“A fatal coronary is nature’s way of telling you to slow down”.
My father died suddenly at age 68, from a heart attack, a medical book of symptoms open beside him. He hadn’t managed to summon any help. When I had a slightly tight feeling in my chest last Sunday before embarking on a bike ride I put it down to a possible chest infection and pedalled more slowly. I should have known better.
Before dawn three days later, when I had more pronounced chest tightness plus a bit of indigestion -discomfort not pain- I was on the verge of dialling for a medical opinion or even an ambulance but the symptoms subsided so I left my call to the doctor and a subsequent visit until later in the morning. One just-in- time enzyme test later, which indicated some possible heart damage , and I was on my way to hospital by ambulance, feeling that my doctor was being overcautious and that if I were to have some tests just to be on the safe side, I was quite capable of driving myself the short distance. My doctor, who disagreed, was, of course, spot on.
Now in my 68th year I was conscious of, but not overly concerned about, coronary illness risk factors. After all, you can’t change some factors such as age and gender and hereditary. Sure, you can do something about diet, lifestyle, stress, smoking and fitness, but I had given up smoking 30 years ago, my blood pressure was good and while my cholesterol rates were a little elevated, I thought that for my age I was pretty fit. Sure, I was a bit slower in last year’s 160 km Taupo Cycle Challenge than the year before, but I put that down to the hotter day.
It now turns out that 70% of the main artery to the front chamber of my heart was blocked and four days ago a blood clot bunged up what was remaining. Nothing dramatic, no great chest pains, but I was in the throes of a serious heart attack.
The treatment at Christchurch Public Hospital was first-class both in terms of the excellent medical team and the top class technology as well as the useful and timely post-operative pre-rehabilitation advice and information. In the space of four hours there was a well handled triage process, a battery of tests and quick decision making, followed by an angiogram and an angioplasty procedure plus two stents to let the bloodflow and again and I was back in the coronary care unit having a cup of tea and a sandwich. Two days later I was home, clutching a large cache of chemicals, most of which I will need to stay on for the rest of my life. The DIY pharmacopoeia of drugs is a small price to pay fiscally and figuratively.
Most people are aware (though many not so the time) that President Franklin Roosevelt was a polio sufferer; fewer know that he had very high blood pressure, which his doctors could do nothing about. They had to stand on the sidelines and watch one of the most important people in the world die before World War II was finished.
65 years later we have access to marvellous surgical and medical treatment to extend our life spans and improve our quality of life. If we make the first call in time.