G’day all

As many of you will be aware, this year I have had to step back from much of the administration of Aussie Hero Quilts whilst I undergo treatment for Multiple Myeloma. I don’t intend to bore you with all the details, but my latest blood test results indicate I am responding well to the treatment so far. In future months I will be undergoing a stem cell transfer which will hopefully see me in remission for a good while. That is the expectation and I refuse to accept any other option.

But that is not the reason I am writing this post.  What most of you won’t know is that just over a month ago, I ended up in hospital with a suspected heart attack.  After a multitude of tests over the following month it has finally been determined that I did not actually have a heart attack, rather I was the victim of an attack of acute myocarditis, which is basically inflammation of the heart muscle.  In reality though, I had text book heart attack symptoms, the treatment was the same and the consequences, well, they could have been the same too!

I don’t intend to bore you with regular health updates, but once news got out that I had had a suspected heart attack, I received messages from quite a few women asking me to describe my symptoms as women’s heart attack symptoms do not often mirror those experienced by men.  Additionally, I received a phone call from one of our recipients checking up on me. He confessed that he had had a heart attack but instead of going to hospital he assumed it was indigestion and waited a day or so to go to Medical to get some more antacid. Fortunately, they asked more questions and sent him promptly to hospital. 

For those two reasons, I figured I would share my experience.

I think the thing to remember is that every heart attack, regardless of gender, will feel different so you need to know your body. The other important thing to remember is if you are concerned call an ambulance, or if you’re close enough, get yourself driven to the Emergency Department. Do not drive yourself!!! Don’t think for one minute that the medical staff will think you are overreacting or silly because they won’t. You’ll be taken seriously, and your symptoms will be investigated.

So here is my story.  Late on a Monday afternoon in mid-September I was sitting at my desk when I became aware of a strange sensation in the middle of my chest. Within five minutes it had spread from side to side. I wish I could describe it a little better than that.  It was just a sensation. I tell people that it did not hurt but it made me feel uncomfortable, more because of how it MADE me FEEL, rather than how it actually felt.  What I mean by that is I knew something was happening and my gut instinct told me it was nothing good.  

There was no clutching my chest, no stabbing pains, no gasping for breath, no collapsing, no loss of communication.  My father, unfortunately, had some of the above and his second heart attack killed him even though an ambulance was called.  As I said, everyone’s experience will be different, listen to your body.

When you start chemo you soon learn that you need to be aware of anything unusual that happens to your body.  Fevers, blood clots, rashes, all are common experiences that require you to present to the Emergency Department straight away.  A strange sensation in my chest was just another unusual experience so I told my husband I thought we needed to head to the Emergency Department.

Five minutes later, we were in the car with my emergency bag and my Aussie Hero Quilt.  (NOTE, after four previous trips to the ED I never go without my quilt and I am always super grateful to have it with me!)  Fortunately, we live close enough to the hospital to drive rather than wait for an ambulance.

Once we arrived at the ED I was seen fairly quickly. Having Chemo means that I carry a special card that says I need to be seen within 30 minutes and I am so grateful to be so well looked after. I was put straight into a bed in the ED and then the treatment started.  Whatever happens to you if you find yourself in the ED with a suspected heart attack will be up to the medical professionals present at the time, but what you need to know is what symptoms I experienced.

By the time I got to the hospital the strange sensation in my chest had increased to an uncomfortable pressure radiating from the centre of my chest and spreading left and right to each armpit.  By now it was around 5 or 530pm. After this I lost track of time.

The pressure in my chest kept increasing over the course of the next several hours. I have had several kidney stones and a double knee replacement. I know pain. This was up there with the kidney stones easily.  I had a bad pain and pressure across the front of my chest from one armpit to the other, with the worst pain in the centre. The doctors gave me Panadiene which had no effect. Then one Endone, followed by another and another and finally Morphine. None of those made much difference. That is how strong the pain was. 

I could talk and breath ok but could not rest, the pain was too much. At its worst I started to feel pain along my jaw line, at the base of the teeth in my bottom jaw and then down my arms.  It was around this time that blood tests confirmed it was my heart and I started getting a different medication which started to ease the symptoms and eventually brought everything under control.

By the next morning I was sitting up in bed in the Coronary Care Unit eating breakfast and believe it or not, I was feeling fine.

I had an emergency angiogram the next day.   I had a CT Scan the day after.  A couple of days later I had some ultrasounds, blood was taken every day and finally I was discharged after a week.  The following week I had to have a special Cardia MRI at Macquarie University and then a couple of weeks ago I had PET Scan at St Vincent’s Hospital.  The cause of my “heart attack” was proving very difficult to determine and up until the PET scan every test just created more questions.

Finally, after about a month I met with my wonderful Cardiologist and the news was all good. As I said, it turns out that I had not had a heart attack but an attack of acute myocarditis. It seems that the results, if ignored, could have been just as serious, but thankfully I did not ignore them.  If you know anything about troponin levels mine went as high as 7800, which is extreme, but now thankfully they are back down to 4.  Phew! My heart has recovered thankfully, and I am now clear to continue with all necessary treatment for Multiple Myeloma.

I told my cardiologist that I was thinking of writing a blog post to share my symptoms and he encouraged me to do so. He said the symptoms I had were text book heart attack symptoms and then he said words to the effect that he would rather people present to the Emergency Department when they are concerned instead of having people stay at home and ignore symptoms because they don’t want to be a “drama queen” or because they don’t want to “make a fuss”.  

Prior to commencing my chemotherapy, I had only ever visited the Emergency Department once and that was for a kidney stone.  Since my chemo started, I have made four trips to the ED and unfortunately three of those visits have been for the totally unglamourous condition of constipation… those chemo drugs play havoc with your system, trust me.  I never thought I would be fronting up to the ED for something as “simple” as constipation but that is what the chemo nurses told me to do and each time the staff have been wonderful.  I know some people feel “funny” about going to the Emergency Department but I can assure you that the staff would prefer you come and see them so that they can assess you, rather than have you get sicker or WORSE, by not coming.

So that’s the story of my heart attack. I’m very glad I went to the ED when I did.. it might have taken them hours to get the pain under control and to work out what the cause was but I was reassured by the care and constant attention and that was important.

I hope none of you ever have to experience a heart attack, or acute myocarditis, but if nothing else I hope this convinces you, male or female, to pay attention to the signs your body gives you and always to err on the side of caution.

Till next time…. pay attention to what your body is telling you… and happy stitching!

Jan-Maree xx

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