Thursday 20 January 2011

My heart attack

15st 9lb, 5.0 units. I have had a heart attack. Don’t worry (as if you would). I am clearly still alive. What’s more, I apparently had this heart attack some time ago and was blissfully unaware of it. Which is, on the whole, better than the sort of heart attack where the elephant comes to sit on your chest and you are rushed to hospital in an ambulance with sirens wailing and blue lights flashing, only to die before you get there (or before the ambulance even arrives, come to that, if you are daft enough to live in one of the remoter corners of Northumberland).

I have been racking what is left of my brains trying to identify an occasion when I suffered what seemed to be worse than usual indigestion, and the Rennies and/or Gaviscon failed to produce the usual relief, but there are so many of those that I cannot hope to select just one, and they surely can’t all have been heart attacks or I would have been pushing up the daisies in Whittingham churchyard long, long ago.

It must have happened before October 2009, because the distractingly pretty doctor who admitted me to the Wansbeck Hospital then, when I presented myself suffering from chest pains, assured me that I definitely wasn’t having a heart attack at the time, but thought from my ECG trace that I had had one on some previous occasion.

I would really like to pin it down because then I might have someone to resent, in accordance with the Strict Blame Culture operating at all times in the Hann household. Was it my former colleagues in financial PR, or one (or more) of my former clients? Was it that particularly repellent young investment banker with whom I was compelled to work on my last retail flotation? Yes, I’d like to go out with a curse about him on my lips. Though I’d prefer, on the whole, not to go out at all just at present, so perhaps it would be best to move on.

So how did I come to find out about this heart attack?

Well, as usual, through the Law of Unintended Consequences.

On Tuesday afternoon last week I stood at the back of the room in a client’s offices, watching a half hour presentation. Then, when I came to leave, found that I could not move my legs and promptly fell over. Between you and me, I think my legs just “went to sleep”, as they say, but I have never experienced anything quite like it before and I was sufficiently unsettled to agree with the suggestions from all sides that I should get it checked out by a doctor.

The GP I consulted could find nothing wrong with me, but when asked about any other symptoms I foolishly mentioned the ache in my jaw and the numbness in my right arm that I have been experiencing intermittently for some months now, so he duly referred me to a cardiologist and a neurologist for further investigation.

So far I have only seen the cardiologist, who took no time at all to pronounce that my falling over had nothing to do with my heart, but that my other symptoms were almost certainly angina. “Because in my experience only three things cause a pain in the jaw: a punch in the face, toothache or angina.” I tried to deploy my strictly limited medical knowledge to argue that angina is typically an intense, short-lived pain associated with exercise, whereas my pain is mild, persistent and usually occurs when I am sitting in a chair or lying down in bed, and has never yet happened when I am doing anything even vaguely strenuous. But he was having none of that, and matters only got worse when he ran an ECG and pointed to the tell-tale evidence of a previous heart attack. He told me to start taking an aspirin every day, which luckily I was doing anyway on the strength of an article in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that it was a good idea, because I am of course incredibly suggestible.

Then it was back to hospital this Tuesday for an echocardiogram and dobutamine stress echocardiogram, which apparently produced irrefutable evidence of cardiac damage. I say “apparently” because I could not bear to look at the pictures. I am one of those people who has to switch channels quickly whenever medical procedures are shown on TV, for fear of passing out. Three of the arteries at the bottom of my heart are constricted, I am told, including one that will put me in “major heart attack” territory if it gets blocked. The next step, he cheerily announced, is an angiogram to determine the precise extent of the problem, so that he can decide whether it requires treatment with drugs, stents, angioplasty or open heart surgery. Oh joy.

“Aren’t angiograms a bit risky?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve done 15,000 and I’ve only ever had three problems,” he replied, adding rather mysteriously after a pause “I should have had five.”

Mrs H and I had a vigorous debate about what he meant by “a problem”, but luckily my pessimistic take was confirmed by a look at the analysis of angiogram risks on the consultant’s own website, where it clearly states “Death – 1 per thousand cases”.

It seems to me that he is well overdue for a fourth, statistically speaking.

On the other hand I have already spoken to a couple of clients who are angiogram veterans and tell me that there is “nothing to it”, with one adding the disconcerting thought that he had been told that if he had put his test off for a week, he would have been dead.

Even so, I think I shall wait to see what the neurologist has to tell me about the whole falling over business before forging ahead with more cardiac investigations.

I’m a bit miffed about all this, to be honest, because I have now been ordered back onto the blood pressure medications and statins that I proudly weaned myself off a few years ago (or I will be, if Mrs H ever gets down to the pharmacy and picks them up for me) and I was rather priding myself on not being an invalid despite decades of abusing my body with excessive amounts of food, alcohol and stress.

Indeed, I gave up working in London in 2004 precisely because I feared that I would give myself a heart attack if I did not slow down. Now it appears that I might have left it too late.

Hanns have been dropping dead of heart attacks for generations now, so I suppose it is only to be expected. My grandfather did it in 1936, my father in 1982. Funnily enough, I recall that when he had his first major seizure that year, about a fortnight before the one that killed him, the consultant asked about the series of heart attacks he had already suffered and my father replied “What heart attacks?” He thought they were indigestion …

As Eric Morecambe observed after his first heart attack in 1968, which he had put down first to wind and then to tennis elbow, it is lucky that we did not know we were having heart attacks, or we would undoubtedly have been so frightened that we would have given ourselves a heart attack.


CC said...

Just continue to take good care of yourself.
There are many who count on your presence and presents (of dry curmudgeonly wit and comment).
Mrs. H and Charlie top the list. And I can tell there are many family and friends and even blog friends over the pond, who want you to stay well and stick around for a very long time.

Clippy Mat said...

Well bloody hell! That's what I call a wake up call. Hope you get it sorted. I agree with CC's comments, I enjoy reading your posts. Take care.