Mike’s Story…

I’m a 53 year old Chartered Civil Engineer. I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly fit and healthy guy. I’m not overweight, I have a pretty healthy diet (skimmed milk, low fat spreads, not too much red meat, decent amounts of fruit, veg and oily fish etc). Alcohol? Yes please, but only in moderation. Smoking? No thanks never done it.

Over the years I’ve done plenty of running and swimming, played squash and took up hang gliding. I admit I could do more exercise but there’s always something else to do or another excuse isn’t there?

However, both parents and both sets of grandparents have had heart problems, some dying at a relatively young age.

I have regular company medicals and they generally give me a clean bill of health although I frequently have raised cholesterol. But hey, that’s just a number… isn’t it?

In March 2014 I got “crushing” pains in my chest but I’ve never been crushed and don’t really know how bad the pain is supposed to be before I do anything about it… let’s see how it goes – oh and I’ve still got the tail end of a cold so it’s probably just a chest infection.

I started to get breathless like I’ve run a marathon. Simple tasks like climbing my stairs at home are becoming a challenge and I have to stop to recover half way up… Hmm, this is unusual… no, I’ve still got my cold so I’ll be fine when it goes.

A week went by, indigestion was a bit of a nuisance… Oh I remember, I had a curry a couple of days ago that will be it.

Then starting to get a feeling in my throat like cramp now… my colds gone so it can’t be that… I know, I’ll have swallowed something without chewing it enough that would do it… wouldn’t it?

Funny this, my colds gone a couple of weeks ago but I’m still getting chest pains, breathlessness, indigestion and throat cramp. I’ve slipped up and mentioned it to my missus but she just keeps nagging on about seeing the Doctor… I’m a bloke though and we don’t see Doctors do we chaps?

In April 2014 after putting up with 6 weeks of being told by my kids as well as my wife to check it out I wondered why I am getting the chest pains when it’s just cold and I’m not even exercising? My wife mentioned it could be Angina but that’s for old fellas not fit and healthy chaps like me (I’m still 20 in my head of course!)

So I went to see the Doctor (strictly to prove to the missus I’m fine and stop her nagging you understand). The doctor didn’t tell me off for wasting his time –he says he wants some blood tests pretty urgently and also sends me for an ECG.

Blood tests came back saying high cholesterol. I’ve had this before though so no worries. Doc refers me to a specialist, and prescribes me a load of tablets and a GTN spray. This should sort me out! ECG day arrives – still been having pains, but I’m feeling fine now (or am I in denial?) so I’m still wasting their time of course but now it’s the Consultant and all the nurses at the hospital whose time I’m wasting… Aren’t I?

  • First ECG done – resting. No significant problems there… Told you so… I’m fine.
  • Second ECG done about 30 mins later. On a treadmill this time. My chance to prove how fit I am. I’m going to get such a lecture off the medical people for the waste of time and expense… Hang on, the nurses are having a conversation and pointing at the screen… Why are they stopping the test after 2 minutes and making me sit down? I thought I was meant to go on for 15 minutes?
  • I see my Consultant on a Thursday evening. Prescribed another load of tablets, books me in for an angiogram on Monday and tells me they’ll install stents if necessary at the same time… that’s good service – must just be lucky with a cancellation. Tells me to call 999 if I get any chest pains that the GTN spray can’t shift. He’s being overcautious… Isn’t he? He also wants me back in hospital the next day for a pre-op. Tells me to expect a call from the hospital in the morning to confirm a time and stresses don’t be more than 30 minutes drive away, this seems a bit unusual, probably just doesn’t want the appointments messed up if I’m late.
  • Saturday, bin day, need to get 2 heavy garden waste wheelie bins out, Wow that was painful! Use the spray, not shifting it, try again, is that better? Not sure… do I call 999?  No, I might be wasting their time, stick with the spray. Pain most of the time but I can cope… just…
  • Monday, well here we are, angiogram time and I’m on the operating table. I’ll still be wasting their time of course, they’ll find no problems and send me home in a couple of hours. I get to watch the whole procedure live on a TV screen as well – this should be good!
  • What’s that? 1 artery 99% narrowed and needs 3 stents inserting today, 2 further arteries 35% narrowed, one which serves both front and back of my heart, told I was extremely lucky not to have had a heart attack already, especially after my ‘wheelie bin wrestling’ over the weekend.
  • Finally get told off by the Consultant and nurses, NO Not for wasting their time but for ignoring what my body was telling me, not listening to my wife and kids and for not calling 999 when I put the bins out.

Update June 2014 The angiogram and stents operation wasn’t without its challenges, mainly because of dealing with the 99% narrowing I understand and I ended up in theatre twice in one day then spent a further 3 days in coronary care.

I’d be lying if I said the operation was pain free – it wasn’t, and I’m having to get used to taking lots of tablets 3 times a day but I’m still here which puts everything into perspective.

Almost 2 months on from the operation, I’m feeling fine and am now going to the gym weekly as part of my rehabilitation as well as increasing my regular exercise.

I can’t thank Dr Balachandran and the staff of the Royal Blackburn Hospital enough for their care (and the lectures!). I’d also like to thank Sian Percival -Edwards of Heartbeat for allowing me to share this story with you.

… and yes, I now listen to what my body tells me and, just as importantly, what my wife and family advise me. Ignorance really isn’t bliss.

Mike Purcell