Regular readers will know my brother, Gary Rule, passed away two days ago.
He died in his sleep. His wife, Lynda, woke up at 2am next to his lifeless body. That’s about as horrible as things get, I reckon.
I understand Gary was experiencing chest pains before he went to bed, but refused to be taken to hospital, shrugging the pains off as nothing to be concerned about…because that’s what men do.
Events like this always leave us terribly confronted with our own mortality. Gary was 60. I had just been to his birthday party. I am a year older. So consider me confronted.
I guess that’s what’s prompted me to tell you about my heart attack. I haven’t told this to many people and I have certainly never written about it.
I’m one of them dogs that tends to lick his wounds alone.
But I also think my story may, in some small way, help someone. And if only one of you salty bastards makes an effort as a result of this piece, then I’d consider it a great success.
So here’s what happened to me about nine years ago…
I had been to a funeral at Ourimbah, on the Central Coast of NSW. I’d had two beers, two joints, and some pretty woeful sausage rolls, and I was travelling back home with Darren, Biffa, and Bly, in Darren’s car.
I started to feel unwell about halfway back to Sydney. I thought it was the dodgy sausso roll. I felt a little nauseous, and I wanted to pee. Teach me for eating funeral food, I thought, as I told Darren to pull over so I could have a piss. I figured some fresh air might help.
I was in no pain. I just felt off.
Darren pulled over. I stepped over the Armco, walked a few metres, a little unsteadily, in retrospect, but that may have been because the joints were so much better than the sausage rolls, unzipped and pissed.
I certainly felt nauseous. But not to the point of throwing up. Just sick. I don’t normally get car-sick, but maybe the sausso roll/joint combo was the culprit.
I zipped up and turned around, to see my mates looking pointedly at me.
“Fuck mate,” Darren said. “You OK? You look like shit.”
“You’re fucken grey,” Biffa advised me.
“I think the sausso roll was dodgy.”
“Maybe get in the front seat. You might be less sick.”
I felt that was an excellent suggestion, hopped in the front, opened the widow for air, and Darren merged back onto the freeway.
I sure did feel like shit. But I was in no pain, so the thought of a heart attack was nowhere in my mind. Beating the prick who gave me the sausso rolls certainly was. It was food poisoning. What else could it be?
I got home, told my wife, Lynette, I was feeling unwell because of funeral food, and told her I was gonna take a shower and lie down.
In my world, showers fix 99 per cent of all male maladies. Lying down, if that ever needs to happen, sorts the other one per cent out.
“You never get food poisoning,” my wife said. “I have seen you eat the most appalling things and you never ever get ill.”
“Funeral sausso rolls are my Kryptonite,” I told her, showered and went to lie down.
The shower didn’t help. I was still feeling queasy and somewhat light-headed. But entirely pain-free.
It was Friday. I slept fitfully, pissed often, and had a pretty average weekend. The nausea slowly departed, but I was feeling listless and wrung out. Fucken sausso rolls, huh?
I went to work on Monday. I went to work for the rest of the week. I even went to the gym and hoiked weights like a mad fuck, telling myself that weakness would leave my body if only I lifted enough iron.
I went to work the following week as well, but come Wednesday night, my wife confronted me.
“Go to the doctor, fool.”
“Why? I’m not ill. I just feel a little tired and…well, off, I guess.”
“You look like shit. Go to the fucken doctor.”
I went to the doctor. I told him what had happened, and while I thought ten days was a bit long to be getting over food poisoning, I was OK. Kinda.
My doctor was a good one. He is actually George Miller’s twin brother, John. Yes, the Mad Max George Miller. And he’s the man I credit with saving my wife’s life with his diagnosis. He felt her issues were a bit more serious than an “iron deficiency” (her previous diagnosis), and discovered her bowel cancer.
So Dr Miller was not taking any of my shit. In moments he’d wired me up to an ECG, looked at the read-out and told me I’d had a heart attack.
“Fuck off,” I said. “That’s not possible.”
“These inverted T-waves here say otherwise,” Dr Miller observed. “But let’s take some blood, just to be sure.”
He bled me, I wayed half-an-hour in the waiting room, when he called me back in and told me the blood results confirmed that I had indeed had a heart attack.
“Fuck off,” I said again. “I’ve been to work. I’ve been to the gym. How could I have had a heart attack? There’s been no pain. Nothing.”
Dr Miller gave me one of those looks doctors give patients who are raving imbeciles.
“The human body doesn’t always run to a script. The troponin count indicates you have had an infarction. I want you in a cardiologist’s office this afternoon.”
He immediately started making phone calls and arranged for me to visit Dr Gunasekara, who had his rooms down the road.
I called my wife and told her what had happened.
“I fucken told you!” she said. I could hear the tension in her voice. Me getting sick was not an option. She was the one with cancer. I was the carer. I took her to all her chemo, her medical appointments, and I looked after her as she fought the monster. I could not be sick.
Dr Gunasekara was a jolly fellow. He sent me for a non-invasive angiogram the next day.
No big deal, either. They inject you with dye, scan you, make you walk on a treadmill for a bit, then scan you again.
I was feeling kinda OK by this stage. Not 100 per cent, but who the fuck feels 100 per cent these days?
I was back in Dr Gunasekara’s office two days later. My wife was with me. She had insisted on going.
He examined my results, then told me all sorts of stuff I really didn’t want to hear.
“You have had a heart attack. Your right coronary artery is almost completely blocked. I’m actually surprised and pleased you’re sitting here at the moment.”
“What happens now?” I asked. Terror had unmanned me, but I was keeping it together as best I could. And I still was unconvinced. A heart attack? Me? Ge the fuck out of here.
“I will try and stent the artery. If I cannot do that, then we will have to get you in for open-heart surgery and perform a bypass.”
“When will you know if you can stent his heart?” my wife asked. I did not have the saliva available to ask anything.
“When we start to deploy the stents.”
“You any good at this?” I asked. It was a stupid thing to ask, but I was not at the top of my wit-game right then.
“I’m just a plumber,” Dr Gunasekara grinned. “But I feel I’m a good one.”
A week later I was in hospital for the stenting.
A bizarre and unsettling procedure. I was awake for it all, but mildly sedated, presumably so I would not buck and scream and shower my arterial blood all over the theatre.
There are two ways the stenting procedure can go. They either stick a stent-deployment thingo though the radial vein in your arm, or, if that vein is too bitch-like, they go through the femoral artery in your leg. Pray to your gods that your radial vein is not a bitch.
Mine wasn’t. I remember lying on my side in a very cold operating theatre, out of it as fuck, but conscious, and Dr Gunasekara holding my right arm and gently tugging it from time to time. While he tugged he would mutter things to the surgical team, none of which I understood or heard clearly. But each time the tugging stopped, I would hear him say: “Stent deployed”.
I heard that lots of times. As it turned out, Dr Gunasekara had placed five stents into my right coronary artery. Which, I am told, is quite a lot.
“How do you feel?” he asked me when he’d finished and I was lying there feeling kinda cold.
“OK, I guess,” I said. What else was I gonna say to him?
“Can you see the two screens here?”
I looked up and saw two monitors just above the table I was on. I nodded.
“This is your heart before the stenting,” he said, pointing at the thumping blob on the left-hand screen. “And this is your heart after the stenting…just let me turn that all on.”
Then he did something and I saw the right-hand thumping blob and its attendant veins and arteries suddenly fill with what I assumed was blood. I instantly felt pretty damn fine.
“It is like the Nile in flood now,” Dr Gunasekara chortled.
I was wheeled out and put into a ward with other stentees.
The bloke next to me had had his stents done via his femoral artery and the pressure bandage they’d put on him failed not long after I was wheeled in. It was a very bloody affair. Your femoral artery is like a hose when it comes to spraying blood. Spectacular.
I had a pressure cuff, a thick band not much bigger than a watch-strap, on my right wrist. And it was very tight and very uncomfortable. Each hour, a nurse would come in and let some air out of it, and it got a little less painful each time. The pressure cuff was the most uncomfortable thing of the whole procedure.
The next day I was out of hospital. The day after I was back at the gym, feeling better than I’d felt in ages.
I was prescribed a new anti-platelet-forming drug called Brilinta, something called Ikorel, which looks after the small veins, Crestor which deals with my cholesterol levels (not that they are that high), and I take an aspirin every day.
And that was it. At some point in the future, I may have to get the stents replaced.
I guess the point of sharing all this is for people to understand that heart attacks are not always what you think they are. I had no pain. No jaw pain. No arm pain. No chest pain. I just felt off.
And heart attacks still kill way more people than cancer, no matter what they feel like.
Far be it for me to offer anyone any advice. It’s not like I’m any kind of anything to aspire to. But I exercise regularly, and always have. I’m physically strong, and I have no arthritis. Resistance training is my god. Lift weights. Live longer and stronger, I guess.
But you do you. But while you’re doing that, maybe get yourself one of them non-invasive angiograms. Check your life-pump out. You may be fine, in which case it’s just a day or so out of your busy schedule.
Or you may be on the brink of catastrophic heart failure. In which case, the angiogram may save your life.
You see, you just never know where your heart is concerned. We all feel rundown and tired from time to time. Modern living is like that. And it may be just that.
Or it may be something that will kill you like a panting dog.
It maybe pays to find out.
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