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I can still vividly remember the episode I unexpectantly experienced 7 years ago. My daily commute to London for work involved me leaving my home around 6.15am for my 25 minutes’ walk to the station. That particular morning, I left the house as usual after having my breakfast and saying goodbye to my wife and physically I felt completely fine.

Within 10 minutes of starting my walk to the station, I realised that I was breathing through my mouth as I was having difficulty breathing through my nose. I found this unusual as it had never happened to me before. I continued for a few more minutes but realised that something wasn’t right as I was getting more breathless. Apart from shortness of breath, I did not feel any other discomfort. I remember thinking to myself that this must be some sort of a panic attack, but convinced myself that I had nothing to panic about.

I soon realised that I had turned around and was walking back home (although I still cannot remember consciously turning around). In hindsight, I should have just sat there and waited and called for help, but I remember just wanting to get home. I was soon about 200 yards from my house but really struggling to breath and gasping for breath and wondering if I would make it to my front door.

I did make it and even manged to find my key and open the door. My wife saw me and immediately realised something was wrong as she could hear me saying “I can’t breathe”. She made me sit on the settee and loosened my tie and immediately called 999. We were very fortunate as a First Responder from the Ambulance services was nearby and was at our home within 10 minutes. An ambulance and a few more paramedics also arrived soon after.

By the time the First responder arrived, I had started to feel better, and my breathing had returned to normal. I remember apologising to the paramedics for wasting her time, but they reassured me that it was okay and soon hooked me up to an ECG. The responder asked me if I felt any pain or discomfort anywhere to which I replied that I did not. I sincerely remember feeling completely ok.

It was after reading the ECG chart and having a discussion with the others did the paramedic then startle me by saying that I had just had a heart attack. My first reaction was that of denial. I told him it must be a mistake because I had felt no pain earlier and nor was I in any pain. My only perception of someone having a heart attack was what I had seen in films when someone held their chest and then collapsed. I continued to tell the paramedic that I still felt no pain and that now I felt completely okay. He reassured me that I did have a heart attack and the reason for my breathlessness was because my heart wasn’t pumping enough oxygen-containing blood around my body and that my ECG reading clarified that.

I was then taken to Papworth Hospital which was the nearest to me. As I was an emergency case, I was immediately taken in for a procedure. The Cardiologist who attended to me said that I had what you call a silent (MI) – Silent Myocardial Infarction. This meant that I had experienced no pain or discomfort, but breathlessness was a common symptom. They then administered a coronary angiogram to check my heart. It was discovered that one of my arteries was blocked, so a stent was fitted. I remained in hospital for 5 days.

I did make various changes to my lifestyle to ensure hospitalisation to healthy. I sought help and advice on what to eat, regular exercise and to make prevention of another heart attack my priority. It did take a while with determination and perseverance, but I did recover well.

It’s been seven years and I feel fine within myself. I have various checkups every 12 months, blood tests, BP, Cholesterol checks etc. I am also on some regular medication.

Since then, I have learned a lot more about the heart and its functions and more importantly how to try to keep it healthy. I also learned the different forms of a heart attack and if faced with any form of discomfort whether it be pain or breathlessness, sit where you are and seek help and call 999.

Douglas Maclure

Independent HR Consultant

 

Thanks again to Douglas for sharing his story. There is a massive health impact to be considered here.

Lesson 1 is for us all. Unexplained breathlessness isn't normal. Either something has gone wrong with the lungs or something has gone wrong with the heart, or both! In any case you need to be calling 999.

Lesson 2 is for First Aiders in the workplace or at home. Remember that not all signs and symptoms need to be present. Your job isn't to diagnose. If you have identified an issue with 'Response', 'Airway', 'Breathing', or 'Circulation' in most cases you are calling 999.

Lesson 3 is for First Aid Trainers. Stories are a powerful tool in our teaching. I've never been a fan of teaching signs and symptoms, there's just too many and it's too easy for First Aiders to slip up. So I keep the message simple; if you assess Response, Airway, Breathing and Circulation, you won't go far wrong, and I use Douglas story to highlight that it's not always easy to spot a heart attack.

Thanks for reading and best wishes.

 

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