James' story

Published Thu, 23 Nov 2017 by

On 21 December 2016, I was at home as usual. I’m a self-employed book editor and my commute is the 10 seconds or so it takes to get to the spare bedroom.

My wife and two young daughters were staying with my wife’s parents, travelling home that afternoon. I’d just had a sandwich for lunch and was heading back to my desk to read the brief for a new project.

Suddenly I felt a strong pain as if someone were grinding their knuckles as hard as they could into the centre of my chest. I couldn’t concentrate on the brief, so I started tidying my younger daughter’s bedroom. The pain eased and I tried to get back to work, but soon it was back again. This time I went round with the hoover, which took my mind off the pain to a certain extent but didn’t get rid of it. I think I did some ironing next.

After an hour or two of heavy pain and light chores, I decided I should probably call 111. The woman I spoke to told me that she was sending a paramedic. “Are you sure that’s really necessary?” I asked. I was 44 at the time, had never smoked, drank moderately, maintained a healthy weight and was fairly active (although by no means an exercise fanatic). I’d certainly never needed emergency medical attention.

My wife and children got home while I was on the phone and the paramedic arrived minutes later. GTN spray and aspirin eased the pain but my ECG was abnormal, so the paramedic called for an ambulance and soon I was in A&E at University Hospital Coventry. By now I was feeling much better and eagerly awaiting the result of the second troponin test, which I was expecting would tell my wife and me that we could go home. Instead I was wheeled up to a ward, connected to a heart monitor, given a bracing injection in the stomach and told I’d had a heart attack.

‘Quite a mild heart attack, though?’ I asked the doctor. ‘Mmm. Medium,’ she replied.

At around 3am I arrived in the Coronary Care Unit and the following morning I had an angiogram, which diagnosed a SCAD in the septal branch of my LAD and in the same process pushed the offending flap of artery wall back in place.

I got home on the evening of Christmas Eve and spent Christmas in (even more of) a sofa-bound daze (than usual). I don’t think I made it into the kitchen for a week. It was the shock that affected me more than anything else, and I felt quite low and lethargic for some weeks.

But gradually things have got better. I was put in touch with a SCAD veteran who lives less than a mile away. She came to see me and told me about her experience, which really helped. She also encouraged me to join a cardiac rehab programme and the SCAD Facebook group, both of which were important steps in my recovery. And I had a very positive appointment with Dr Abi Al-Hussaini at Glenfield Hospital, who reassured me that I was healing well and even ready to resume hoovering duties. But above all my family has been a great support.

Nine months on, I feel pretty much back to normal. I think about what happened a lot and I still get pain from time to time, although nothing like as bad as before, but I’ve learned to just take this as a sign to slow down. I can’t say I’m a completely new person – I’m still pretty grumpy – but my SCAD experience has made me appreciate how lucky I am.