On Wed 16th Aug I had a heart attack – completely out of the blue and without any warning. I was in hospital for nine days. This blog picks up the story as I arrive home.
Thur 24th Aug – I’m discharged from Chesterman 1 (ward at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield at 8pm. I take a slow walk along the corridors with mum and a friend, while dad goes to bring the car round to the Pick Up point.
It all still feels really surreal. Thankfully I’m not in any pain, just feel totally exhausted, overwhelmed, and with very little strength in my legs. I’m also quite breathless.
As I walk outside to the car I pause to take some breaths of fresh air and to admire the trees in the car park. It does feel good to be alive. I’m quite euphoric at the opportunity of being given a second chance at life… it could so easily have been very different.
The 25-min car journey home is exhausting, and I sit in the front passenger seat dozing off to sleep. It feels strange to be sitting back in my lounge, on my settee – made even more strange because my brother had tidied up the house, to make room for both of my parents to stay with me!!
Mum and dad insisted that I sleep in my own bed, with dad sleeping on my sofa, and mum sleeping in an armchair with her feet resting on my giant bean bag. It didn’t strike me as being the most comfortable situation for mum, but I was too tired to argue. I slowly climbed the stairs to my bed and fell asleep.
I woke many times that night. I wasn’t scared to die (I know that as a practicing Christian, with a personal relationship with Jesus and faith in God, I would die here on earth and wake up in heaven), but I wasn’t ready to die yet! I’d been given another go at life and there were many ideas, plans and projects still to get involved in. My brain was whirring round with ideas. I put my headphones on and eventually drifted off to sleep with my mp3 playing quietly…
Fri 25th Aug – this turned out to be an emotional day. It started with a trip to see my wonderful Nurse Practitioner at my local GP surgery. I filled her in with the news (she was beyond shocked!), handed over my Discharge Letter and list of new medications, a copy of my latest ECG printout. She checked my blood pressure, pulse, oxygen sats, weight, and had a general chat about how I was feeling.
In the afternoon, me and mum went for the first of my rehab walks. The British Heart Foundation have set out guidelines covering walking and strength exercises in the first six weeks following a heart attack. Each session is to be preceded by a warm-up, and ended with a cool-down.
Week 1 – walk 5-10 mins, x1-2/day
Week 2 – walk 10-15 mins, x1 – 2/day
Week 3 – walk 15-20 mins, x1 – 2/day
Week 4 – walk 20-25 mins, x1-2/day
Week 5 – walk 25-30 mins, x1/day
Week 6 – walk 30+ mins, x1/day
If you’ve followed my previous blogs, you will know I’m now a keen walker, my most recent Physical Challenge being the Peak District Six Dales Challenge with my cousin Jill back in June this year.
So to look at the above training schedule was, to put it mildly, very weird. In my head I felt fine and was convinced nothing was wrong… this would be easy, or so I thought. However, as soon as I started walking, my body struggled. To walk even 5 mins down the road was a tough ask. But I persevered, despite stopping twice for 30s, I made it back home again. However when I got home, I collapsed on to the sofa absolutely exhausted and breathless. I shed tears of frustration, confusion, despair. What had happened to my body?? It was like my head had been swapped onto another person’s body.
I had also been given a set of body weight exercises to complete after each walk. I’d had a giggle with the physio in the hospital as she explained the exercises to me – and I’d told her which muscles would be strengthened, and how to regress and progress each exercise!! Again, it felt weird to be doing the very exercises which only the previous week I’d been enthusiastically teaching my clients to do during their exercise classes.
Sadly I have to report that for the first week of walking I only did one day of the exercises – I was just too tired.
Sat 26th Aug – I woke feeling full of energy! This lasted until I’d had a shower and got dressed – then I sat exhausted for an hour to recover. Crazy. I also struggled to get my head around taking lots of different tablets again. At my heaviest (23.5st) I was on lots of medication for depression, insulin resistance, cholesterol, blood pressure, and PCOS. However as I’d lost weight, so the meds had been reduced to just one tablet for my recent diagnosis of an underactive thyroid. Now I was back up to taking 10 tablets a day.
After a bit of whingeing, I devised a plan. I reminded myself that these tablets were, for now, helping my heart to heal and me to stay alive. They would be reviewed at regular intervals, and if I stuck to my rehab plan, stayed active, and followed a healthy balanced diet, I may not need to be on all of them for the rest of my life. I told myself it was a small price to pay for a second chance at life. I was grateful for the wonderful NHS service, and for drs, nurses and scientists who create and administer these drugs.
I removed each current strip of tablets from their box and bound them together with a rubber band. Attached to the bundle was a small piece of paper with details of which tablets I had to take, and when to take them. That helped – visually it made them look a lot less daunting. It also saved me the stress of having to remember which tablets to take when.
Tues 29th Aug – news was spreading of my heart attack, and the Get Well cards and gifts started arriving. Among them were these beautiful pigmented blue orchids from friends at Cambridge University, and a bouquet of roses and freesias from a friend in Leicester.
Other friends bought me bottles of water, and produce from their allotment – including three cute little cucumelons (which I’d never heard of before!). About the size of a small cherry tomato, they looked like watermelons and tasted like cucumbers!
I was blessed by people wanting to visit, but also aware of how quickly I became tired. I organised my time to fit in plenty of rest, walking, exercise, recovery, food, and visitors. Thankfully my organisation skills came into their own – but it was hard to cope with mentally. I was frustrated at just how much energy even the simplest of tasks took. I also couldn’t concentrate on anything (reading, writing, watching TV etc) for longer than a few minutes. Compared to my busy life pre-heart attack with many projects on the go at once… I started to despair of ever getting back to ‘normal’.
Thur 31st Aug – the postman delivers my ‘Heart Failure Pack’. It contains two cards which I have to carry around with me for the rest of my life – notifying anyone who needs to know that “I have Heart Failure”. The phrase still sounds so foreign and strange to me. One of the other books is a Self-Monitoring book to look out for the signs and symptoms of fluid retention. I’m instructed to weigh myself daily!!!! Having battled with my weight, this is yet another thing to get my head around – another way of thinking which needs to be reset. In the past I’ve alternated between not weighing myself at all (preferring to go on how my clothes fit, and how I feel in general about myself etc) to weighing every day and becoming obsessed about it.
Before my heart attack, I was sticking to a healthy 15oo-cal food plan, weighing myself once a week, and focusing on fitting more fun activity into my daily schedule. This was having the desired effect of a 1-2lb loss each week. For me, I found the best method of reducing calorie intake was not to have breakfast – just enjoy a nice cup of coffee (#BlackWithASplash) which I read my Bible, prayed and meditated before starting each day. This calmed my mind and centred my thoughts. Now however, I have to take medication in the morning with food… so I’m currently working on a new food plan for the way forward.
Sun 3rd Sept – I felt too weak to get to church in the morning, but by the early afternoon I was chomping at the bit for a change of scenery. My parents drove me to Ulley Reservoir. I managed a short walk from the car park to the edge of the reservoir and sat and waited while mum and dad walked on further. It was so nice to be out in the fresh air and scenery, watching the yachts and the wildlife. Grateful again to be alive, it put all of my frustrations back into perspective.
So… the journey continues. Each day I’m getting a bit stronger, walking a bit further, doing a few more reps of each exercise.
I’m currently signed off work til 6th October. My next medical check up is on Wed 27th Sept with the Heart Failure Team – more blood tests, an ultrasound on my heart, and another ECG.
Until the next gripping installment… Pressing on! 🙂