Introduction by Margaret Sheard  …

Caroline Attwood is known by many with her involvement, together with husband Don, in many KADS performances.  Recently Caroline had the misfortune to suffer an acute heart attack and she feels it may be of benefit to others to write about the symptoms which, at the time, she did not acknowledge as being particularly important.

Dicky Ticker …
By Caroline Attwood …

When I was doing my 112 training I recall being told the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and being warned that women can differ quite considerably from men in how their symptoms present themselves. At the time, having a heart attack myself was not exactly foremost in my mind – but that all changed earlier this month.

It began on the Monday – a pain between my 3rd and 4th ribs on my left side. It was an irritant rather than a major problem and my first thought was that I had pulled a muscle. So I took a painkiller and carried on. By Monday evening the pain had spread a bit, making my left breast feel rather sore but it still bore little resemblance to a classic heart symptom.

Over the following days the pain continued to expand across my upper left side, both front and back. It ran across my back beneath my left shoulder blade, down my left arm and eventually it was up into my jaw and my teeth. The strangest aspect was that every few words I would give a loud burp! The only missing symptoms were sweating and feeling sick – which are common to the condition. Being an obstinate soul and disliking fuss I carried on sticking my head in the sand, hoping it would all go away; specifically as we were booked to fly back to the UK to join our families in celebrating my husband, Don’s, eightieth birthday.

I took a lot of pain killers and carried on until Friday morning when I had to give in, and went to the Kyrenia University Hospital in Karakum. By then I knew full well that I was having a heart attack – which they confirmed within a very short time of my arrival. Blood tests, ECG etc were all carried out immediately. The upshot was that the surgeons decided to avoid major surgery and put two stents into my aorta – the massive artery that runs from the heart and carries oxygen around the body. One side was 70% blocked and the other branch was 80% blocked. When you consider that the aorta is about an inch thick that is a lot of restriction.

A stent can be put in via your groin or your wrist. Mine went in via the right wrist. A wire is fed up to the heart, a balloon is blown up inside the aorta to stretch it back to size and shape and then the stent (a piece of fine mesh) is put in place to hold the aorta open. Did it hurt? No. It was an almost pain free operation under local anaesthetic (I don’t like needles), the only definite sensation is when the balloons expand – which felt a bit peculiar. From my arrival at 10.30 to completion was probably a couple of hours and then I was wafted off to intensive care, in which I stayed for a day and a half before being moved to a private room. Four days after my arrival I was allowed home. The care was exceptional, the surgeons told me everything that was going on, what they were doing and why and I watched it all happening by craning my neck around the masses of equipment and peering up at the screens as they carried out the task. Fascinating.

Looking back I can see that there were symptoms that maybe I should have noticed and acted upon. A tendency to sit down and fall asleep, to feel fatigued. Cramp in my legs on waking up in the morning. The odd sharp twinge now and then in the left arm, side and shoulder that I put down to old age. My family has a history of heart conditions that should have had me going for more regular check ups. I might well have avoided the heart attack had I taken more care. Stents can be inserted as soon as a blockage in the heart is identified and take about a week to recover from. A heart attack and stents takes weeks – maybe months – to get over, dependent on the intensity of the attack.

I’m ok now. Recovering slowly; very tired, but at least I am still here. What I did was ridiculously silly – I ignored clear signs that something was very wrong, and as a result I now have a damaged heart, which I might well have avoided. If you have any of the above symptoms or a family history of heart failure please go and have a regular check up. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience the considerable discomfort that an attack brings. I can assure you it really is an experience you want to avoid.