Monday, November 23, 2009

Death Cometh - With Stethoscope Or Scythe ?

17 years ago to the day, I woke up with a pain in the neck.

After she left to do some shopping, I enjoyed the rest of the day.

Oh what a wag ! No seriously, I did wake up with a pain in my neck. And I didn't feel too well either. It was actually a continuation of the previous evening when I'd returned from playing badminton and didn't feel good at all.

That was because on 22nd November 1992, a date that will live in infamy, I'd had a heart attack.

It wasn't your standard arm grabbing, chest clutching, staggering 100 meters to find a dramatic place to collapse type of heart attack. It was more a feel sick, back hurts, neck hurts sort of deal and so it was hardly a surprise that even for a self diagnosed hypochondriac like myself, the idea that I'd suffered a heart attack didn't come immediately to mind.

Just as well as the stress would've probably given me another one and finished me off !

Now ME not knowing I'd had a heart attack was one thing. My doctor not knowing it was quite another. And not knowing it for over 2 months while many of the symptoms persisted was enough for me, and others who are unhappily still his patients, to call him Dr. Death. Not because he's in the habit of killing people. Oh no.

He's just in the habit of not realising when death is approaching and doing much of anything about it !!

It was only after many weeks of having pains in my neck (probably a pulled muscle from excessive badminton, was the diagnosis from Dr. Death) that I decided to put my company membership of BUPA (private medical cover in the UK) to good use and go see a proper doctor.
One with a white coat and stethoscope so I KNEW he was qualified. After a few quick tests and a disturbingly brief run on a treadmill with a crash cart next to me (never a confidence builder), Dr. White Coat passed me up the fashion ladder to Dr. Black Suit who looked at my chart, gave a few tuts, mumbled "that's not good" which I can tell you is even less of a confidence builder, and immediately booked me in for an angiogram.

"An angiogram ?" I spluttered, feeling my heart beating a lot faster and sweat appearing from every orifice.

"Yes, an angiogram. We need to see what damage was done by the heart attack," said Dr. Black Suit in a rather casual matter-of-fact way.

"HEART ATTACK !!!!," I gasped, in true theatrical fashion.

At least that's what I said out loud. In my mind I was thinking.......WTF. I'm 40. I don't smoke. I don't drink and I weigh less than Kate Moss after a binge session at a Chinese buffet. Well ok that last bit isn't strictly accurate but the rest is.....was.

Well thank you, Dr. Death. Thanks a bunch. That's how we like to be informed we've had a major medical meltdown. Oh sorry.......pulled muscle. Silly me.

And so, thanks to BUPA, a couple of days later I had the angiogram and we all found out that I'd more blocked passages than a Swiss tunnel in February. I needed a quadruple bypass and I needed it...well about 2 months previously, if truth be told.

In stepped the magnificent Dr. Nair who gave me a 5 for 4 special BUPA offer :

"You only really need 4 bypasses but while I'm in there, I'll do a 5th." said the smartly dressed little cardiothoracic surgeon from some far flung outpost of the old Empire. Hoping he didn't moonlight in a Bradford call centre, I entrusted my life to him and his team and 17 years after my quintuple bypass, I think I can say with some degree of confidence, that he did a damn fine job.

As for Dr. Death, well he's still practicing and never was that word more appropriate. I switched doctors after my surgery and so he hasn't practiced on me for the best part of 17 years.

I suspect....hell I KNOW......that's why I'm still here.


Jennyta said...

Apparently, a lot of heart attacks are missed in women because they don't present with the traditional pain in the arm etc. Very worrying, but thank goodness you were with BUPA and so had a back up system.

Milo said...

Awful to think you were mis-diagnosed. What causes heart attacks - high blood pressure, cholesterol? I don't know much about these things. You don't drink, right?

I know you sometimes tease me about my fondness for red wine, but there was an article in the Telegraph just recently about how drinking (quite a lot!) of red wine can drastically reduce heart disease (heart disease is what causes heart attacks, right??) Again, I don't know.

Frightening that there were no indications. I mean, you didn't smoke, you did exercise, etc, awful to think that even doing that, you could have a heart attack at 40. It can run in families though I think?

Glad that you had BUPA and all worked out OK.

Daphne said...

Chilling to read and I think it's fitting that I've spent the afternoon today working with medical students and qualified doctors who were telling them, amongst other things, that heart attack symptoms can vary quite a lot and not follow the traditional crushing-pain-in-chest route.
The original doctor you saw is, as we both know, the one who nearly killed my Dad a couple of years ago by failing to do - -well, anything, really.
Thank goodness for the bypass surgery and here's to many more great years for you.

rhymeswithplague said...

Glad you're still here, up and about, and blogging. The alternative is just too depressing to think about.

Jim Fixx, the guy who popularized running for one's health, dropped dead at 45.

Ruth said...

Happy anniversary for yesterday.
Although the delivery of the bad news might not have been ideal, thank goodness you got the right diagnosis and subsequent surgery in time. Good to have you with us.

Katherine said...

Wow. Yes, Happy Anniversary Silverback! And many more!

Jay said...

Ah, yes .. I know the syndrome well. Not one, but TWO doctors I showed my mouth cancer to said 'Oh, that's interesting, let's just see if it goes away on its own, shall we', or variations on such.

When I showed it to my dentist, he said 'I'll refer you straight away!' and there you are. At least someone knew what he was looking at. Thank God.

And Dr Deaths exist in veterinary circles too. My poor Susan was tutted over by our vet, who did nothing except faff about until I insisted on a referral to a vet school where they more or less instantly discovered she had kidney cancer, which had (by now, after all the non action) spread to her lungs. She did not survive. I still feel I failed her by not insisting sooner. You can live without a kidney, but not lungs. :(

I'm very happy you had that BUPA membership!! Happy anniversary!

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Isn't it marvellous what modern medicine can do for us. A hundred years back you would be dead, I would be dead and certainly my next door neighbour William would be dead - he's just recovering from ten hour surgery on a benign brain tumour. Thank heavens we were born in post war Britain.

Expat mum said...

Came via Brit Out of Water. Great post and I'm glad you're now fit and healthy. I was once with a woman who was having a heart attack and we didn't know it. Felt faint, sweaty but cold. She even tried to drive herself home from work but had to stop at a hospital when it became too much. Thank goodness.

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