It’s just over 15 months since my original heart attack and following short SCA (just over 3 minutes, I was very lucky).
Ups and Downs
It’s been a period of real ups and downs.
Initial recovery (just as went into the first lockdown) was good. I had 6 weeks to build myself up. Then elation at being fortunate enough to be the last (then) patient to be squeezed in at Basildon CTC to receive a Medtronic CRT-D combined pacemaker/defibrillator. The very latest technology and, I was told, only the third person in the East of England to be given one. No monitor stations by the bed and all that paraphernalia – just a simple app on my smartphone.
A day patient, the incubators started being wheeled into the ward as I sat in a chair, recovering in the afternoon. Three other day patients had already gone home after battery changes.
I was walked down to the hospital exit by a charming nurse, who carried my bag for me, I was grinning as I walked out into the sunshine and my waiting brother-in-law who’d waited patiently to drive me home.
I was fine.
The following months proved otherwise.
The challenge at first was physical.
Unable to sleep, especially on my left side, gradually wore me down, to the point of overdosing more than once on strong prescribed sedatives. I was so confused by my lack of sleep I double dosed more than once. I was like a walking Zombie a few times.
The healing process has taken more than a year but I feel as if I am now just about back to where I was beforehand being stopped short.
But with the slow physical recovery came some really bad months of mental lows. I was depressed, I was in pain, I fell over – twice – and on the second occasion, the device actually rotated in my chest.
Thank goodness the surgery was so good, the device carried on functioning and I didn’t have to go back for repositioning.
In a strange way, those falls made me feel better – at least I now knew how robust the device was and how fast the Pacing Clinic could check it remotely.
It was fits and starts through last summer.
I managed to sunburn my arms and head – I forgot about the Amiodarone issue of skin sensitivity!
But I came off the diuretics at my request. Now I did not have to rush to the toilet 6-7 times a night.
Just before Christmas, a few weeks after starting a new job and getting my driving licence back I had another, even heavier fall, cracking my head. Blood was flowing! But I got through that and enjoyed a quiet Christmas. This year, things just keep getting better. I was nominated by my new work colleagues as a Star Employee and featured in the monthly staff newsletter. I guess I was trying a bit too hard to prove myself to the team but the recognition made me feel good.
My work the last few months has been centred on COVID logistics. Setting up one of the very first Essex walk-in PCR test centres in the run up to Christmas. Then assisting in the establishment of more test centres, in churches, sports hall, schools, even a Borough Council-owned cafe opposite Southend Pier.
Keeping busy has been a salvation for me. It distracted me from feeling sorry for myself. Most recently, I’ve been discharged from my Heart Failure Clinic and, within 24 hours and after a lengthy telephone consultation, been discharged by my cardio-consultant. The new drug regime is working well and I‘ll just be having a once-a-year x-ray, a twice a year bloods test and of course the ever present, built-in monitor transmitting back to Medtronic HQ in Minnesota and pinging the data back to Essex within seconds.
What have I learned about myself?
Well, I’m not invulnerable and at my increasing age, don’t bounce back quite so quickly!
I’ve learned that I have a totally resilient and amazing wife and family and friends around me. Those surprise visits when I was in the Cardiac Care Unit for a week were real morale boosters. As someone said to me a few days ago, now it’s time for more Mr and Mrs time. We have spent too many months worrying about me. Now we can move on, just as we begin to come out of lockdown over this Easter holiday. We can start planning family visits again and some fun barbecues and chats in the garden over a glass of wine.
And I’ve come to appreciate the kindness of complete strangers. The folk here on SCA UK, who put up with my complaining, often in the wee small hours. They would come online, see my questions and concerns and always make contact and boost my morale. I was never alone.
And the community physio nurse who got a walking stick and walking frame delivered to me within 40 minutes of ending a Zoom physio assessment. And the counsellor who listened patiently over Zoom and gently gave me advice on how to face up to the challenges ahead but also deal with the deep-buried fears from the past.
And then the dynamic cardiac rehab nurse who has helped many of us in SCA-UK.
We have an amazing NHS. And all the staff who work so hard for us deserve not just a clap on a Thursday night but more recognition, more pay, no student debt and shorter shifts. I can still remember how I felt, looking at the nurses and HCAs all bright and breezy when they came on shift at 7.30pm – and how drained they looked each morning as they gathered for the handover at 7.30am.
Their kindness, attention to detail, cheering words at 2am, did wonders for me.
It’s onwards, at a slightly slower pace, for me. Making more time for Mrs D and together enjoying every day as it comes. After the chaotic first few hours and days of falling ill, I consider myself a very lucky person, more content with what we have and happy to make more time to help others.
It’s definitely time for a quieter life.