26 Jun 2012

Living through a heart attack

As Captain Walker posted, yesterday I experienced a heart attack. Not likely to forget it although in some ways the experience is dreamlike. For one thing, I had a clear and active mind throughout and I could not believe it was happening to me.

At 2 am I experienced the first wave of pain. To describe it as a fist squeezing my chest is a bit cliche but the oft described feelings are highly accurate. And NOT TO BE IGNORED!!

I was connected to an ECG machine and the result...change in the reading. Just having the change was enough to have the doctors called out... at 2 am, the Registrar and Senior House Officer were both present, INSIDE TWO MINUTES. You read that right.

I was given several medications through a cannula... straight into the veins. Morphine was given right into the blood stream. I felt better within a few minutes but there was a repeat episode, exactly duplicated in pattern and response, at 4 am.

At minutes after 5 I began to think thoughts as follows: if a person is near death and begin to pray, does the subconscious realise the paradox and laugh at us? Because I can't imagine the subconscious even begin to follow the conscious even in a grave situation as that. Hence my post on Facebook. I wasn't praying, merely wondering in those who pray whether the difference occurs to them... or provide comfort. :-)

At minutes to 6 I felt sick so I told the nurse and asked for a vomit bowl. I couldn't describe how I was feeling, just that I was sick. I began sweating, literally pouring off me, within seconds. In the five or so seconds after the vomit bowl (made of compressed paper) was in my hands I retched, sweated, had a dizziness come on me, vision went dark, and became unresponsive, all while my brain knew what was going on.

Luckily, the emergency drew on the skills of an exceptionally well-trained and experienced staff. No need for words between them, really. The junior doctor began inserting a second cannula in my right arm and taking bloods. The night nurse coordinator, most senior on duty (incidentally a very young Philippino nurse) began to draw the correct dosage of medication into syringes and pass to the doctor (SHO) to inject into into the cannula in my left elbow area. The junior nurse documented everything, even the meds as they were given.

I was given morphine, anticoagulants and blood thinners. Enoxyparin, a blood thinner, is injected into my stomach... 80 mg ... my stomach is blue black where the blood has leached out of the capillaries...

All the while the junior doctor is prodding me and asking "Are you still with us, sir?" Note that... in even an emergency the respect afforded to the patient!!

I was stabilized and wheeled into the theatre, bed and all, ( yes, bed included) where I was transferred to the theatre table and the procedure carried out.

By 6:20 am, within half hour of the attack, I was back on the cardiac ward recuperating. The quality of care is impressive.

What is further impressive is the after discharge care but that is a separate post yet to come, although booklets had been left on my bed to describe both the heart attack and after discharge care service.

Throughout the emergency itself a member of staff was also on the phone putting together the theatre team... within minutes they were ready although I heard two members of staff saying they'd park in a no park zone outside the theatre to get in quickly. They may be fined £90 for that... yes, laws in England are obeyed even in extenuating circumstances.

Amazingly, my Troponin (enzyme released after heart damage) is normal... meaning my heart wasn't even given time to become damaged! The medications were injected during the attack and certainly proved that every second counts. My advice... don't delay seeking help. Question your doctors if you feel the treatment is not satisfactory. Report them if you have to. Don't block emergency staff. Cooperate with staff when instructed and remember... it could happen to you or to a loved one. Death is the ultimate leveller.

All in all, a revelation in health care and outstandingly impressive compared to what I noticed on the Rock.

More to come on after care.