It’s been nearly a year since I woke up on a Saturday morning with a pain in my left armpit. I had no idea what would happen an hour later.
We had just moved into a new office in Hong Kong and we were delighted that this was a real upgrade on where we were before. We had a few bottles of bubbles, some snacks to celebrate and no doubt some of Tom’s tunes in the background. We all left at a reasonable time and went home.
I am English, a cricket fan and love the fact that our test matches start at 6pm HK local time, which means that late into the night I can watch them play. I dozed off and woke up in the morning on the sofa, with an annoying tension in my armpit. It wasn’t painful, more annoying than anything else; but a constant annoyance, almost like someone pressing a rod or pole under your arm. To this day it’s been hard to exactly describe.
This is the part I am not particularly proud of. I took paracetamol thinking it would go away. After all, I had never experienced this before, so it was hard to compartmentalise as the situation as ‘something to worry about’. After 60 minutes of this ‘annoyance’ I told Paula (my wife) and given there was no obvious ‘heart attack’ dramatics, we didn’t leap to any conclusions.
However, time was ticking and little did I know that this was actually a countdown clock to whether I lived or died. The annoyance grew to a consistent grip like sensation, which is when I called the local doctor. The advice was immediate….’get to the ER immediately and don’t waste a second!’ It had already been 90 minutes from when I had woken up with the ‘annoyance’ to now.
My wife drove me to the ER at TKO hospital and waited. Thirty seconds later I was having a check, 60 seconds after that I was being taken to very quickly to have an ECG. I remember lying there with the amazing staff at TKO hospital saying to me that I was in the middle of a heart attack and they need to move me to another hospital for emergency surgery.
From a mindset perspective, it was hard to believe. I was 48 years old, sure liked a few drinks on occasion but generally healthy. How was this happening to me?
‘Clank clank’, the metal sides of the bed got slammed into place and we were off to the transport ambulance to Queen Elizabeth hospital.
I survived as you know, but my story is more about raising awareness to the signs, rather than going into my life now. Ninety minutes was a ridiculous length of time to wait, but I just had no idea that a pain on my left side would be a blockage.
My advice to anyone now, would be to get to the hospital if you feel anything out of the ordinary from shoulder to shoulder, neck or even back. If the pain is prolonged and doesn’t let up, get there immediately. Don’t listen to your own internal dialogue, as this will be saying “this will pass” or will (like me) cause you to waste precious time! My cardiologist said that an extra 15 minutes and I would have passed away. To be completely honestly, in the last 5 minutes before they operated on me, I could feel myself getting a bit more relaxed, maybe slipping away.
As I was being transported in the ambulance to Queen Elizabeth, with Paula trying to keep up behind in her car, weird thoughts were dominating. Does Paula know all our bank account numbers? Does she have access to investments? Have I got everything sorted so her and the kids can carry on without me? Very rational based.
But as I was laying there in the ambulance with two doctors standing over me with heart starting paddles, I remember thinking about my kids (they were both out with friends at the time) and the fact that I might not get to say goodbye. The emotional came after the rational.
Anyone reading this, please be aware that at no time was I in any pain. No grabbing of my chest, no falling down; just an ongoing tension to the armpit in my case.
I was lucky and owe my life to three groups. My wife who ordered me to phone the doctor, the doctors who wasted no time in telling me to get to the hospital. Lastly the amazing staff at TKO and QE Hospital Authority in Hong Kong who saved me.
Partners and loved ones, don’t trust the narrative of “it’s not that bad” or “I am sure it will pass”. Skip a few steps above and fast track to the ER.