My Heart Attack At Age 30
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This personal story was e-mailed to us by our reader from Sheffield, England
July 1, 2008
By Ian Waterston
I was 30 years old, a smoker, working in corporate finance, and I was
spending a snatched weekend climbing with a friend Bob in the English
Lake District. I felt fantastic and had the previous day just been
given a great new work assignment. I was living on adrenalin!
I led the first relatively easy 100 foot climb, but near the top all my
protection (what climbers place in the rock to stop them falling all
the way to the ground if the fall off) fell out! So I was pretty
terrified for a few moves. Still, I got to the top. Phew..
Back at the ground again, smoking yet another ciggy,, my left arm felt
noticeably weird, but I was still able to do another climb. Then Bob
suggested another, famous climb nearby. I felt unexpectedly edgy and
anxious and I still couldn't work out why I had this odd pain in my
left arm, but I agreed so long as he led and I followed. It was a 200
foot classic climb with a great final pitch, 80 feet long and slightly
overhanging with good holds, and I congratulated Bob on leading it
when I joined him at the top.
As we were soaking in the great view in the sunlight and packing away
our climbing gear a hugely painful tightening wrapped itself around my
chests and squeezed. The pain radiated up to my neck and down my arm.
Article Continues Below.
Incredibly with hindsight, when I pointed this out to Bob I suggested
that what I needed was some lunch and a drink. My mouth was dry and I
though something to drink would fix the problem. I've no idea why I
thought that. No other cause entered my tunnel vision brain! Why
should it? I was young, fit and had never been ill.
So as Bob descended ahead I followed, getting weaker and more
drenched in sweat as I followed carrying my increasingly heavy rucsac.
By the time we
hit the road I could barely walk, and still the pain persisted. And
still I though I just needed a drink.
Bob drove to the pub a few miles away, we ordered duck and chips and a
couple of pints of beer. I drank the beer. No improvement. The food
arrived. I ate some of it, felt nauseous, ate a bit more, then headed
for the toilet, where I sicked up the whole lot. And the pain in my
chest was getting even worse. And then, in a flash of insight, I
remembered that a month before a famous young English comedy actor
called Richard Beckinsdale, my age, had died of a massive heart attack.
And hadn't my own father died of one when he was 47 years old. Maybe,
I thought, that's what I've got. Why I didn't mention this to Bob or
anybody else I still don't know, but I went back to the packed bar,
asked the barmaid where the public phone was, (it was outside in the
car park), went outside to it, picked up the handset, dialled directory
enquiries, asked for the nearest Hospital, memorised the number, put my
money in, dialled and spoke to the nurse who answered. Those were the
I explained what my fears were, what my symptoms were, about
what I'd been doing, mentioned the Richard Beckinsdale memory, and
immediately said they'd send an ambulance.
I suggested instead I get Bob to drive me because it would be quicker.
So back to the bar to tell a totally stunned Bob that I thought I was having
a heart attack and could we get going, and walked out to the car.
The drive was a nightmare on steadily intensifying, agonising pain,
with me telling him to drive faster. By now well over an hour had
passed since we were coiling the ropes up at the top of the last climb
and what I remember is the unrelenting chest pain.
Arrive at the local cottage hospital, eventually, walk in and a nurse
and doctor are waiting. Go in, lie down on a bed in my tatty old
climbing gear, they attach ECG wires to my chest whilst I'm getting
really upset about the pain, and I can see pretty soon from their
surprised looks that actually, yes, the paper trace shows I am having a
This is what the young doctor, my age, tells me. Can
you stop this pain, I gasp. I felt no anxiety or fear. All I wanted
was the pain to stop. He injected something (morphine) and seemingly
within seconds the pain stops!
Bliss! I'm cured. I've survived. I'm OK, I insist to myself and everyone
else. The pain's gone so the heartattack is over and I've survived, so
that's it. I start to get up. Thanks, I'm off. That was a close call.
Er no, they tell me to lie quite still and I'll not be walking anywhere for a
while. The doctor tells me that I'll have to spend a week or so in hospital
and maybe a month or so off work.
Now I'm worried. I've just been given a fantastic new assignment etc etc
I can't take time off! I'm OK. The pain has gone that means I'm OK,
I deteriorated, I'm told, on the ambulance trip to the regional
hospital, where they rushed me into intensive car. It was touch and go
in the end, but I made it.
That was 29 years ago, on the final day of Wimbledon 1979. Afterwards
a policy of wait and see was adopted (no angiograms in those days
unless your case was desperate enough to merit the risk) and so far,
apart from a stent fitted to a dodgy coronary artery when I was fifty
and the odd minor scare, I've been OK. We never discovered what
caused my original heart attack.
My consultant implied that if I'd not been climbing that day and living on
a mixture of adrenalin and terror and smoking like a chimney I'd
probably never have had a heart attack.
My lesson is don't be dumb. I was dumb back then because I didn't
think someone as young and fit as me could be having a heart attack,
and I was dumb because I was too proud to ask for help when I did.
And I was dumb because I smoked. Even dumber because I continued
smoking afterwards for two years. How dumb is that!
But in a contrary sort of way my dumbness on that day meant that I didn't
panic, felt no fear, and stayed calm throughout. If I'd thought I really was
having a heart attack I'd have probably been scared to death! Even so, I
was dumb and it almost killed me.
These days, with greater awareness I'd have told Bob at the top of the
climb about my symptoms, he'd have used his mobile to call the
emergency services, and I'd have probably been helicoptered off the
mountain and straight to the hospital. Ah...progress. Even so, I survived
to tell the tale almost 30 years later.
Isn't fate fickle?
Are you a heart attack survivor? Help others by sharing your story: Send it to
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What Are the "Classic Symptoms" of a Heart Attack
for Men and Women?
Almost everyone has seen the Hollywood version of
a classic heart attack. We expect to see Fred
Sanford (remember "Sanford & Son?) grabbing his
chest, staggering with a wrenched look on his face,
yelling "It's the Big One!"
But, it turns out, what a heart attack looks like to
others, and feels like to you, may be very different.
Here are the symptons the American Heart
Association says you should look out for:
Heart Attack Warning Signs
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the
"movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's
happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with
mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't
sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting
help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is
• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve
discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more
than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes
back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure,
squeezing, fullness or pain.
• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body.
Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or
both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
• Shortness of breath with or without chest
• Other signs may include breaking out in a cold
sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
As with men, women's most common heart attack
symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are
somewhat more likely than men to experience some
of the other common symptoms, particularly
shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or
Learn the signs, but remember this: Even if you're
not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out.
Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe
your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-
Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get
lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services
staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to
an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital
by car. The staff are also trained to revive someone
whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain
who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster
treatment at the hospital, too.
If you can't access the emergency medical services
(EMS), have someone drive you to the hospital right
away. If you're the one having symptoms, don't drive
yourself, unless you have absolutely no other option.
Source: American Heart Association
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