Picture this: A seemingly ordinary day, walking my beloved spaniel, Bella, on a warm June day. The world seemed quiet, but inside me, a storm was brewing. A storm of discomfort, pain, and ultimately, fear. This is my story, a story that took me from the depths of despair to a glimmer of hope, and I want to share it with you.
**The Silent Agony**
My journey began with the news of my mother’s passing, or rather, the delayed news. It had been four months since she passed away in February, but the weight of her absence hit me when I took Bella, my beloved spaniel, for a walk one day. It was during that walk that I first noticed a discomfort in my chest. my relationship with my parents wasn’t great. and disconnecting from my father, the wider consequences of this caused the remainder of the family to disconnect from me–hence why I wasn’t told about my parents passing. But irrespective of what the relationship was, I still loved them and a small piece of hope in me, the little child wanted desperately to reconnect. which made the news of the passing all the more worse.
From that day on, I found myself living with this constant companion—chest pain. This wasn’t new to me; I’d endured chest compressions during my time as a young soldier, had my ribs broken a couple of times, and even battled sarcoidosis. Chest pain had become a part of my daily existence.
**A Burning Sensation**
But this was different. It wasn’t just pain; it was a burning sensation, reminiscent of indigestion but somehow far more sinister. It would strike and then ease when I rested, lulling me into a false sense of security. I told myself I was a fit man, someone who cherished long walks that brought me immense joy. So, I brushed it aside, ignored it, hoping it would fade away.
Yet, every time I embarked on one of those walks, the pain returned, gnawing at me. Then, one fateful day, as I was heading into work and that familiar chest pain gripped me once more, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Something wasn’t right; this wasn’t normal.
**The Quest for Answers**
I sought help from my GP, who speculated it might be “post-viral chondrites.” He handed me GTN spray, just in case, and referred me to cardiology and insisted I didn’t go for long walks alone…Just in case–there was that phrase again, just in case. The referral came swiftly, and it quickly became apparent that I ticked all the boxes for some form of cardiac ischemia—a medical term for a lack of blood supply to the muscle. In this case, it was the heart.
Fortuitously, I had a stress ECG appointment just days later. This involved stepping onto a treadmill, pushing my heart to work harder. The pace they set was one I could have managed for hours, but my pain score skyrocketed to an intolerable level. The test had to stop. The ECG results showed a slight irregularity on the inferiolateral aspect of the heart, indicating insufficient oxygen supply to that part. My heart was indeed experiencing an ischaemic attack.
**Facing the Abyss**
At that moment, fear and anxiety overwhelmed me. I knew where this was heading, having witnessed countless similar scenarios in my own line of work. My future had suddenly become uncertain, and my thoughts raced to Sam, my wife, my partner since our teenage years. I sat in that sterile room, surrounded by people indifferent to my emotional turmoil, and couldn’t help but empathise with the patients I’d seen receiving life-altering diagnoses.
**The Agonising Wait**
Three days later, the angina had intensified. I felt wretched, the pain was relentless, and even the simplest movements became agonising. I was spraying the GTN under my tongue like is was candy. That couldn’t be right. I knew clinically, using GTN maybe once per week was an acceptable amount. Here I was, squirting it every ten minutes.
Working in a hospital had its perks, including knowing the right people, but also the downside of knowledge. I approached a cardiologist in the hospital corridor, alarmed by my symptoms and the frequent use of GTN spray. In no uncertain terms, he urged me to head to the Emergency Department (ED) and get admitted.
Here’s where the intricacies of hospital departments came into play. While the cardiologist understood the severity of my situation, the ED, after conducting a clean ECG and a blood test that didn’t reveal anything immediately life-threatening, intended to discharge me. Luckily for me, at this point. I knew someone in the ED who worked in intensive care. He called the cardiologist I had seen in the corridor and diagnosed a barn door case of acute coronary syndrome with crescendo angina— a term that encompasses various emergency cardiac complications. But it was serious. I was teetering on knife edge. Death was literally around the corner for me, the reaper was waiting in the corridor. Tapping his gnarled fingers waiting for the tipping point. I felt him, like an emptiness. Despair jostled for position between fear, anxiety and dread. Pessimism and pragmatism teetered while I tried to think the best possible outcomes here, and my own knowledge was letting my down.
Fortunately, my persistence paid off, cardiology intervened, and I was then admitted.
**A Glimmer of Hope**
What I desperately needed at this point was an angiogram, an X-ray examination of the coronary arteries. It was the key to my future, a chance to regain a normal life.
However, lurking in the background was the dreaded word “cabbage.” In my world, “cabbage” referred to Coronary Bypass Graft (CABG), an open-heart surgery where the heart and lungs stop working temporarily while surgeons graft new arteries, often harvested from the left leg and arm.
As someone with a deep knowledge of anatomy, I understood that there was also a redundant artery called the IMA, or the inferior mamory artery, beneath the breastbone. Although it had a purpose, the body could adapt if it were used in bypass surgery. A cabbage was something I didn’t want. I saw this as a death sentence. It’s what old codgers have. I still had life in the legs which were trying to carry me.
**The Unwelcome Verdict**
The day of my scheduled procedure arrived, and as I saw those jumbled, chaotic veins and arteries on the monitor, I couldn’t help but dread what lay ahead. The arteries weren’t the smooth curving vessels one would like to see. but more like an old ladies varicose veins. the arteries jutting at odd angles. the image looked horrible.
The cardiologist performing the angiogram confirmed my worst fears – “You need a cabbage, mate.” He urgently referred me to a tertiary cardiac specialist unit forty miles away.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I cried, sometimes with a nurse named Pedro, sometimes with a colleague who came to visit, and often with Sam. I felt like my life was slipping away, and the things I loved seemed forever out of reach. My mind replayed the memories of the week before, when Sam and I had enjoyed a carefree day in London, spending extravagantly and laughing without a care in the world. I had plans, goals which hadn’t been met. Things I wanted to see and things which I wanted to do. I had worked hard all of my life, never once shirking any kind of responsibility. I was expecting a payback in the guise of exploration and fun. it was slipping through my fingers like warm sand and along with it, the sense of hope was slipping through as well.
**A Slow Rebirth**
Yet, slowly but surely, I began to find strength in the coping mechanisms I’d learned from years of therapy. I sought education and forced myself to comprehend the medical evidence while lying in that hospital bed. I connected with people who had undergone similar procedures and shared their experiences. For most, it was life-changing.
Some had realised, post-surgery, that they had been struggling for years with a failing heart. Now, they felt as though they’d turned back the clock by two decades.
I was eventually transferred to Southampton University Hospital, where I awaited my operation, initially hoping for the next day or the Friday. Unfortunately, due to high demand, I had to endure the agonising wait until Monday.
**The Light at the End of the Tunnel**
And here I am, at this moment, in a perverse way, almost looking forward to the operation. I anticipate the chance to regain a sense of normalcy, to reclaim the life I had thought was lost forever.
My journey has been a rollercoaster of emotions, from the shock of my mother’s passing to the fear of facing a life-changing diagnosis. But it’s also been a journey of resilience, education, and hope.
I invite you to join me on this path towards healing and recovery. Together, we can navigate the uncertainties of life’s darkest moments and emerge stronger on the other side. Your support and understanding mean the world to me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my story with you.
Life can take unexpected turns, and sometimes, we find ourselves facing challenges we never imagined. My journey is a testament to the power of perseverance and the importance of seeking help when we need it most. If my story can inspire hope in even one person, it’s worth sharing.
So, let’s embark on this journey together, because even in the darkest hours, there’s a glimmer of hope. Thank you for being a part of my story.
Share your own stories of resilience and hope in the comments below. Let’s support each other on this journey.