|Where I was on Wednesday. source|
I had a heart attack on Sunday night. (25 January 2015)
Yes, I'm still alive and in good spirits, well sort of good spirits. I'm grateful to God for my being alive, even though I don't deserve this. I'm humbled by the number of people who contacted my family voicing their concerns and praying to God for me, from Australia to England, amazing. To everyone I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and gratitude. Thank you.
So, what can you expect should you have a Heart Attack in Africa? Here is my experience.
I will try to break this up into pre-heart attack, the moment it happened, the treatment and post treatment.
There are a few things to take into consideration here; I'm not overweight, only 63 kilograms or about 130 pounds. I've been stable at this weight for the past 30 odd years.
Fitness, in my case, had declined a bit since I left Cape Town. Taking walks alone in Johannesburg is not safe, muggings do occur very often here. In Cape Town I had the farm, the hill, the beach and the whole area was safe, no muggings. The point I'm trying to make here is I stopped walking and now go by car, which by the way isn't exactly safe either, smash and grab, hijackings and so on. But my level of fitness has dropped somewhat.
I have been a smoker for about forty plus years. There were the odd periods when I stopped, once for up to six years but I am and always was a smoker. Expensive and not very clever. I was drinking quite a bit of red wine. South African wines are amongst the finest wines in the world, on a par with the finest French wines, so there's my excuse. I'm also a God honoring practicing Christian of nearly 60 years of age.
A few weeks ago I was finding that my left arm was sore and uncomfortable, not excruciatingly painful, just tight and sort of cramped. I'd stretch it out to my left to try relieve the discomfort. I did know that this was a pre-cursor to a heart attack and was a bit concerned but, not knowing what to do about it, I endured it without complaint. What else was there to do? Another thing I found was the degree of exhaustion I was experiencing on a daily basis. I'd go to work and get really busy in the morning, but by one in the afternoon I was tired. By three, all I wanted to do was lie down and have a sleep. This was something I couldn't understand, I'd slept well, I was eating properly, there was stuff to do so boredom wasn't involved. I just could not understand why I was so tired. The other thing that I experience was an inability to get my head around things, sort of disorientated. At the time I was thinking it had something to do with the wine I had had the evening before, like a hangover, but not quite the same, it even affected my vision which wouldn't quite focus properly.
Okay, so there you have the impression I have of the prelude to this life changing event in my life. There are I'm sure, many more things I haven't taking into account, probably because I didn't notice them at the time. So, without further speculation on what I didn't notice, lets move on to the fateful day.
The Moment it happened.
This event happened at about 11.30 on Sunday night, South Africa time of course.
I live alone and most of my home time is spent watching movies or reading what I would consider interesting articles on the internet. Friday evening in front of the computer with a bottle of wine and something to eat, plus of course my cigarettes. Saturday getting a bit of shopping done then back to the computer till about midnight. Sunday morning off to church, clean the house and by evening back for a movie or two before bed. All through the weekend I had periods of sleep during the day, up to about 4 hours at a time.
At about 11.30. On Sunday evening I had had enough of watching movies and decided to go to bed. I stood up and went to the bathroom to get a headache powder, I had had some wine and didn't want to wake up in the morning with a headache. As I put my head back to take the powder I felt a very intense painful discomfort in the middle of my chest. It felt like my heart was cramping. Definitely my heart, I could take deep breaths without any further discomfort, My ribs were not sore nor were the muscles outside the rib-cage. I bent over the basin and everything I had eaten came out in a rush, not like retching as is usual but more like a natural thing to do, no taste and no extra discomfort just out it came.
I stood there clutching my chest trying to calm myself down and, at the same time, trying to work out what was going on. Why would red wine and pork chops cause me to vomit and why would it give me chest pains? I was very confused but turned to the Lord and asked Him to please not take me tonight. Why I asked that I have no idea. The pain in my chest wasn't like someone sitting on my chest, it was inside and felt more like a cramp. Another thing I was experiencing was cramping in my upper back between my shoulder blades. This was most uncomfortable and disconcerting. Oh, I also had a feeling in my throat a bit like indigestion, in fact very much like acid re-flux.
I took another headache powder, the first one had gone down the drain, literally. These powders I'm talking about, "Grandpa Headache Powders" contain Aspirin so, in my thinking, this was probably a good thing. The Cardiologist who later treated me agreed, it probably saved my life. After this I closed up the house and went to bed hoping to get through the night without further ado. After some rolling about in bed trying to get comfortable I did fall asleep, four hours later I was up trying to cope with the pain in my chest and back. I'm not sure if what I did next was such a good thing but no-one has told me any different yet. I took a very strong painkiller, something I had left over from when I was injured and hospitalized previously. It didn't help me sleep but by 8.30 on Monday morning the chest pain had let up.
My intention at this stage was to spend the day in bed resting. I got hold of my brother and explained I was not going to the factory and he was going to have to open up for the guys. This is generally one of my tasks, open up in the mornings and locking up at night. I did explain that I had chest pain, can't remember what his reaction was. Toni my younger sister called at about 8 am to ask me about something, not quite sure what, but before she got around to it I told her what had happened. All chaos broke loose.
First thing she wanted to do was drive all the way out to Mid-rand, about 40 kilometers away, to come fetch me to take me to her doctor. At the time I was feeling okay so was not open to that. Eventually we decided that I would drive to her work and then we could go to the doctor. Okay cool. Shelley, my daughter, would meet us at the consulting rooms and we would go on from there. This is what did take place. The doctor took blood samples and gave me an ECG. The graph looked normal enough but the blood samples would need to be analyzed before he would know what had happened, fair enough. This analysis took 2 hours, probably less for the actual analysis, but transport and so on takes time. His final call was, "Mr Maritz, you definitely have had a heart attack and need to go to Johannesburg General Hospital as soon as you can." Ouch, what a thing to hear. I had been hoping it was not a heart attack and hearing the confirmation was quite a disappointment, oh well such is life.
During the two hour wait I had gone to my sister's place to relax. I phoned Toni to let her know the results of the test and asked her to get hold of Shelley, my daughter, to take me to hospital. She arrived about 45 minutes later and we were off. It took a bit of working out how to get to the hospital itself. Neither of us had been to this particular hospital within the last 30 odd years and even though we both knew where the hospital was, getting to it involved various twist and turns. We got to cardiac admissions at about 14.30, about 15 hours after the event.
The doctor at the admissions took blood samples and repeated the ECG, same results. They had me in high care straight away while I waited to be admitted to cardiac intensive care. I did feel alright but the chest pain had come back, I think the painkiller had worn off. The rest of the time, up until I had the Angiogram, was quite boring. I was finally admitted to intensive care at 10.30 in the evening. They hooked me up to monitoring machines and did all the same tests again. Stuck needles into my stomach, something to do with thinning my blood, there were pills for cholesterol and a half an aspirin tablet. Very uncomfortable night, tied up in tubes and cables running to machines and drips. Very noisy place too. Wow!
I found the day shift nursing staff great to get on with, very attentative and present. The night time staff on the other hand were something else altogether.
The ICU unit was pretty well equipped and clean with full sheets and good attention. I had heard, from who knows where, that the cardiac unit was probably the best in Johannesburg, even better than most private hospitals (which I couldn't afford).
I was taken for an Angiogram early on Monday morning and the whole thing was complete before 10.
They took me into room that had large white machines and a narrow bed in it. I couldn't get a good look at everything, I was on a gurney lying flat on my back. I was asked to scooch over on to the funny bed, which I duly did, and they began to work on me. Just a little shave on both my upper, inner thighs, cleaning with alcohol swabs, wow, so cold, and then a whole lot of green covers. Apparently they were going to use lots of water and this was to prevent me from getting drenched.
Cardiac surgeon, Doctor MC Cutcheon, was going to be performing the operation on me, nice guy. He gave me an injection to numb the skin where he would be operating, then made a small incision in my right groin and inserted a tube so that the machines could could do what they were about to do, and put in one stitch to hold everything in place.
Various dies were injected in to my blood system and, as far as I could understand, a mildly radioactive fluid. With the patient now prepared the machines came to life. Around my upper body was a cone of clear space in which the imaging equipment would rotate in three planes. The bed too could move forwards and backwards. This allowed those operating the apparatus to give the doctor images from almost anywhere. They could place the transmitter anywhere from my chin pointing at my heart, to transmitting from my groin and any place to either side of that. Quite amazing actually.
In front of the doctor above my body were three monitors that could also be moved out of the way should it be required. This operation is, without a shadow of doubt, a joint effort involving a whole bunch of people. People on the other side of a wall with a large window in it, were working with the computers, while those in the room with us were doing all sorts of things, and then there was the cardiologist himself, doing all sorts of things all the while directing the others and telling me what was going on. After the initial tube insertion the rest was not painful and very interesting. I could even see the monitors and see where the narrowing of one artery was without even having to be shown. Doctor MC Cutcheon did a pressure test on either side of the restriction and found the pressure on the lower end was a little below what it should be but still well within acceptable levels. He turned to me and told me things were not bad, this could be treated with medication and wouldn't require open heart surgery. Whew! Good news indeed.
Operation over and now time to get back onto the gurney I had arrived on. I was not allowed to bend the leg in which the tube inserted. In order to perform this particular type of surgery it is necessary to thin the blood considerably with some form of substance injected through the tube in my leg. The tube had to stay in my leg for six hours to ensure there would be no internal bleeding. For me to lie in one position for six hours is, I must admit, almost impossible. Once the tube was removed I would have to remain still so that no external nor internal bleeding could take place. This is a major artery and a bleed could very easily and very quickly lead to a final goodbye. Twelve hours, not six, how depressing but you know what? When you know your very life depends on it, you can do it, I did.
When I was wheeled back into the ICU ward they had re-coupled all the pipes and wires reapplying all those little sticky things that they attach wires to. Man, when they pull them off it really hurts. (I've got a very hairy chest.) Each day I was in intensive care a day shift sister was assigned to look after me exclusively. The same for night shift. There were, in retrospect, so many people involved with me. Absolutely amazing.
My ECG's and other things they were using to monitor all showed normal and stable so on Thursday morning when Doctor MC Cutcheon came to have a last look at me and I was discharged by about 9 in the morning. Before leaving I was visited by the Nutritionist and given some information on what to eat, when and what to avoid. This is after all a life changing event and trust me, everything changes.
So, if you have a heart attack anywhere in sub-equatorial Africa, this is pretty much what you can expect. Your condition before the attack and what it feels like, well that's how it felt to me, what to do as soon as possible, where to head for and who to ask for.
There are a huge number of people and other goings on that I have not told you about but that involves the reaction of myself since and that of my family and friends.
Just to let you know, I've stopped smoking, I eat much more healthily and way more expensively, am more connected to my widespread family but, most importantly, I'm way better connected to my God who has seen fit to give this stupid man a little more time here in the world. May I bring Him honor and praise from all who read this post.
Heart attacks aren't always fatal, just extremely uncomfortable and life changing.
This has been a very long post, especially written for those who have had a heart attack affect their families. Chin up knowing God himself will stand by you, because He loves you, Jesus told us that long ago.
Blessings from Geoff.