It began with some difficulties climbing Mt Taylor in January 2017. I found after the first 500m of walking, about a quarter of the distance, that I became very tired and did not have the energy to continue. At the time I put this down to general fitness having dropped during the last year, with an arm injury in February 2016 slowing me down considerably and plantar fasciitis developing when I did resume climbing hills and curtailing much of my usual summit activity. As I am no longer what anyone will call “young” any more, extra care is required when doing anything challenging. *
However what I should have realised is that what I was experiencing was one of this list of symptoms:
- Pain areas: in the chest, jaw, or neck
- Pain types: can be like a clenched fist in the chest or sudden in the chest
- Whole body: dizziness, fatigue, inability to exercise, light-headedness, or sweating
- Gastrointestinal: heartburn, indigestion, or nausea
- Respiratory: rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Also common: anxiety, chest tightness, or fast heart rate
Some readers will recognise these symptoms as those of angina, a sign that the heart does to have enough oxygen from its blood supply to continue to work at the rate required by your current exertion level.
The Mayo Clinic describes angina thus:
- Angina is typically described as squeezing, pressure, heaviness, tightness or pain in your chest.
Notice there is no mention of a sharp pain you would associate immediately with your heart. Why not? The reason is apparently that the heart does not have its own nerves like other organs. So when your brain registers there is something going wrong in your heart it tells you that some other organ is under stress.
It is usually caused by blockages in the arteries servicing the heart (as distinct from the arteries the heart pumps blood into for circulation to the rest of your body). These coronal arteries are crucial for continued operation of your heart.
In my case, I experienced the tightness in my chest as I walked back to my accommodation in Canberra on 20th April. I didn’t recognise the tightness as angina and all I did was stop walking and wait for the discomfort to dissipate, which it did. But on reaching my daughter’s place, I made an appointment with the doctor for later that morning, then went to work.
What should I have done? I should have stopped walking right then and called an ambulance. If you ever get that tightness in the chest, or any of those symptoms listed above, go as quickly as possible to the nearest emergency department of a hospital. Or the next best thing if you don’t have access to a hospital.
The doctor diagnosed it as angina and prescribed a pain reduction spray (nitro glycerine) with instructions on what to do if the pain returned. Basically, use the spray as temporary relief but get to a hospital.
Within a half hour of seeing the doctor I had more discomfort and I went to the hospital for treatment. After numerous tests an angiogram was carried out and I was told then that I would have to have a triple bypass operation.
All of that happened as scheduled on 3rd May and then recuperated from the operation. I was basically OK but a bit weak and had to steadily regain my strength. It is a very invasive operation but fortunately it is performed quite often and is well proven.
The reason I shared all these details is to alert all readers to this problem. My blood pressure has been in an acceptable range (roughly 125/70) for the last 10 years. My cholesterol readings have been just inside the “safe” range. Yet neither of those indicators predicted this problem was looming for me. If I had been out in the bush needing to walk an hour to even return to my car, who knows what the outcome could have been. But it is quite possible I would not have been able to tell you about it. I want to achieve a lot of things in the next 20 years and I now have a chance to do that, thanks to modern medical science.
*Age at the time: late 60s.