It was the middle of the night and I was in that DEEP sleep that all mums crave and savour. You know the one. The kind of sleep we need to refuel and repair and recharge before we face the onslaught of the relentless next day.
“Mum! I think I’ve got diarrhea!”
2.30am and this was my wake-up call.
I lay there, dazed. Warm and cocooned and groggy. I’ve never been the type that wakes up well.
“Ok. I’ll be there in a minute.” I call out in the dark house.
I give it another minute and then head to the boys’ bathroom to check on my eldest who is, in fact, sitting on the toilet with diarrhea. I stand there in the cold, bright bathroom and feel his forehead. No temp. He’s wincing as his tummy cramps so I rub his back, while he’s pooing, with soothing Mum sounds. And then a wave of nausea and sudden urge to poo overcomes me. I feel sweaty and dizzy.
“Oh God,” I think to myself. “I’ve got his bloody virus too.”
Out loud I say “Hang on buddy. I’m feeling a bit sick myself. I’m just going to go to my toilet and I’ll be right back.”
But as I urgently make my way back down the hall to my ensuite things get weird. I’m suddenly not in the hallway but instead in a very dark tunnel and I can’t walk properly. I’m buffeting from wall to wall as I stagger like I’m pissed. But I don’t stop because the urge to go to the toilet is overwhelming. I can hear my husband calling out to me from miles away. He can hear me stumbling and asks, repeatedly “What are you doing?”
I think I’m responding to him, but apparently I’m not. It’s very dark and I’m very dizzy and feeling very pissed despite only having two glasses of wine with my dinner 8 hours ago.
I open my eyes and I can see my son’s and my husband’s bare feet poking out from beneath their pjs. I’m wondering how I can see the bathroom floor from my bed, which I am laying in. My ears are ringing. I can’t speak.
“Are you ok Mum?”
I lift my eyes and see the worried face of my ten year old son as he’s shaking my arm. I realise I’m on the bathroom floor, slumped against the wall.
“Hon? Are you ok? What are you doing?”
I had blacked out. Not for very long but long enough. I reassuringly send my son back to bed and lay down flat on the bathroom floor while I try to listen to what my body is saying.
My ears are still ringing. I still feel dizzy. I feel nauseous. I feel sweat dripping down my forehead. My heart is pounding hard and very fast. I still have to poo.
As I sit on the toilet I look at myself in the mirror and can’t believe my eyes. There is no colour in my face. My skin is grey. I don’t look like me.
I finish my business and walk out to my husband.
“I’m really scared. I think I’m in trouble” I say and burst in to tears.
But then, you know what I did? Nothing.
I went back to bed and had a little cry and convinced my husband to Google ‘fainting’. About 45mins later my heart was still racing at a furious rate so I apologetically suggest that he maybe call a locum. I’m apologetic because he’s been up with me since 2.30am and I know he needs to go to work in the morning. I figure if we can get a doctor out then he can tell me I’m fine and we can all get some sleep. The problem is there aren’t any doctors available in my area at that time.
What to do? I know. Let’s THINK about it for a little while.
At 3.45am I have a lightbulb moment and suggest we call one of those 24 hour health lines and talk to a nurse about it. I speak to her myself but I can’t catch my breath properly. It’s like I’m talking to her while I’m sprinting down the road. She calmly and methodically takes me through a triage assessment and then drops the bomb.
“Based on your answers to my questions I’m recommending that you hang up and call an ambulance”
I’m sorry, what was that? I’m not THAT bad. Am I? No. That won’t do. I’ve got KIDS you know. What will they think if they see an ambulance turn up? And the expense! Ambulances are bloody expensive!
I thank her for her assistance and make the big call.
“I’m calling Mum.”
Have you ever had to make an emergency call to your mum, who you KNOW is going to think the worst, at 4 o’clock in the morning? It’s not fun but it’s the lesser of two evils in my mind. And I need someone to look after the kids as I concede that I may actually need to go to hospital.
I’ve only previously been to emergency for my kids. The wait is usually long and tedious and very often ends with being sent home with an overtired baby and instructions to administer paracetamol every four hours.
When I presented myself at emergency they put a thing on my finger to take my pulse and rushed me straight through leaving my husband to fill in all the necessary paperwork. Within minutes I was behind a modesty curtain, had been stripped of ALL my upper clothing [hello boobs!] and stuck all over with monitoring pads which were hooked up to the loudest beeping machine in the world.
Shit’s getting real now.
The gorgeously kind nurses helped me into a hospital gown, covered me with heated blankets and asked me to recount, in great detail, the events that preceded my delivery to their care.
“The nurse on the phone should have instructed you to call an ambulance,” says the confused nurse.
“She did,” I confess.
“You should have!” she scolds me. “What if you had a heart attack on the way to hospital? What would your husband have done? That’s what the ambulance is for. So you can receive medical treatment IMMEDIATELY. Why didn’t you listen to her advice?”
And then it hits me. I’m one of THOSE women. You know the ones. You’re probably one too. I’m one of those women that thinks they’re too young to have heart problems. I’m healthy! I’m sort of fit! I’ll be alright. For God’s sake, I’m not going to DIE from a racing heart! It’s probably just stress. How bad can it be?
Well. It can be very bad. Scary bad. Death bad.
I am on a drip of magnesium and saline and the machine next to me is screaming an alarm. The new day has dawned and I know I need to let Bel, my partner in crime (and boss!) know that I won’t be on the tools that day. So I send her a pic of me in bed “Just in case you ever questioned my work ethic, I have been researching heart health since 2.30am… #committed”
The ED doctor appears at my bedside. My current resting heart rate is between 150-170 and it’s all over the place. According to the doctor, a 43 year old, fit, healthy woman that does not smoke, drink much or take any other medication should have a resting heart rate of between 60-70. I’m in a very dangerous zone. I am in danger. This does not help calm my heart down, just as an FYI.
“You have atrial fibrillation arrhythmia. You are at serious risk of heart attack and stroke. We MUST reset your heart rate as soon as possible”
Okaaaay… that sounds reasonable.
“There are three ways to do this but my recommendation is cardioversion which is basically electric shock therapy to the heart.”
THAT does NOT sound reasonable. That sounds extreme and intense and scary. I repeat, this is NOT helping my heart rate.
“What are the other options?”
He tells me I have the option of an iodine based medication which may reset my heart rhythm or a medication which will slowly reduce my heart rate which should then reset my heart rhythm. Of course, none of this may work but either way I need to make a decision soon because my heart has been at that accelerated rate for over six hours now. I start to cry. Again.
He gives me some time to discuss it with my husband and in the meantime calls a cardiologist for a quick phone consult and second opinion. My husband and I discuss and deliberate and discuss and debate and just as the doctor returns I have made the decision to go for the cardioversion. But as he proceeds to tell me what the cardiologist said and what our next step is, the strangest thing happens. My heart spontaneously RESETS ITSELF in front of his eyes.
Hallelujah! I am a self-healer!
So the pressure is off because I’ve returned to a sinus rhythm but my heart rate is still 100 which is still far too high. So the cardiologist comes to see me and makes arrangements to admit me to the cardiac ward so he can take some tests over the next couple of days to get to the bottom of all this.
And just like that, I am a 43 year old heart patient.
What the actual f*ck?
In case you missed it in the article I wrote just before I ended up in hospital with a heart emergency [no, the irony is NOT lost on me] Heart Disease is the number one killer of women in Australia. As a woman over 40 my chances of having a heart attack before the age of 70 is one in four.
Heart Disease is the number one killer of women in Australia. As a woman over 40 my chances of having a heart attack before the age of 70 is one in four.
These statistics are nuts but what’s even crazier is that very few women, including me, understand that they are at risk of dying. 11 women a day are dying across Australia and fools just like me are not acknowledging the warning signs.
A recent study has shown that 40% of women can experience a heart attack without chest pain.
Instead women may experience other warning signs such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, back pain or just unexplained tiredness and fatigue. (No wonder that nurse told me to call an ambulance! I had every symptom except back pain.) Women (me!) often think that these warning signs are less life threatening conditions such as indigestion (or in my case just being tired) and don’t take prompt action to call Triple Zero (000).
So where am I at now? I’m waiting. They ran the full gamut of tests while I was on the cardiac ward. I had three ECGs, an echocardiogram and was monitored around the clock via a monitor I wore. They ran blood tests for infection, virus and troponin [which would indicate if I had experienced a heart attack at any time recently]. They checked my cholesterol and my thyroid function. Everything came up fine. But that doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods yet.
I’ve got a few more hoops to jump through before I get the all clear but I can tell you I won’t make the same mistake twice.
I absolutely DO NOT want to become another statistic and I don’t want YOU to either so PLEASE learn from my experience. GO THIS WEEK for your heart health check. Understand the warning signs and listen to them. Better to turn up to hospital on a false alarm than dead.
And remember, your heart matters.