“Don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart, I just don’t think he’d understand.”
Being a fan of Sunderland, there’s been plenty of heartbreak, it comes with the territory. As we went into penalties at Wembley in March following an injury time equaliser, the bloke next to me said “I don’t think my heart can take this.” I just nodded but inside, I knew that mine couldn’t.
The signs had probably been there for a long time and I hadn’t seen them but the first indication that something was up was a few days before Wembley when I went out for an eight-mile run and gave up after 500 yards due to not feeling right. I gave up on the run and the next day I tried the gym. Ten minutes of minimum effort on the cross trainer gave me chest pains and after another ten minutes sat in the changing room, I’d recovered enough to go home.
I’m an adult who considers himself reasonably intelligent, so I knew I had to get it checked out but I was the healthiest I’ve ever been. I was training for a half marathon, eating healthily, lost two stone and had pretty much given up drinking. In 2018 I only drank six times on special occasions and 2019 was heading the same way. I decided that I couldn’t be ill and, more importantly, I had a Wembley weekend coming up and I didn’t want anybody telling me I couldn’t go.
Wembley had tried its best to break my heart on six previous occasions, but maybe number seven would be the time I finally saw Sunderland win.
I kept my health concerns to myself and struggled around London ignoring the nagging pain and almost cried with relief on discovering that the fifth tier of the national stadium was accessed via escalators rather than stairs.
As usual, Sunderland let me down and in hindsight, I’m not sure I could have coped with us winning.
A couple days later I was in the doctor’s office and within minutes she was convinced I had angina. It’s not something I knew a great deal about other than it was a heart issue that old people got.
She booked me an appointment with a cardiologist and prescribed Aspirin and also GTN spray to use whenever I had an attack of chest pain.
My running days were over once again and my half marathon hopes dashed.
The appointment came through pretty quickly and within three weeks I saw a cardiologist who dismissed my concerns.
He described me as a runner in his letter as if it was my profession and decided that because of my family history, general fitness and previous health history, it was unlikely to be anything heart related but he would send me for a CT scan, anyway.
The CT scan was the night of the Portsmouth semi final and I was in and out within twenty minutes. The results however took a lot longer.
About six weeks later I got a letter saying that there was a calcium score of six in one of my arteries. It didn’t sound much and a quick Google showed it was nothing to be concerned about. I was however being sent for a CT angiogram just to be sure.
I waited months for the appointment, so long that I’d started working full time and I’d really hoped to have it all done and dusted by then.
The appointment finally came through for October and being a Saturday morning, I didn’t need to take any time off work. There was a lot of hanging around but the procedure once again was straightforward and I was home before lunch.
After waiting so long for the appointment, it surprised me to get a letter the following Tuesday with my results. I had two blockages.
One in my right-hand artery was above 50% and one in the LAD (left anterior descending) artery (the important one according to Dr Google) which was above 75%.
I was being booked in for an ‘invasive’ angiogram so they could get a closer look.
The appointment came through a lot quicker than before and they booked in me for 18th November.
The 18th arrived, and I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. They had told me to expect to be hanging around all day but shortly after 8.15am I was having all my vitals checked and needles stuck in my arm. They then told me to wait in a chair and I settled in for the day with a copy of Empire magazine.
I was surprised to be called in less than half an hour later for the procedure. Everything was explained, my wrist was shaved, and we were ready to begin.
I was awake as they made a tiny incision in my wrist and fed a tube into my vein followed by a wire that went all the way to my heart to inject some dye. Aside from the camera moving about in front of my face, I could watch all of this happening on the big TV screens beside me.
Twenty minutes later and another cardiologist entered the room to have a discussion about the findings. I had two blockages, worse than they were expecting, and they showed me a screenshot where it looked like someone had taken a bite from my LAD artery. It’s the main one and needed fixing as the blockage was about 90%.
Various options were discussed but the one both me and the cardiologist favoured was fitting two stents immediately. One in the LAD and another in the right-hand artery which had a 70% blockage.
It says a lot about the confidence I had in the NHS that the only thing I was concerned about at that stage was the fact that I could probably do with going to the toilet.
About an hour later we were done. Two stents fitted, one heart fixed and no fuss or drama.
As soon as I was out of the operating theatre, I was on my feet and heading for that well needed toilet break.
They hooked me up to some monitors for the next four hours, but I was well looked after with cuppas and sandwiches.
Because of the unplanned stent fitting, I was kept in for the night as a precaution. I’d struck lucky with my ward as everyone on it was normal and easy to get along with. There were horror stories from the next ward of catheters being ripped out and being poured on fellow patients and also of one bloke barricading himself into the ward. Consensus on our ward was that not a single one of us could do the job of the nurses.
I won’t say I had the best night’s sleep ever, but it went without incident.
By the next afternoon I was home and looking forward to a sleep in my own bed.
My arm was a bit battered and bruised and I felt knackered but considering what I’d had done, I found the whole experience considerably less painful than a recent trip to the dentist to get a tooth removed.
I’m now on stupid amounts of medication and have admitted defeat in buying a pill organiser, but it’s a small price to pay.
I don’t want to make this political, but it’s terrifying to think what the outcome would have been without the NHS. With an impending election, the priority has to be to defend it at all costs.
I might not be running for a while but have an appointment with the cardiac rehab team to get me back to full fitness and I’m feeling better than I did before I went into hospital.
At the time of writing, Sunderland are in the worst position in their history, being led by someone called Parkinson and seem to have no signs of recovery. As much as they try, I won’t let them break my heart again.
As a final note, if you were a Sunderland fan from Hampshire whose bottle of Bud flew from his inside pocket when McGeady scored at Wembley, I was the bloke next to you whose heart really couldn’t take it.