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Heart attack

How it affects carers

It may be possible that actually having a heart attack is less frightening than having it happen to someone you love. Many people mentioned that their heart attack had had a bigger impact on their partner or carer - than it did on them. One man's wife was frightened that he was going to die, and took a long time to feel confident again.

 

He feels his heart attack affected his wife more than it did him.

He feels his heart attack affected his wife more than it did him.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 65
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But the biggest person it was affected was my wife. She took a long time to sort of release the apron strings, to let me go and walk on my own, let me go and get the paper, do the mile or two mile walk round the lake. 

I'd have to carry a phone, I still have to carry a phone and she likes me to still ring when I'm at the farthest point and she is concerned and it, it's had more of an effect on my family I think than it has on me. 

They're the ones that really bear the brunt of these and they're the ones that you have to thank really because it's them that worry about it more than yourself. Yourself, at least in my case, I think I can do anything now, I can, I can be anywhere and do anything. Your family still worry.

My wife I think now is getting, I mean if she lets me go, she lets me go and play golf with my brother. But it's the effect on them, especially my wife, is the big effect of heart attack.

Is there anything you think that helped her to be sort of be happy about you doing more things.

Yes the things that, that encouraged her was (a) that she spoke to the people in the rehab, the physiotherapist and the, sister who's there and they said, 'okay this is what can happen to you know, you're doing fine, don't worry about it.' She's spoken to the local practice nurse, because I still go and see her now and again. And again she's said the same thing. 

She's spoken to the surgeon who said, 'I've fixed him now, he's okay, I've had my hands all over him, I've sewn him up. He's now got three bypasses, he's got three arteries, or they were veins of course, now that are pumping through and he's good for a bit longer.'

So it's positive information to her. She's read all the books the same as I have, all the information of things you can do, time scales of when you can do it. So those are the things that have really given her, is the support network around as I say the rehab, the local doctor and the surgeon that did the job. So those are the things that have reassured her, and I think now she thinks I'm okay.

 

His wife was frightened that he was going to die and only gradually gained her confidence.

His wife was frightened that he was going to die and only gradually gained her confidence.

Age at interview: 77
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 69
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My wife was obviously very, very concerned and the mere fact that she was told I had a heart attack, made her believe I was next to death's door. And to bring her round to believing that there isn't, you know, you can make a very good recovery was a real, a real benefit, not only to her but to, to me as well. 

I mean, even now she occasionally says 'oh don't lift this or don't do that'. I say, 'come on I do twenty five press ups, I weigh 75 kilos, what am I doing here, lifting 20 kilos, you know.' So it's a big worry and even, I'm, I have a lot of medication, blood pressure and a number of things which fortunately don't seem to result in any side effects which is a big plus and her, she sees it as her function in life to make sure that I take it. 

And I do naturally take it in the morning, I take some in the morning as part of my usual routine, shaving and, yes I do shave, and cleaning teeth and so on, and in the evening when we have supper, except then I sometimes forget, but she doesn't [laughs].

Carers or partners may desperately want to help, but don't know how. One woman's husband found it difficult when she had her heart attack, because it was the one thing he could not put right for her and that made him feel helpless.

 

Her husband felt helpless because he had always been able to sort out any problems she had in the...

Her husband felt helpless because he had always been able to sort out any problems she had in the...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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I think he went through a lot more than I did in one way, because there was nothing he could do to help me. If, in the past, something's gone wrong and he could help me but with this, he couldn't. 

He couldn't help me and he didn't know how to help me so he felt, he felt he couldn't, he was useless sort of thing, because he could not put something right for me where any other time, I've got a little problem or something he'd say, 'now calm down, we'll sort it.' 

And this one time he couldn't sort it and he felt, he couldn't do nothing for me and he felt useless. He couldn't, he wanted to mend me and he couldn't and you'd catch him having a little cry here or cry there. And that used, I'd say, 'oh, don't come round me crying, I can't handle that.'   

And with the support group we tend to talk to the carer's as well because they do go through it. The carer's go through something as much as the, you know the person who's had the heart attack or the bypass. The carer's have to go through all this and they don't know, they don't know what to do.

Some partners had been over protective and cautious, because they were so worried and concerned that any activity might bring on another heart attack (see 'Recovering from your heart attack'). Many people mentioned that their partner or carer joined them on their cardiac rehabilitation programme, which had given them more confidence (see 'Cardiac rehabilitation and support'). Others had been helped by speaking to their partner's doctor or the cardiac nurse.

Many said that their partner or carer was fundamental during their recovery and that without their support, they would have found it very difficult to recover as well as they had done. Partners or carers had taken the lead in managing lifestyle changes, such as diet or exercise, in reminding them to take medicines, taking over household tasks and driving for a short while, updating family and friends on progress, and generally helping their partner recover.

 

Describes the care his wife gave during his recovery.

Describes the care his wife gave during his recovery.

Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 66
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Well one of the things was she always made sure that I got my tablets in the initial stages, breakfast in bed before she would get me up, because I did need assistance to get washed and dressed. As time went on, just getting me out. One of the things that the doctor said was get out in the car and have a ride out. 

Going out in the car and I had a wheelchair for a period because I couldn't walk far. Getting me out in the wheelchair, even though I might sort of have a ride in the wheelchair and then walk a little bit afterwards because being near the coast, we often used to go down to the coast at [the nearby town]. 

And just being, monitoring everything that I did and making sure I did what I needed to do to try and make progress and not let me just sit and forget that there was a world outside of a heart attack. But she was absolutely brilliant.
 

A heart attack can greatly stress relationships with carers. The emotional pressure focused particularly on them, which made life harder for a while (see 'Coping with emotions after a heart attack'). One woman explained that her daughter lives with her, sees her bad days and takes the brunt of her emotions, whereas when other members of the family visit, she brightens up.

 

Her daughter, who lives with her, bore the brunt of her bad days.

Her daughter, who lives with her, bore the brunt of her bad days.

Age at interview: 80
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 77
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Well first [laughs], first of all if you moved much you know they were a bit worried [laughs] they're sort of keeping an eye on you all the time [clears throat] but when they saw that I was coping a bit better each day then it gave them a bit more confidence. 

I think it was worse on my daughter because every now and then you have a bad day and of course she would be there so she's born the brunt of it really, she's been great. My family obviously were nervous first of all but when they saw I was coping with it fairly well, it helped them too. 

My daughter was the biggest worry [laughs] because she would get my bad moments, you know and when the others had come it would sort of brighten me up. 

Partners may also need to adapt to changes in lifestyle, which if early retirement occurs, can affect household finances. They may not do the same things with their partner that they were used to doing for some time, and if a heart attack is severe - such changes may be permanent. 

 

His wife provides the majority of the support.

His wife provides the majority of the support.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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Without a doubt my wife is probably the one person that's [pause] taken on a lot of supportive role that people don't see. The actual, from the actual medical side of course, it's the staff and the treatments that have pretty much helped me survive and maintain me. 

If you stopped the drugs tomorrow, I'd probably die fairly quickly because my heart wouldn't survive on its own. But that's only part of the story. Reducing the stress, reducing the load in terms of things that I do, is taken on board and so obviously by my wife to a huge degree, with having two young kids as well.  

And that's sort of like the unwritten side in that, I'm fortunate to have that. There are people who are single, there are people that are married where they might not even get that, they don't have that kind of support and perhaps as a, as a country we take that for granted and as a society, in that we've looked at things like it's too much detail but the kind of support that you get with DLA [Disabled Living Allowance] etc. 

I think they always assume that because I've got my wife that she'll do everything for me and that's a little bit unfair on my wife, what if she wanted to go out and work full time and have a career, it's now assumed she can be around supporting me. 

I don't think that's necessarily a totally fair assumption, of course you marry me for sickness and health and all the rest of it, but I think as a society, as a society we should have probably better broader care.  

One 37-year-old woman explained that it is difficult for her partner, who is the same age as her, and still wants to do all the things they used to do.

For carers, concern and worry continued long after a heart attack, because of fear that another might occur. One man explained that when he is feeling under the weather, it worries his wife and family more than it does him.

 

Minor illnesses worry his wife and family more than him.

Minor illnesses worry his wife and family more than him.

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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At times, and I think it causes more concerns for my family, because in fact only just a couple of days ago, I suddenly had these funny sort of sensations of it was a sort of tingling and everything else like that but in fact it worked out it was food poisoning. And it was a sort of like a 24 hour bug and I knew that it didn't affect my chest, but again I knew there was something funny going on. 

But I think it causes more concern for the family that are thinking, is there something happening again? Whereas I think, if you know, you know, if you know your own body, then you think, no, no, no it's you know you, having experienced the excruciating pain of the first heart attack and to a lesser degree the second one I'd be able to tell if I had another heart attack, I'd know exactly what it was. 

Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated August 2010.

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