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Interview HA36

Age at interview: 42
Age at diagnosis: 37
Brief Outline: Heart attack December 1998, in hospital10 days. Current medication' atenolol, aspirin, atorvastatin
Background: Housewife; Married, 5 children

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She had pain in her teeth, and her arms and started sweating and was sick.

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She had pain in her teeth, and her arms and started sweating and was sick.

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I didn't think there was anything wrong. It was five years ago, shopping in London and I didn't feel very well. I felt as though I had the flu, all my bones were aching. When we came home later that day I took paracetamol, and sat here on the settee, and my husband rang the doctor, because the flu-like symptoms, all my bones aching just got worse. I didn't like have pains in my chest though, or not then. 

The doctor on the phone said to have a hot bath and go to bed. So they - I think the girls, I think they run me a bath, but I went upstairs to get undressed to have a bath, but I collapsed on the bedroom floor, and my husband said, "That's it, I'm taking you down to the surgery." Not to the hospital, down to the surgery. 

So we got in the car, but in the car I got really bad, like, earache, and my teeth were - I can't describe the pain in my teeth, and it was a winter's evening, so it was cold, but I was really, really hot; I had to have all, like, four windows open as we were driving. 

We went to the surgery, and I saw a lady doctor who I didn't know, and she said I was getting myself in a state, I was having an anxiety attack, and because I'd never had one before, I couldn't understand why, just before Christmas, I was having an anxiety attack and what was it? She said because I was breathing heavily and getting myself in a state. 

And I had this - I couldn't control my arms, I didn't know what to do with my arms. My husband kept on saying, "You're flapping your arms, you're flapping your arms." It made me feel better to flap my arms, because they were in that much pain, so I flapped them as I was talking. They were like - and they were uncontrollable, and she said the best thing was to go home and, she listened to my chest, and she said I wasn't having a heart attack, and I was too young for anything like that. 

So we came - we left, and as we left the building I laid on the floor, and I said, "Please," to my husband, "you've got to help me, I'm really bad, I don't know what to do with myself." So he said, "That's it, we'll go across the road to Accident and Emergency". Of course you have to wait your turn, and see the triage nurse, and I can't sit still at this point. 

My arms are flapping and I have to keep walking, so I was like, pacing up and down the corridor and people are looking, as if to say, you know, what's up with her? And then it was my turn and they called me in and I said, "I'm ever so sorry, but I've got to lie on your desk." So she said, "What's the problem?" I said, "I don't know, I just don't feel very well at all. I can't explain it". 

So they put me into a cubicle, and before I got into this bed I was sick, and then I weed myself. Then they laid me on the bed and said they were going to strap me up to an ECG machine, and then they were all running round then, still not knowing what was the matter, and then they gave me an injection, and said, "What was the pain like from one to ten?" and I said, "Nine - it was bad," and then it was in my chest then. And as they put me on the machine and they were doing all the readings, they said, "You are actually having a heart attack, now.'

 

In the first few days she found it hard not being able to do anything around the home.

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In the first few days she found it hard not being able to do anything around the home.

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So when you came home, what was it like coming home those first few weeks? 

Really hard. I've got three older daughters, and their dad said I wasn't allowed to do anything, couldn't even go out to the washing machine and put the clothes in the washing machine. I wasn't allowed to cook dinner, and it was Christmas time as well. So I sat here and wrote everybody lists for shopping, and everybody lists for Christmas presents, and who was going to cook. 

When they - when there was nobody here, or I could hear that there was nobody downstairs, I'd try and creep out to the washing machine, or the kitchen and then I'd get an ache and think, no, I'd get really frightened and better go and sit down again. As days go on you can obviously do a little bit more and a little bit more.

 

Being the youngest woman at the cardiac rehab programme was very difficult.

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Being the youngest woman at the cardiac rehab programme was very difficult.

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I made my husband have six weeks off work so he could come with me, couldn't go on my own. They were all old. There were two old ladies, who in time I became very friendly with and still see to this day. But when you have to sit in a circle and say who you are, and that you'd had a heart attack, and how old you were, I was like their grand daughter then. 

I used to look at my husband and say, "Can't you say," even though he's only a couple of years older than me, "Can't you say that you've had a heart attack and it wasn't me". But that was hard doing exercises, with older people.

What particularly was hard about it?

That they were older than me. A lot older than me.

How did they react?

Shocked. She couldn't have had a heart attack. You could see people looking. She's not old enough to have a heart attack. I think some people think you were born - some people are obviously born with a defect in the heart. But to just have a heart attack out of the blue, I think people are shocked.

 

It was hard resuming her sex life at first but things improved with time.

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It was hard resuming her sex life at first but things improved with time.

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It was hard after a heart attack, really hard, because obviously it's like strenuous exercise. It was really hard to begin with. If I got an ache, I'd have to say, you know, we'll have to stop, because I've got an ache. 

But you do, you do get there, after time. But it is hard. My husband was good, like I say, patient, and it all takes time, but he was good. If you've got a good partner you're half way there, I think.

 

She does more outdoor activities since her heart attack.

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She does more outdoor activities since her heart attack.

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Now, five years later, I'm probably healthier than I ever was. I do a lot of power walking now. I'm a lot fitter now; I climbed Ben Nevis, whereas five years ago I used to smoke. I wasn't big and fat, but I don't suppose I was into keep fit - not into keep fit, but into exercising. 

We didn't do as much exercise as what we do now. We didn't go on bike riding holidays. We go camping now, and we go bike riding holidays. We do a lot of walking, where I suppose we did a lot of driving. We do things we'd never done. We do a lot of mountain climbing. 

 

Describes being pregnant again three years after her heart attack.

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Describes being pregnant again three years after her heart attack.

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And what was your pregnancy like?

But as I got bigger I went to see my heart doctor, and he was brilliant, he said he'd be there for me. I didn't have any pains when I was pregnant, at all. I used to get frightened whether my heart could take the weight, and obviously. I couldn't do bike riding. I wanted to bike ride, but my husband said, "No, you're pregnant". 

We still did a lot of walking and swimming. I used to get frightened whether my heart could take the weight. They didn't know whether I'd be able to give birth because the strain on my heart - but if you can do it with four parts of your heart, you can do it with three parts of your heart. Well I did it anyway. I didn't get any blood clots. 

I carried on with all my tablets, I had to have an amnio because of my age and the amount, and the tablets I take, to make sure there wasn't something wrong with our son, but luckily there wasn't. And then in May we had a lovely little baby boy.

 

She has a lurking fear that she could have another heart attack and no longer be there for her...

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She has a lurking fear that she could have another heart attack and no longer be there for her...

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We got a new bike the other day and we got a baby seat to put on the back of the bike, so we're off, healthy, bike-riding with the baby now. We bought one of those, when we went to buy our pushchair, we bought a three-wheeled buggy. They say they're faster, you can power walk with these really fast, instead of the - all the buggies we had for the girls.

Looking after your new baby, did you find that any harder than your daughter? Was it any different because of your heart?

No, I wouldn't say it was any different. There's worry there all the time, but afterwards, but then there's worry there all the time. Sleepless night's were hard, again, but ... he's older now. He's ten months old now, so... I just want to be here for him now. If I get an ache now I think, "Oh no, no, not now." 

I had to be there for my daughter when she was little and now I have to be there, I have to be here now. I just exercise, don't smoke, keep going for my check ups, take my pills.

 

She was surprised at how her parents reacted when she had a heart attack at the age of 37.

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She was surprised at how her parents reacted when she had a heart attack at the age of 37.

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How did your parents react?

They were really strange, really. They weren't like I thought they would be. Their daughter's had a heart attack. When I was in a lot of pain that night, and my mum was here; my husband called my mum down, and said "I've got to take [my wife] to the doctor's, so can you come down and have [my daughter], the little one?" 

And when she come down she said - I said, "I've got a lot of pains in my chest, mum," she said, "Probably your bra strap's too tight." [laughs] 

And my dad actually came up the hospital with us, that night. He drove and my husband sat in the back of the car with me, and I kept saying, "Dad I don't feel very well", and he - and then when they brought him in, and they'd said that I was having a heart attack - this was on a Friday and of course I was bad on the Saturday and Sunday. 

But when I thought everybody would come up Monday, you know, running round, everybody went - my mum and dad went to work, which I thought was really strange. I suppose different people deal with - I can't imagine me going to work.

Did you ever ask them why?

No, no. I think they were shocked, their daughter's had a heart attack, and she's thirty seven.

 

She changed her family's lifestyle after her heart attack.

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She changed her family's lifestyle after her heart attack.

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You've changed your lifestyle quite a bit. How easy was it to do that?

I suppose it was quite easy. We didn't do as much exercise as what we do now. We didn't go on bike riding holidays. We go camping now, and we go on bike riding holidays. We do a lot of walking, where I suppose we did a lot of driving. I suppose we eat healthier. Then we'd perhaps eat chips, and fry-ups, and we don't eat things like that now. I suppose it's quite easy to turn the family round, slowly. 

The older girls used to come and say, "What is that?" I was always one of these parents who if I'm cooking and eating it, then I'll do it for everybody. I'm not just doing my own. You'll all come with me. We'll all change to the green milk, and we'll even go down to the red milk. My husband was good though. 

What I ate, he'd eat. He'd come with me, but then he'd come to rehab, we did a lot of games on the floor with the packets of food, what we could and couldn't eat. 

 

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.

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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?

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