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Heart attack

Attitude to life after a heart attack

Having a life-threatening experience can affect people's attitude to life, at least in the short term. Some of those who had recently had a heart attack found it hard to feel confident about the future. Others had come to terms with their heart attack and said their lives had returned to normal, or that they had found ways to adapt to the changes or limitations in their life. A few were still finding it hard to cope with the emotional impact of their heart attack (see 'Coping with emotions after a heart attack').

Many people said they now made the most of each day, enjoyed life more, tried not to dwell on their heart problems too much, or worry about the future.

 

He makes the most of each day and doesn't worry too much about the future.

He makes the most of each day and doesn't worry too much about the future.

Age at interview: 62
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 56
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Only that it sort of reaffirms the view that live for the day, what's that saying, the old Irish saying, 'yesterday's history, today's today, who knows about tomorrow.' I think that captures a lot for people that's got heart conditions. Do what you want today. If you can do it, do it today. 

That's confirmed that, I mean I probably always had that sort of attitude. Although I was always brought up in the old colliery, a whole history of miners and all the rest of it, you must always have something for a rainy day, that sort of philosophy on life and probably pursued that for the first fifty odd years of my life. 

Not so sure of the value of it now. Live for the day, who know what's going to happen tomorrow so I'm a lot more, I hope relaxed about things like that. I ain't bothered about what might happen, what might not happen tomorrow. I want the best for what can happen for me and mine now. 

So that's how I see things at present. It's an attitude of mind I think, isn't it? If you can be positive and demonstrate that being positive, you've got a chance. You've certainly got a chance.

 

He doesn't get stressed about what might happen in the future and carries on as he was before his...

He doesn't get stressed about what might happen in the future and carries on as he was before his...

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 62
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Oh I just take it every day as it comes and don't panic, don't worry, don't get stressed. I think that's one of the biggest problems with anybody that's poorly or whatever, stress. Just don't let it get on top of you, push it to one side, just carry on as you are. Don't panic, like Mr Jones says, 'Don't panic'. 

We've all got to die sometime, if you start worrying a lot, you cut a lot more life off. You start worrying, you get ulcers, so you've got another problem then, instead of just a heart problem, you've got ulcers. Don't worry about it. Just keep going, keep getting a bit of exercise, get some fresh air and take things easy. 

Don't go rushing about, because I don't, well I've never rushed in me life, I never rush. There's always tomorrow that hasn't been touched yet. I just take it as it comes.

One man who had, had two heart attacks, refused to let the possibility that he might have another one, dominate his life. Another, who had bypass surgery, viewed each day as a bonus and made sure he lived life to the full (see 'Messages for others). One woman felt more hopeful for the future, six months after her heart attack, but she still found the uncertainty hard at times.

 

He had two heart attacks but refuses to be dominated by the possibility that he might have another.

He had two heart attacks but refuses to be dominated by the possibility that he might have another.

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 49
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I think the second time I was a bit more fed up. I think after a few weeks, months, I did begin to think that it really wasn't very fair at all. This shouldn't happen to me and I suppose my bouts of feeling sorry for myself then were a bit more prolonged, but eventually they go away. 

You just have to accept the fact that it has happened and you can't turn the clock back. So you then just make the most of what you've got and then you make sure that you don't do anything ridiculous, but at the same time you don't let it take over your life. I think you have to get hold of it and make the most of it you can. 

It would be very, very easy to say, 'Well that's it, I'm not going to take any more chances and just sit down and don't do anything.' Which as it turns out would be quite the wrong thing to do. So I've just kept that attitude.  

I think we've both come to terms with the fact that because my first heart attack came out of the blue, there could be another one that comes out of the blue. But it's no good worrying every day that today could be that day. It might be, or it might be in another twenty years time. 

You can't live your life thinking that it will be last. Maybe you should look at things and think, well let's do it now, because this might be my last day, but that's a bit morbid. You just, you take things as they come. We have a little motto for our heart group, 'Carpe Diem' 'Seize the day' and I think that pretty well sums it up. 

You have to, just make the most of what you've got. Don't go around worrying about it. If it happens, it happens. But the more you're doing to put off the time it happens then the better it is.

 

He views each day as a bonus and makes sure he lives life to the full after his bypass surgery.

He views each day as a bonus and makes sure he lives life to the full after his bypass surgery.

Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 67
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I view the future now that I've got another bite of the apple if you like, or the cherry and I've got to make the best of every day. It's no good, you know if you cry in the corner, you cry on your own, is my attitude. The whole world's there, you can do whatever you want to do. 

I've tested myself; I can walk up to five miles a day without any problems. I can dance for two or three hours, I haven't got any problems. I can do everything, I feel I can do everything, so there's nothing to stop me doing anything I want to do. I've got to get on now and enjoy my life which I do and pick it up from where I left off and carry on and if I can help somebody else on the way, I will. 

But life is what you make it and you only come this way once. Tomorrow I can't come back and live today, I've got to make the best of today and get on with it and that's my attitude.

 

Was worrying about her stent clogging up, but that's getting less, and positive thinking is...

Was worrying about her stent clogging up, but that's getting less, and positive thinking is...

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 36
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Sometimes I get scared because I'm, you know, I think, 'oh my God, what if, what if anything happens to this stent and what if, you know, what if, what if, what if.' And then I'm thinking I've got to stop thinking, 'what if' and just get on with it and just, you know, go out, go out there and just do things. 

But, a lot better than what I did 6 months ago, that's the only way I can say at the moment, you know. I do see myself with a little future now whereas before I was just thinking, oh my God, this is the end for me and that, so I am getting there, slowly but surely I'm getting there, so.

You said you felt it was the end for you?

Yeah, I did, I felt, you know, I thought, 'oh my God, I kept, for ages I kept thinking I was going to die.' You know, I kept thinking, 'oh my God I'm going to die, I'm going to die, I've had a heart attack, I'm going to die, you know.' Even when I had the stent, I thought 'I've had the stent, if it's going to clog up it's going to do this, it's going do that,' you know. 

I just felt so negative about everything and now I just think, you know, you've had that stent, you know, if it was going to clog up it would have clogged up by now and, you know, I just try to think as positive as, you know, as much as I can. 

I try to, you know, just think, you know, you're going to be okay, you've done this, you've done that and, so. I want to look forward to like, you know, just normal things like everybody else but sometimes it's, you know, difficult, it's difficult.  

A few people said they no longer made long-term plans. One man said it had made him be careful not to lose his temper with his children, because he didn't want that to be their last memory of him. Another said he saw things differently, worried less about things that used to terrify him, while no longer taking good things for granted.

 

He made an effort to avoid losing his temper with his children, not wanting them to remember him...

He made an effort to avoid losing his temper with his children, not wanting them to remember him...

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 54
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The other side of that of course is, you know, you can't have a brush with mortality like that without it having some effect. I mean, I mean I was always reasonable, I mean I wasn't one of these people that just assumed that I was going to go on forever really, but you know, I think you know one has to make sort of plans in a different way.

And therefore, and I suppose something that's really, you know I'm by no means an ogre but something that struck me which is again a bit of a clich' that you really wouldn't want your child's last experience of you being when you were irritable and snappy or whatever you know. 

And sometimes getting kids to school you know, I can be irritable. So something I'm very consciously doing now and I hope will continue to do, is be much more careful about those sort of minor irritations. And also being much, well I mean I think I was quite expressive anyway but I mean it's really quite important to express very positively you know, your feelings about people. 

Because, I don't know, it would just be so awful to, had I, you know because in fact actually we had a bit of a, I had a bit of a go at my daughter because she didn't want to go to school. And she was, well she didn't not want to go to school she was just, was doing the irritating thing and kept changing what she wanted to wear and things. And it just struck me as being awful if that was her last experience of me. So I'm trying to be a nicer person.

 

His heart attack put things into perspective and he no longer takes things for granted.

His heart attack put things into perspective and he no longer takes things for granted.

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 42
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And I found that things that used to really worry me, like doing presentations at work was a particular horror of mine. I can use my experience of having a heart attack to sort of overcome that sort of fear because I just think well it's not really much to worry about because it's not going to be anywhere near as bad an experience as some of the things you've been through. 

So it just puts things into perspective and I'm a lot more, well I was always fairly laid back but in real terms now, although I might get wound up about the same things just as quickly and just as animated it's all superficial, I don't really worry about things like that any more because there are, you know it really does stop you taking everything for granted.

Some had reassessed their priorities and what was important in their life. One man was planning to cut down on his out of work committees and involvements to spend more time with his family.

One woman said she no longer put off doings things she wanted to in order to get chores or housework done. Another woman, who had five children, said she no longer rushed around trying to get everything done, and worrying that she hadn't achieved all that she wanted to in a day.

 

She stopped putting off doing things she wanted to in order to get chores or housework done.

She stopped putting off doing things she wanted to in order to get chores or housework done.

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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Everybody was so good and I think you think well, I could have died. You've got to live your life to the full. So I'm doing things now that, instead of thinking, oh I don't know if I should do that, I do it. If I want to do it, I do it. You know, I think well I might as well get it done and do, I might as well go to the holiday. 

I might as well do this because I don't know if what's going to happen now. I think it does, definitely, change, you put your priorities right. You know, I used to think, oh I've got to get the housework done. Now the housework, I'm not bothered. I'll go and do something that I want to do rather than think, I've got to do this and chores and things like that.

 

She's learned to relax and no longer runs around trying to get everything done in a day.

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She's learned to relax and no longer runs around trying to get everything done in a day.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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I've learned that life's very important now, and you have to take each day as it comes. It's not worth flapping around, you haven't done this and you haven't done that, and you've got to do that. You might as well just, all your washing and ironing will be there tomorrow, even if you're not here.

I don't worry anymore about, about things. I think we're all like little ants, all running everywhere trying to do this, trying to do that. We all run by the clock, I don't run by the clock anymore. The family's more relaxed. They don't panic and run about so much, have to be here, there, take it slower, appreciate every day you're here, making the most of it. Like everybody, you don't know how long you've got, do you?

Many felt lucky to have survived. One 39-year-old man who had a massive heart attack and a cardiac arrest and is now in heart failure talks about how he copes.

 

He talks about how he copes after having a massive heart attack and now heart failure.

He talks about how he copes after having a massive heart attack and now heart failure.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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But you know, I look at, I've had two and bit years extra to after having a [cardiac] arrest, a lot of people would have been dead then. People have often asked me on the moral front, 'Why you etc?' you know, how can there be a God that allows people to be ill. I tend to think, He, for they call him a He, was there that night that helped me survive, because I actually had last rites twice in the first three days. If He hadn't been there then I wouldn't be here now, you know.

I try not actually, thinking about the here and now too much, or even about the future what may happen. A lot of it's probably about soldiering on because, I'd probably get upset if I think about how I feel about things and, and not trying to put a, a morality on it and 'Why me?' sort of thing, because that's just a, a dead end, I mean there's just, just nothing, nothing to be gained in looking at anything like that. And I can't change things. For what, whatever reason it's happened, the fact is I now have this; it's now about how I go. 

I'm trying to get a quality of life and do things as much as I can either me by myself, me with my wife or me with the kids of which, whichever relationship that is at various times, trying to do things. My, my biggest fear is dying while they're still young, before they understand, not being able to put in much, much of an imprint on them and support so they can be self supporting to a degree.  

Some people had limitations following their heart attack, which can take time to adapt to. (See 'Leisure, travel and hobbies after a heart attack' and 'Returning to work after a heart attack'.)

Last reviewed June 2017.

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