Heart attacks and cardiac arrests are NOTHING like they are in the movies. The image of my beloved husband of not-even-two-years, Tim, enduring a cardiac arrest as he was pushed into an ambulance, will haunt me forever.
Actually, if you’re going to have a cardiac arrest, doing it as two burly paramedics called Dave and Simon are wheeling you into the back of their ambulance, is probably not a bad idea.
On the morning of Tim’s heart attack we’d had a blazing row about solar panels. He was due to go for his second ever personal training session at the gym, and for some unknown reason I decided to go with him so I could have a run on the treadmill. We still weren’t talking as we went our separate ways in the gym.
Towards the end of Tim’s session, I noticed he’d had to take himself away, so I went to chat to the trainer Gary, who trains me as well. Something felt a little off. Tim wasn’t as fit as he could be, but he certainly wasn’t screamingly unfit.
Suddenly I got paged by the gym reception and I hurtled down the stairs and found Tim collapsed outside the gym door. He’d taken himself to the toilet, felt his arms starting to fail and had somehow got himself outside, where he’d fallen.
I started to ring an ambulance but a girl from the gym was already speaking to them and she passed me over. The operator asked me a number of questions and I just kept repeating, ‘He’s having a heart attack, we need an ambulance.’ I’m still not sure why I said it.
Tim was just 38 years old, so I don’t suppose anyone really expected that he actually was having a heart attack. That’s for old people, hugely obese people, and those who drink and smoke from morning until night, right? Wrong it would seem.
He was drifting in and out of consciousness, his arms were numb and weren’t working, and he was being very sick. He was pale and extremely sweaty. He wasn’t having the classic symptoms though like left arm or jaw pain, and instead of pain in his chest, he said it just felt heavy and crushed.
The paramedics were just around the corner and arrived in only three or four minutes. As they wheeled the trolley over, Tim’s eyes bulged, he sounded like he was choking, and he was no longer really conscious. This made me panic and I patted his face (slapped him is probably more accurate but it seems harsh to slap a man when he’s down) and called his name, and as quickly as he’d gone, he came back. He even climbed onto the trolley himself.
As they wheeled him to the ambulance he was very sick again, and as they pushed him up inside, he began to scream, his arms raised up and his eyes bulged. The paramedics slammed the doors and got to work.
Standing there, on my own, staring at the closed doors of the ambulance, listening to Tim scream, and watching the vehicle violently shaking was one of the worst moments of my life. Actually, correction, it was worse when he stopped screaming, I was terrified he had died.
And all I could think was, ‘I’ll never, ever get to say sorry to him for being mental about solar panels.’ I felt utterly helpless and alone.
People from the gym, plus three other ambulances, a rapid response paramedic and a police car, turned up and some sat with me. A paramedic called Matt took me into his ambulance and told me Tim was alive. I remember seeing his sushi lunch on the dashboard and apologising for interrupting his break.
I didn’t know why the police were there but found out afterwards they always turn up if someone is likely to die in a public place.
They told me Tim was conscious and said I could see him. He was sitting up on the trolley, covered in wires and with an oxygen mask covering his face. We both apologised about 'Solargate' and said we loved each other. An added bonus was the paramedics had hacked away at his hideous lime green and blue t-shirt, which Tim always insisted on wearing on holidays. Thanks, chaps, I owe you one, or ten.
We were blue-lighted straight to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, a cardiac centre of excellence, and they wheeled Tim straight into the ‘cath lab’ to have a life-saving stent fitted to his main coronary artery, which had been completely blocked.
I was taken into the staff room and given sweet tea, after a nurse found me sobbing against a wall.
An hour and a half later, after an emotional reunion with Tim’s parents and his best friend Eddie, we were taken to see him, in his sunny private room, with nothing more than a tiny cut in his wrist where they’d gone in to fit the stent.
The NHS rules all.
Tim’s artery had been almost completely blocked, and his exertions at the gym likely dislodged a piece of 'plaque', which then fully blocked his artery and sent his heart into a ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest. The doc said 50% of people don't make it to the ambulance.
Two days after, we were sent home to begin life with anxiety in our hearts, but also a new-found respect for life, our diets and lifestyles, and each other.
Tim’s heart attack was likely caused by a genetic proclivity to heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, coupled with a very stressful job, bingeing at weekends, a poor diet and not enough exercise. Everything came together to cause it, but the universe came together to save us. I’ll never stop being grateful to every single person who saved my Tim that day.
Since then, we’ve embarked on a new diet and lifestyle and I am studying nutrition with the British Nutrition Foundation. Hearty and Healthy is our way to share our journey, our pictures, our recipes and everything we learn along the way.
Some facts about heart disease