What does it feel like to experience a heart attack?
I had a heart attack on 17th July 2018. So pretty fresh.
It was a normal day. Just finished a gym session along with my brother at about 9 pm.
I remember thinking during my last exercise, what a good session it was. I felt really strong. Full of energy.
My last exercise was a dead lift.
As I walked out of the gym I felt an uncomfortable feeling in the middle of my chest. Mild pain. I put it down to the heavy gym session and didn’t think much about it.
As I drove the 15min home the pain intensified. But not alarmingly so. However, now it spread to both my arms. The back of the arms.
I now put it down to heartburn as I ate too close to my gym session. Once again I ignored it.
It was now about 9:20 pm. As I got home, I was very uncomfortable. It was very warm that day too. My brother went home and I lay down on the floor in my garden in an attempt to cool off. Every second it was getting worse.
I now moved inside and put on the AC and lay on the sofa.
The pain now spread to my jaw. I was a tad worried now. I found heartburn medication and drank some. No relief.
A few minutes later I vomited.
It was now 9:40 pm. This was my cue to call 999. As most Brits know we don’t like bothering people. Even if we’re dying. Lol.
I apologised to the operator for wasting her time but told her I’m getting severe chest pain. And MAY need an ambulance. She asked me to find some aspirin. Which I didn’t have.
By now I was down on my knees in severe pain. I said to her, apologising again, that I really need help.
At 9:50 pm Ambulance guys turned Up. I was on the verge of crying with the pain. in fact, I was crying.
Ambulance crew wired me up to a mobile ECG machine and confirmed ‘something’s not right’. They gave me a small dosage of morphine which calmed the pain down and relaxed me.
Few mins later the pain returned and they said they couldn’t give me any more morphine as they don’t know what the problem is.
I was walked to the ambulance and a few mins later were in A&E.
Wired up to a proper ECG machine, this is when ‘all hell broke lose’!
At around 10:20 pm, Doctors running around. Looking at charts. Taking notes. Asking me questions. Nurses putting tags on my arm with my name and address. Taking my vitals. Taking blood. Etc.
A doctor then explained that I’m having a heart attack and they will be taking me to Cardiology for emergency surgery.
All of A&E was just looking in my direction.
Porters were not available, so the doctors wheeled me to cardiology at super speed. All in all about 12 doctors and nurses around me. I was given a proper dose of morphine and WOW! It was amazing. Lol.
A sense of warmth spread from my toes to my head. I was totally relaxed. I put my head back and just looked at the ceiling. I thought of my 39 years of life. And made my peace. If I die. I die. I had a good life.
I was very calm. However, then it hit me. The date. 17th July. The next day was my sons 14th birthday. What if I don’t make it? He doesn’t even know where I am! My 1year old daughter won’t know where I went. Or who her dad is.
I said a little prayer and left it all to God and the doctors. After all what else could I do?
The surgeon discussed with my brother and wife that I have 100%blockage of the LAD. Otherwise known as the ‘Widow maker’ And it’s unlikely I will survive. All in earshot of me.
I was wheeled into surgery and prepped for surgery. I could see a huge monitor to my left and my heart pumping away. It was surreal. That one muscle in my chest. Always been by my side. And now it’s struggling to do its job. 🙁
Nurses were very kind and told me all will be ok. Just relax.
The plan was to put a stent in. They attempted by going into my wrist but the wire wouldn’t go further than my elbow.
My chest pain was at about 6/10. However, the pain in my arm was 100/10! Even though I was under local anaesthesia.
If anyone remembers watching Nightmare on Elm street where Freddie Kruger plays puppets with the arteries of his victims… that’s what it felt like.
Eventually, they realised they need to go via my groin.
Same pain, but now in my upper thigh. OUCH!!!
20min later the surgeon said ‘I’m going to count down from 10, and the pain will disappear!’
‘10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2…1, flush’ (whatever that meant) He was right. No pain. All gone. Procedure complete.
It was now 1 am on 18th July 2018. My sons birthday.
My experience is fresh – I had a heart attack on Friday.
I was doing my first mow of the back yard for 2017. I’d mowed the front and was about half way through the back yard. Over about five minutes I became unusually tired, breathless and started to sweat a LOT. I stopped mowing and thought about how out of shape I’d become. I started the mower again and in the next minute it got interesting.
My sweating and breathlessness increased even more. An oppressive pain, like a huge rock on my chest, took over. It was a steady, continuous pain. I realized I also had a terrible ache in my middle back, and then it radiated out to the backs of my arms – slightly more on the left than the right.
I stopped and went inside. I collapsed down onto the floor and let my wife know I was in trouble. I asked to go to the ER.
I was at the nearest ER about 45 minutes after it all began, at 4:30pm. They had me comfortable and out of pain in about 45 minutes. There were drips and a couple of injections and some aspirin. I was admitted and taken to a hospital room.
Over this time my BP fell from 185/125 and HR of 160+ to a BP of 150/110 and HR of 120+. They had drawn blood at regular intervals and saw my cardiac troponin levels were rising. This is indicative of a heart attack. They decided to lower my heart rate and blood pressure. Drugs and a nitroglycerin IV were started.
It being a holiday weekend, I was moved again to ICU and monitored while they found a balance of drugs that would keep my blood pressure low but not too low. If it goes too low I was told I could suffer organ damage. The nitroglycerin is a vasodilator. It expands blood vessels and lowers BP. My main recollection was that it caused me to have an oppressive headache. You only get acetaminophen for the headache. This headache lasted from when they started the drip until an hour after they stopped it – two and a half days. The acetaminophen does not help the headache. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, the headache is worse. I drink coffee, so it was miserable.
I was woken and examined every three hours. At no point from Friday night until my release this morning did I get more than two and a half hours of continuous sleep. I handled this really well until late Monday night. The lack of quality sleep was very disruptive to my mental state and inner calm, even though I knew the blood pressure checks and stomach injections were key to my continued survival.
They kept me stable and out of cardiac distress until Monday morning. Over the weekend they had done various tests and imagings, including a CT scan and doppler ultrasound. They had a good idea where my problem lay.
Monday morning they put me in a twilight state and opened up my femoral artery right by my groin. They ran a wire up and explored the suspected blood vessel in my heart. All the likely ones were clear. While they were doing this I was hazily following along as they talked about rugby and a Hawaiian vacation. Finally the surgeon said, “It can’t be his left anterior, could it?” They jiggled and wiggled and stopped. They got real quiet. “Wow.” It was 95% blocked. Right at the junction.
They installed a hybrid stent. My heart function immediately improved to almost normal. On the way out the surgeon told me that for every one person my age with this specific blockage there were twenty or more in the morgue, and I was incredibly lucky.
That surgery was yesterday morning. They kept me in overnight because putting a hole in the femoral artery isn’t a minor thing. They released me back into the world at 11am this morning, Tuesday 21st February 2017.
I am feeling very blessed right now.
I have a selection of four drugs I have to take. A statin (cholesterol lowering drug), a beta blocker to lower heart rate and oxygen demand, a platelet inhibitor to prevent clotting (because who wants a blood clot in their nice shiny new stent, right?) and baby aspirin. I’ll have to take the platelet inhibitor for at least a year.
As for what happens next? Well, I will need to take it easy for a few weeks, and I have had to make some drastic changes to my diet to eat heart healthy. I didn’t even know I had a cholesterol problem.
With hindsight, it looks like I have been showing signs of stress for over six months at least. If I’d known that uncontrolled sweating under light load was a warning sign I would already have seen the doctor.
So, for me, that is what my heart attack felt like, from before it happened until I typed this.