Heart Attack

Heart Attack

memoir-steve-bale-heart-attack-header-image

I you prefer to read a PDF of this story then you can download it from my Dropbox. Please be aware this web page is an update of the PDF so will differ slightly.

Is This You?

Is your lifestyle as unhealthy as mine was? (No fruit\veg, live on takeaway food, smoking up to 40 a day, and hardly any exercise).

Do you have Chest pain? Aching jaw? Do you get out of breath easily? Sweat a lot? Find anything physical difficult to do? If so, go see your Doctor.

Read on, and see what these symptoms did for me.

Where It All Began

It’s easy to trace back over the five years that led up to my first heart attack. In 2006 I
had resigned from my job as a Security Guard, (as explained in my ADHD story), that job had kept me physically fit for years.

I even used to cycle to and from work, as well as many miles of walking while on patrol each night. I weighed about 12 stone when I left that job, which is the perfect weight for my height. See image below for when I was 12 stone at work.

looking-strangely-confident
looking strangely confident

I won’t repeat what I’ve already explained in my ADHD post, but to summarise, I went into my shell, and locked myself away from the world. I rarely went outside my door, unless I had no choice in the matter, like visiting the doctors, hospital, dentist etc.

I dreamed of working from home as the perfect solution to my situation, so I started off several projects trying to make money from home, including writing, programming, selling on eBay, Domaining, and affiliate marketing.

I failed badly at all of them, partly because of a shortage of funds, but mainly because my heart wasn’t really in it, (excuse the unintended pun), and a severe lack of talent probably.

How To Gain Six Stone Without Even Trying

Of course, sitting at a computer for up to 18 hours a day, with no exercise, or even a
brief stroll outside each day, had me piling the pounds on.

By the time I was about to have my heart attack I weighed over 18 stone, this sort of weight gain is bound to lead to heart problems.

Putting on that amount of weight worried me, because for all of my life up until then I had been quite skinny and had never once been over-weight. Worse still, my stomach had expanded like a balloon, it wasn’t fat, it was like being pregnant, it was (still is) quite embarrassing.

When people comment on it, I joke it away by saying “I am with child” and pushing
it out even more for their amusement. Today I weigh 22.5 stone and I am getting worried a second heart attack may not be far off.

My Doctor thought it was all a big joke when I took my concerns to him. He said,
“what do you expect? bad diet, no exercise, and at your age?” (52 years old).

memoir-steve-bale-heart-attack-too-late-to-die-young
At about 18 stone.

Not long after this, on the few occasions I did have to go out, I found after just a few minutes of walking I was sweating profusely and breathing heavy. I just put it down to being very unfit and not used to being so heavy, but not really heart problems.

As the weeks passed by, each trip to the local shops got harder for me. I came to the
point where I had to stop and rest to catch my breath every 50 steps or so.

I had to carry several handkerchiefs with me to wipe away the tons of sweat coming off my bright red head, people would look at me funny as well, I suppose they were
expecting me to keel over at any moment.

The Rude Receptionist

One day I finally decided, enough is enough, and walked into my doctors’ surgery,
which luckily just happens to be next door to my flat!

As usual, the old lady behind the desk was as rude and as unhelpful as possible. I asked politely if I could just see my Doctor for a few minutes to check something. I wanted to see if he thought something was wrong now. The old bag gave me a stern “NO! He’s busy

I just wasn’t in the mood to argue, so I mumbled, “OK, fuck it, I’ll go to the hospital“. That surprisingly got her attention, “What’s wrong with you then?”, she scolded?

I briefly explained my symptoms and she nearly had a heart attack herself!
She grabbed the phone to talk to my doctor. I answered a few questions via my proxy “doctor” and then she put the phone down.

We’ve called you an ambulance, take a seat.”

Bloody hell, I didn’t want that at the moment, I needed to go home. I let my sister
know and she said she would follow up in her car. We tried to cancel the ambulance
but they wouldn’t hear of it.

memoir-heart-attack-chase-farm-clock-towerAfter the ambulance ride to Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, we had to wait for a bed for an hour or so, but then they set me up on an EEG machine, and did other tests.

After hours of waiting, it was very busy, a specialist came back and told us that everything appeared Okay, my heart and blood pressure was fine.

Just Leave Me Alone

Well, that was a waste of time I thought. My sister Karen dropped me home, and I decided never to go outside again, ever, Just leave me alone everyone. Of course, I did have to go outside at least once a week to get supplies and pay the bills etc. Though nowadays I do nearly all of it on-line.

About a month passed, and when I did go to the shops, (it is about a four-minute
walk), things seemed to have got even worse.

I had all the same symptoms as before, but a bit worse, in addition, I had a terrible pain
in my jaw bone, it was really weird, it felt like my jaw was being crushed in a vice,
this hurt like hell, and was quite distressing as I didn’t understand why this was
happening.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was one of the major signs of a heart attack on its way. I was also now starting to get chest pains more often, on both sides of my chest.
Luckily the jaw pain relented as soon as I started resting.

There was no point in going to my doctors, or indeed the hospital, there was nothing
wrong with me, right?

Am I An Alien Species?

To be fair to the hospital, I am a bit of a freak. My blood pressure should have been through the roof, but it never is, it’s freakish. Even when I did eventually have a heart attack it was only slightly elevated, this may have thrown doctors off the scent. Maybe I am of alien origin or something.

One night around this time, I was mopping my kitchen floor, even this simple job had me panting for breath. I had used far too much bleach and must have breathed a lot of the fumes in. I felt dizzy, in fact, I had to grab the walls and doors to get to my sofa or I would have fallen over.

My Feet Are On Fire!

I sat there trying to get my breath back, and I suddenly felt a burning sensation in my feet. It felt like my feet were on fire. I was so convinced that I checked my socks weren’t burning, it was terribly painful, then my head started swimming again, and my left arm went numb.

memoir-steve-bale-heart-attack-feet-on-fire

I clearly remember thinking to myself, of course, it’s not a heart attack, it’s a bloody stroke! I knew what a stroke was, as my Mother had had one a year earlier and only just survived it . She was left with a paralysed left arm and left leg.

As I had been depressed and, to be honest, I had felt suicidal for some time, I decided not to panic, but welcome it. I clearly remember opening my arms out and saying out loud;

Go on then, do it, I’m fucking ready!

And I really meant it. Almost Immediately my symptoms started to calm down, my feet returned to normal and although I still felt dizzy and sick, the attack of whatever it was appeared to be over. I recovered fully in a few hours.

I checked Google about the feet on fire thing and found a page that said about
inhalation of bleach vapour could cause it, so I put it down to that. But I wonder if
that almost brought on a stroke? (Since then I have been told by a doctor that it was more likely caused by my borderline Diabetes, another symptom of heavy weight gain.)

The Big Day Arrives

Another few weeks passed. I still had bad symptoms like chest pains and breathlessness when exerting myself physically, but at rest I was okay. That all changed on the morning of December 7th, 2011.

As usual I had been on my computer until the early hours of the morning. I had been
playing on-line Bingo and I had won a few quid, so I went to bed quite happy, it was
about 4Am.

Tribal Wars

I must mention here that I was also playing an online game called Tribal Wars for several months, which can get extremely involving, to the point it can take over your life. There is no point in explaining about it here unless you have played Tribal Wars properly you wouldn’t understand, but the huge stress I was under from that stupid arse game was probably a large factor in what is to come. (I was running a large successful tribe of 40 people).

Bed Procedures

When I go to bed I  always put my earplugs in to listen to music to help focus my ADHD brain on something other than my accelerated mixed up thoughts, as well as my tinnitus (Again, see my ADHD story), and turned onto to my right side, closed my eyes and being very tired I hoped to fall asleep straight away.

Instead, I immediately felt weird, like I was moving. I opened my eyes and the room
was moving about in angles, like some mad horror movie.

I sat up on the edge of the bed, trying to calm myself, but it got worse. I found I was starting to pant, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was suddenly very cold, frighteningly cold for such a short space of time. This was seriously bad, I knew that.

Imemoir-steve-bale-heart-attack-halogen-heater went into the living room where my mobile phone was and sat in front of my Halogen fire, luckily you get heat very fast from that, and it was nice as I was so damn cold.

I was now having to breathe as hard as I could just to keep my blood flowing and it was getting harder by the minute.

I tapped “999” into my mobile phone (emergency services) and just as I did that my symptoms relented.

I felt like it was over, I felt a lot better straight away. Hmm, time for a nice cup of tea, tea solves everything (but only if your are English. LOL)

Before I could fill the kettle, though, it all started again, same symptoms, maybe even harder to breathe now. After about five minutes I felt like I was hyperventilating, I couldn’t keep track if I was breathing in or out, I reached for my mobile and pressed the call button.

memoir-steve-bale-heart-attack-phone-999

Maybe I should have waited until after the attack and I had calmed down, but I thought for a moment that this was the final attack as I felt I would pass out anytime soon.

The emergency operator must of thought I was a right drama
queen at first. I was gasping out the words between breaths in dramatic style.

Not sure, think heart attack…ambulance please…”

After a few minutes of addresses , phone numbers, name etc. she said the ambulance was already on it’s way to me, and would be there in a few minutes.

She wanted me to stay on the line. She was very good at calming me down and helping me control my breathing better. I realised I would have to get to the front door, which was down a stupidly steep flight of stairs. I didn’t know if I could make it.

memoir-steve-bale-heart-my-stairs
The stairs in my flat, they are steeper than they look in this photo,

She talked me through it, though, a step at a time, until I got there. As I reached the
front door the magic ambulance arrived at the same time, god bless the NHS! It has
its flaws but when it works, it’s the best.

I had to go back upstairs with the paramedics, a really attractive young lady and a not
so attractive man (only kidding, he was a lovely bloke too!), they put their portable EEG machine on me and confirmed I had just had a heart attack.

I’m still not actually sure when I had the actual heart attack, maybe it was several?

The Best Heart Hospital In Europe

They said I had to go to the hospital. I tried to get out of it by telling them what
happened at Chase Farm, they probably wouldn’t find anything wrong I postulated.

“No, we are taking you to the best heart hospital in Europe, The Royal Brompton,”

I relented and offered them a cup of tea as I was gasping for one myself, but they
wouldn’t hear of it. They let me phone my sister to let her know what was going on
and I grabbed some clothes and my mp3 player in a bag, then we were off.

In the ambulance, I was tethered to the stretcher thing and the guy sprayed some horrid tasting shit under my tongue. I later learned it was “Nitrolingual” it’s a spray that acts fast on chest pain.memoir-heart-attack-nitrolingual-spray

The problem with going to The Brompton was it was over an hour
away, and I needed a piss.

There is no contingency for taking a leak in an ambulance, well not in this one anyway, and by the time we arrived at the hospital my bladder was close to bursting.

The ambulance door opened and waiting outside in the semi-dark (it was now about 5.45Am I guess) were several doctors. I was transferred to a hospital trolley and after a brief check on my heart and a few questions we were literally zooming along the corridors to the operating theater.

I Need To Piss

Oh. I hadn’t even contemplated surgery. I didn’t know whether to be scared or not, so
I didn’t worry about it, all I was really concerned with at that exact moment in time
was my bladder.

They transferred me to the operating table. Where I insisted on a pee. I was given a cardboard “vase” thing and I stood there in front of about 8 people and took the biggest whizz I had ever had, wow that felt better, to hell with dignity!

memoir-heart attack-piss vase
Recycled cardboard piss vase

The operation began. I had this camera thing flying across and around my head, quite
dangerously I thought. I wanted to see what was going on, but they had taken my
spectacles off me, and that camera was a menace.

The surgeon came in, it was a middle-aged fairly attractive woman with a middle-class posh accent.

“Mister Bale, you will never smoke again.
Yes ma’am!”, and I meant it, at the time.

Now when I’m with a woman, and she is trying to get my trousers off me I would
usually think this is a good thing, but in this scenario I was wondering why the
surgeon and a nurse had pulled them down to my ankles!

My Surgeon Didn’t Like Me Much

I didn’t know it at the time, but to get to the arteries in your heart they go through an artery in your groin, (sometimes your wrist), I don’t know why.

The surgeon painted on some brown chemical on my groin, it stung a lot, but didn’t bother me too much, she looked at me to see my reaction.

I later found out that some people can’t handle this stuff as it can be very painful, but for once I wasn’t a pussy, hooray!.

She told me off a few times for moving my head to try and see what was going on, I don’t think she liked me much anyway.

A Wire Was Shoved Several Feet Up My Artery

Then she made an incision into my groin. Without my glasses, I could only see hazy
bits of what was going on though.

There was a screen showing my arteries, and I was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t see what was going on. I love technology and would have enjoyed being told what was happening and how it all worked, instead, I researched it all later.

She then inserted a wire that had a tip on the end, and it contained a metal sleeve
called a “Stent” which was to be left inside the blocked part of my artery to allow
blood flow, clogged arteries had been the cause of all my recent ills.

I felt a sort of tingling near my hip and I said to her, “I know where it is, it’s near my hip”, she replied that I was wrong, it was actually inside my heart.

Wow, that was quick, and I didn’t feel a thing. I expected it to be quite uncomfortable
having a wire shoved several feet up my clogged arteries! Then I did feel a slight pain, so I said:

I can feel that, is that right?

yes, she said, don’t worry nearly done. That was the stent being released. She pulled out the wire, did some surgeon type stuff, treated the keyhole wound in my groin and then I was good to go. All in all, it took about 30 minutes, I think. The operation is called Coronary angioplasty.

It was then that I noticed that my ambulance crew had been watching my op from the
observation window. I wondered why? Just out of interest? Nothing better to do? Or
was my condition more serious than I had thought? I never found out.

If you have read some of my other stories you will know that sometimes strange
things happen to me, nearly always bad strange things, but for once a good, odd, thing
happened here.

If you are not British, you may not know that the NHS (National Health Service) is
free at the point of use. We all pay for it in our taxes via an extra payment called
National Insurance, which is automatically taken from your wages by your employer,
along with income tax.

It’s a great system that every non-rich person in the UK loves. If you get ill it doesn’t
matter what the cost is, you are covered for the treatment (with a few very rare exceptions).

Unfortunately, In recent years, the NHS has been under financial strain as the population balloons and older people are living longer. Some hospitals like the Royal Brompton do a bit of private work on the side to make ends meet.

In return, they have to offer free private care if they have a private bed available when the NHS side of the hospital is full, and that my friends, was me. I got the private patient treatment totally free, I loved it.

I was taken to a ward where each patient was observed closely 24 hours a
day. Everyone had their own private cubicle type space. All the nurses were fabulous, very friendly and cheerful and nothing was ever too much trouble.

I was assigned two young nurses, one day shift , the other for the night shift. I was spoiled rotten and we had a great laugh. There was also a third junior nurse that floated about just chatting to patients and generally cheering people up and getting cups of tea and cakes and stuff, we chatted about everything for hours on end.

After 48 hours, I was deemed to be recovering well, and given my own private room.
Normally this would have been a dream for me, but I really missed all the girls making
a fuss of me on the ward.

The room was great, though, spotlessly clean, TV, fridge, my own shower and bathroom, armchair and a nice view from the window.

memoir-heart-attack-private-room
Two days after op, in my private room.

The only thing that let the whole hospital down was the food. A private contractor
handled it, badly. The food was mostly awful, always cold, mostly sugary, unhealthy,
cheap muck and when it was good, there wasn’t enough. But again, the staff were
great, polite, helpful and friendly.

Having A Smoke Now Would Be An Insult

As I had promised my surgeon, I was determined to give up smoking. There was no
way I was going to disrespect what they had done for me by smoking while still in
their care, others did, though.

I had tobacco in my bag with me but I just couldn’t. They gave me nicotine patches and other stuff to help me get over the withdrawal symptoms.

After 4 days I wanted to go home, I felt fantastic. But there was a problem. I had
been wearing a portable heart monitor 24\7 since my operation, and it had picked
up an anomaly.

It turns out that when I’m asleep my heart stops completely for, (on average), 3.4 seconds, completely at random. Nothing much about why this would happen was explained to me really, I should of pushed them for what their theories were on this, but nobody seemed keen to talk about it.

I felt nothing, and wasn’t aware of it, before or since. But the specialist suggested it
could become a problem at any time, and he wanted me to have a pacemaker fitted just in case. I reluctantly agreed.

I was told there wouldn’t be a place for the surgery until January though, 3 weeks away.

memoir-heart-attack-pacemaker

She Explained About My Med’s. I Didn’t Hear A Word

After five days I was allowed to go home. I had one last person to see, the specialist that
worked out the best medications for my particular conditions. I heard her coming
from the other side of the hospital.

She wasn’t a nurse as such so wore normal clothes. She wore a pair of awesome high heeled leather boots that were rather kinky, and very noisy on the hospitals tiled flooring.

She must surely have known that, on top of being a very attractive young woman they were attention grabbers, to say the least.

Think about it, she is working among heart attack patients. Anyway, She explained my medications to me, and I didn’t hear a word of it. I was thinking about those boots.

The Twisted Logic Of An Addict

The next day I was given a free lift home by the hospital mini-bus. It felt like coming
home from holiday. I felt fantastic, whether it was because I now had clear arteries or I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in five days I didn’t know, but as the bus pulled up outside my flat all I could think of was a decent cup of tea…. and a smoke.

I hadn’t planned my non-smoking strategy past leaving the hospital. and my brain took full advantage.

memoir-heart-attack-tea-and-smoke
A smoke and a cuppa on my porch.

Brain: “Go on , one cigarette won’t hurt, you deserve it, you did well for five days, you kept your promise, got to have a smoke with a great mug of tea like that. It took over 40 years of smoking to clog up just one artery, I doubt you’ll live another 40 years, so what the hell…..”

And so I started smoking again. That there, is the twisted logic of an addict!

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

As I have said in other stories, I live in a brilliant place with fantastic neighbours. Most of them came to see me and offered help with things like getting shopping and newspapers, some still do to this day.

memoir-heart-attack-my-place
The discreet cul-de-sac, where I hide away from the world.

It goes without saying that my little sister Karen helped me out all the time, and made several long trips to visit me to bring me clothes and supplies to the hospital.

Slumming It On The Wards

In January 2012 I went back to The Royal Brompton as an NHS patient, and had to slum it in the NHS wards.

I was not happy, the ward was full of people I didn’t want to talk to, there was little attention paid to us by the over-stretched nurses, and overall it was pretty grim, I had been spoiled by private health care.

I wanted to go into my shell. So I made things worse by pulling the curtain around
my bed which the nurses didn’t like as they need to keep an eye on patients. The other patients must have thought I was a snob or something, but I just needed to be in my shell at that time.

Kinky Boots Returns

One bright spot that cheered me up a little was the girl with the boots was working at
a desk within my line of sight, just outside my bed-space, I resolved to chat her up.

memoir-heart-attack-sexy-boots

I made an excuse to call her over to my bed and to my great disappointment she wasn’t wearing the boots.

What happened to your boots?” I asked her.
“I got asked to not wear them”, was all she would tell me, we both knew why, though, far too sexy for a heart attack ward full of men!

For some reason, I had to stay in overnight, and my operation was to be in the early
morning.

Cancelled On The Operating Table

When my turn came I was put on the operating table and left there for an absolute age whilst several doctors were going over my computer records. In the end the surgeon came over to me and said;

We have decided you don’t need a pacemaker. The operation is cancelled, are you okay with that?”

I told you strange things happen to me, how many people do you know that get their
heart op’ cancelled whilst laying on the operating table?

The doctor explained that as far as he was concerned I was too young for a pacemaker. I was 52 and would have to have another operation every five years to change the battery and stuff.

They reckoned the odds of my heart not restarting after one of its random stops in my sleep were so small as to not be worth the cost, the risk, or my discomfort. I agreed and
went home, a bit bemused by it all.

Seven Years Later

Today, (March 2019), over seven years later. I have signs of the symptoms returning again, but so far I have managed to hold out, probably due to all the medications I am on to thin my blood and keep my Cholesterol down.

I am still getting the occasional chest pain, out of breath, sweating easily, arm or leg going numb and\or pins and needles, and random hot flushes.

I try to exercise at home the best I can, like walking up and down my steep flight of stairs, or doing simple weight training exercises, but I am still sitting at my computer for about 16-18 hours a day, and smoking 25 or more roll-ups a day.

But my blood pressure is fine!

memoir-heart-attack-stop-smoking

The End

Dedicated to all the great staff of The Royal Brompton & Harefield hospital.

Heart Attack is © Steve Bale 2016-2020 and cannot be reproduced in part or
in full without express written permission from the author.

Why Am I Writing My Memoirs?

My other Memoirs so far:

A Short, Sharp, Shock!

On The Run

The Water Cupboard

The Landlord

Tottenham

Grand National

Daisy of Muswell Hill

Red Kitchen

ADHD What it’s really like

Wasp Stings

If you are interested in programming then check out my free Python blog.

If you want to contact me for sensible reasons, then you are welcome.

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