed like no more than the normal aches and pains one gets in old age, but their persistence, and their classic position for heart attack symptoms, seemed to warrant paying attention. I checked the symptoms on the internet, ate my pancake, then left the washing up and went up to bed. By this time I knew in my gut that I should ring 999, although I felt I would probably be wasting their time.
A car with one paramedic arrived within 10-15 minutes, closely followed by an ambulance with two more - not because I needed three blokes to carry me downstairs, overweight though I am, but because the car was nearer and could get to me quicker. They asked some questions and did an ECG and decided I was for the nearest hospital. I pointed out that this was not the one in my own health authority which I usually attend, and which has all my notes - (which would prove to be a nuisance later) - but as it was more convenient for my family to visit, I didn’t protest very much.
I had not been experiencing any nausea - not, that is, until that ambulance ride. I am a notoriously bad traveller, and I had to sit with my back to the driver -something I never do in trains - while the ambulance rattled and banged and swayed and swung it’s way for the 7 miles to Accident and Emergency. I felt a great deal worse on arrival than I had on leaving home!
In A&E they did another heart trace and gave me a fearsome injection in the stomach of some clot-busting drug. (I had had aspirin and an under-the-tongue GTN spray in the ambulance). When they had finished with me there I was moved next door to the Clinical Decision Unit, a sort of keep-net area, it seems, where they decide whether to keep you or throw you back. I was to stay the night, and in the morning they would do a 12-hours-after blood test which would show conclusively whether I had had a heart attack or not. Meanwhile, thanks to the treatment I had received, the mild pain I had been suffering in the chest and arm had disappeared by midnight.
The blood test next day was positive, so they shunted me upstairs to the Medical Assessment Unit, until a bed could be found for me on the Cardiac Ward. I was hooked up to a monitor for the next 24 hours, after which, having had no further chest pain, I was allowed full freedom of movement again, much to my relief. They would keep me in for a week’s recuperation anyway, and would try to arrange for me to have an angiogram in their sister hospital before going home, in case further intervention was needed.
So the worst was over for the time being. I was optimistic - no, more than that, I was determined that this would be nothing much. I just didn’t feel ill - headachy and tired, yes, but I feel tired most of the time anyway. I would settle for slowing down a bit - I don’t do much anyway - but further surgery I did not want to face.
I was not ready for that. In fact I was not ready for any of this, so soon after my husband’s last illness. And I am much too busy with my research project into his ancestors, which has produced so much interest, such compelling trails to follow up, such intriguing stories to record. There were papers spread all over my study and my dining room table. If I didn’t get back to them I should lose the thread I was following and have to start all over again.
And if that wasn’t enough, there was my 9-year-old grandson, who never knew his other granny and has lost both his grandpas in the space of three years. My son told me that he was beginning to complain, that he’s not doing too well with grandparents!
No, it wouldn’t do, I could not be ill!
[More to follow]