Gazette Articles

Feeling Funny on a Club Ride

The weather was beautiful and after the Easter break a trip to see the bluebells on Tuesday went very well. With great weather and the spring flowers blooming everywhere, I organised a 100 mile ride to Amberley and back on a Thursday. Fairly standard for me and I had completed a much more difficult route in Kent a couple of weeks before.

After flying down Pebblecombe Hill, I thought I’d enjoy the banana in my bag before continuing onwards – eating regularly works better on a long ride.

As we moved off, I started to experience an odd pain in my chest very much like indigestion. A few miles later I pulled up as the pain had increased and I was feeling very unwell but still unwilling to accept the obvious cause. Carlos, a retired medic was with our group and after letting me try to walk it off (at my insistence) he decided that it was time to call an ambulance. By this time, the pain was pretty acute and I couldn’t actually get back on my bike even though I tried.

As I lay on the ground at the side of Ruckmans Lane, a quiet road across from Weare Street, a horse rider passed by hurling abuse at us – probably having mistaken us for a bunch of cycling yobs that she’d encountered earlier. After unburdening her vocabulary, she trotted off and a car stopped by to tell us that the Punchbowl Inn was around the corner and might be a better place to wait for the ambulance. Words of wisdom really because the Punchbowl has a defibrillator.

The ambulance rolled up half an hour after the 999 call and paramedics Paul and Sam dragged me into it to carry out the urgent tests. ECG normal, pulse normal, blood pressure normal, temperature normal so they drove me off to East Surrey Hospital for further checks.

The rest of my cycling group carried on after parking my bike at the pub on Okewood Hill. Apparently they went up Leith Hill the hard way while I had a leisurely ride to Redhill. Although A&E was packed – standing room only – a doctor carried out further tests including blood tests and ECG plus a CT scan of my aorta which can cause similar symptoms – a sharp pain extending through my chest and into my back around the spine.

All very good I thought, what a waste of a nice day just because of gulping down a banana. As I started to message my wife to say that she could collect me, the doctor called me back into A&E to say they were keeping me in, my blood markers were very abnormal indicating (with 99% accuracy according to Dr Google) that I’d had a heart attack. Just for reference, normal is 14 and my level was initially 363 and then 416.

How the hell could a fit, healthy vegetarian (OK I’m a little plump) have a heart problem? Something to reflect on as I lay back to spend a night awaiting tomorrow’s tests and a meeting with a cardiologist. My lovely wife comes along and delivers a bag of clothes and takes away my cycling lycra and I am left to have a disturbed night sleep.

The next morning, a senior cardiologist, Dr Chen, came along and told me that all signs point to me having had a heart attack. He prescribed a day of hanging around for an angiogram and a weekend of waiting for an cardiogram and possible angiogram but the department is full (lots of unhealthy, takeaway eating people in the area I expect) Towards the end of the day, things happen quickly and I get transferred for echocardiogram (a fancy ultrasound machine) and angiogram.

The angiogram is very interesting as it happens. I stay awake while a sedative lets my body relax. Dr Jayapalen first inserts a thin wire into the artery in my wrist and manipulates it up and into my heart before sliding a catheter over it – a lot like an internal gear cable replacement on your bike. A dye is injected and suddenly it all looks very interesting on the large screen which I watch as I feel something moving inside my chest. A blockage is seen on my Left Anterior Descending (LAD) artery and Dr Jayapalen tells me I am lucky because this is the main one that feeds my heart. These are quite often fatal and this kind of heart attack is often called the “Widow Maker”. A stent is inserted here but the other narrowing in the arteries around the front of my heart are left because they aren’t important.

Another night in hospital but the Angio department is a lot quieter and I get a reasonable sleep after turning down a lovely sounding dessert of summer pudding and custard.

The next day is my last as I wait for discharge. Eventually the consultant, Dr Sneddon comes along and talks to me about bikes and cycling (he is apparently a very keen cyclist and a steel man) before telling me that I was lucky, I had classic, uncontrolled angina which often encounter in cyclists or sportsmen. However, they have “fixed” me and I can go back to normal after a month but no more racing (as if!!).

The symptoms of unstable angina include:

  • Tight or crushing pain in your chest that may spread to other areas in your upper body.
  • Chest pain that happens even when you’re not exerting yourself.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain that doesn’t stop after you take medicine.
  • Sweating.
  • Anxiety.

On reflection, I’d had some of these symptoms during the week leading up to this particular ride but had dismissed them. At my age of 62, these are not symptoms to ignore even if you think you are fit. Get yourself checked even if you feel like a fraud because the result could be very unpleasant if not fatal.

In my case it is one week of complete rest before gentle exercise can resume. Nothing strenous for a month while my body gets used to the stent. Also I now take SIX different kinds of medication to control the condition!!!