What it feels like to...have a heart attack at 26 years old
Friday the 13th. Unlucky for some.
On Friday 13th February, for the first, and possibly last time, I entered my own ‘One Minute Briefs F.C.’ team into the MPA Football Tournament. We were up against against a lot of the Manchester advertising/marketing agencies and, as you can imagine, I was very keen for my team to progress in the tournament. This led me to put in that little extra effort along with my teammates who worked hard to do well in the group and battle through the knockout stages with some brilliant results.
We ended up getting to the final and gave it our best shot but, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and, truth is, I had nothing left to give. I was watching the game pass me by and something wasn’t quite right. I thought I was just knackered, but little did I know that the problem was a lot worse than I imagined.
We took part in the presentation and had some pictures taken with our runners-up medals but I really needed to get out of there asap as I felt unwell.
As soon as I got in my car, I felt some discomfort in my chest, which I initially put down to being unfit as I hadn’t played for a few weeks. I couldn’t wait to get home and was on auto-pilot as I followed my friend and team-mate Max all the way home from Manchester to Macclesfield.
The pain in my chest was getting slowly worse and I noticed my hands were clammy and I felt hot. As I’d just been playing football, I didn’t think much of it and continued on my way. The journey seemed to take an eternity, every traffic light was on red and then, suddenly, I began to get aching pains down my right arm.
It was only then when I thought... could this be a heart attack? Only two weeks earlier my first ever football coach and family friend for many years, Craig Sellers, had collapsed and died of a heart attack whilst driving his car.
Of course, I dismissed any chance that it could possibly be that, after all I’m only 26. I even ignored the many signs for Stepping Hill Hospital, that I’d never noticed in my life before, to continue the drive home. On the way, my friends in the car in front pulled into the next lane to turn right and beeped at me as they shouted to let me know they were going to get a well deserved KFC. They were joking around and in a good mood but all I could do was smile and nod. I couldn’t even bring myself to put my window down. I carried on slowly as I began to get more and more uncomfortable and began to move around in my seat to try and ease the pain as cars began to overtake me. I was close to stopping and ringing someone but I’ve got an iPhone so, of course, the battery went! I needed to get home quickly but I’ve never driven so slowly in my life. So when I finally pulled up to my house I felt a huge relief, I picked up my kit and limped through the door into the kitchen (I’d also broken my toe at the football but that was the least of my worries). Using the worktop to support me I scrambled around my cupboard and found a packet of Rennies. That’s right, I thought 2 Rennies would sort me out. I then crawled up the stairs to have a shower and stood in it for ages as the pain seemed to be going away.
After the shower, I attempted to get dressed and began to feel seriously weak and tired as I fell onto my side on the bed. It felt really comfortable and I thought I’d stay there for a bit but the pain in my chest was excruciating. I rang my mum but it went to voicemail and I told her in a weak shaken voice that I had massive chest pain and pain in my right arm. About a month previously she had told me not exert myself when playing football or going to the gym as this type of thing is happening more and more to younger people. I then texted her, my brother and sister to let them know what I thought was happening and, that if I didn’t make it, to remember I love them.
It was then I rang my friend to ask if they could take me to hospital. At first they asked me if they could ring me back… I said, no you really need to come now…I think I’m having a heart attack. They came straight round and we went straight into A&E. I was in a bad way and could feel everyone looking at me in the waiting room. I put my head on the receptionist’s desk as I was in so much pain and I was shocked when she started to ask my religion and people’s phone numbers. She asked me what I did for a living and I had no idea. I was made to sit in the waiting area and I only had to wait for 5 minutes before someone called for ‘Mark Entwistle’… Mark is my dad’s name. I’d even got my own name wrong!
I was then rushed into ‘Resuscitation’ where I was immediately hooked up to lots of wires for an ECG. They also gave me a lot of morphine which gave me a wave of pain relief as I was hooked up to a heart monitor. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. Blood tests they did on me came back quickly and they had shown up an enzyme that appears when there has been an irregularity in the heart. They couldn’t be sure exactly what it was and immediately put me on some medication to thin my blood. I waited for hours as I was monitored and could hear the doctors talking about me and whether or not I would be rushed over to a heart specialist hospital that night. At 4am the decision was made that I would be staying at Macclesfield Hospital. I could still feel pain but it was now under some sort of control and I was put onto a ward full of people in their 60s and 70s. At this point I was pretty emotional as I didn’t understand why or what was happening to me. As well as this, I was scared to go to sleep that night as I thought I was going to die. The machines I was hooked up to were beeping all through the night and I stayed there for the next 3 days with all sorts of tests done. I had to be wheeled to the bathroom if I wanted to go and I felt totally demoralized. But one thing that made it better were the messages of support and visits by family and friends (you know who your real friends/family are at a time like this)
I was waiting Monday to arrive to go in an ambulance to Stoke Hospital where I was told I’d be given an ‘angiogram’ which is where you have your wrist slit and they shove a tube all the way through your vein up your arm into your heart. Nice! They said that I should be able to go home afterwards so I was feeling positive.
Monday arrived and after hours of waiting I got taken in. I was fully awake the whole time as I felt them cut my wrist and push the tube into my heart. The pain began to come back and I panicked as I watched the dye being put into my heart on the big screen in front of me. I could hear everything… and the tone of their voice changed as they had to zoom in on something on screen. Once they had finished and clamped my wrist, the doctor told me that they had found a blood clot in my heart where the blood leaves my main artery. I thought that was the end for me if I’m honest. It sounded serious and I asked them if I was going to die. They said that I’d be on a course of medication before repeating the procedure on my other arm a week later and would definitely not be leaving the hospital any time soon.
In the following week, I was subject to test after test and countless injections whilst wired to a machine. My friend brought me a colouring book for entertainment and I was brought lots of gifts of sweets and chocolate, perfect for the heart ward! I was also forced to postpone my upcoming event and come off Twitter for a while. So I was absolutely overwhelmed when the followers at @OneMinuteBriefs had created their own brief online to support me in such a difficult time. It’s something I’ll never ever forget. These things added up to help me stay strong and I pestered the nurses to take me off the machine and let me walk around. I hated the feeling of helplessness and just existing each day. I did have a scare in the week as one of the tests I had showed I had a small hole in my heart but this was not the reason for the blood clot and 1 in 3 people actually have this. The CT scan was the worst though, having to lie in a tube for 45 minutes as dye is sent through your veins wasn’t the best experience.
Finally, it got to the following Monday, the moment of truth. Had the treatment I’d received worked? They tried to slit my right wrist again, but when it was half cut, they decided it wasn’t working and had to go into my left one. The pain as the tube entered my heart was horrendous as more dye was poured through my heart to see what was going on in there. They put a camera into it to reveal the extent of damage in my artery and whether or not they needed to put a stent in to open it up.
Meanwhile, whilst this was all going on, my mum was outside waiting for the outcome. The nurse had told her it would take 20 minutes but it was getting close to an hour due to the change of arm but she wasn’t to know and was getting more and more worried. Then the nurse asked if the doctor could have a word with her. She thought something bad had happened. Luckily, it was good news, the damage to my artery and any clot had cleared. There was no need to put a stent in and there was no lasting damage to my heart. What a relief. Even if I was in severe pain from my two slit wrists!
So that was it, it had been a rollercoaster of emotions and physically/mentally draining but they said after staying one more night I could leave the next day. It was actually quite sad to say goodbye to the amazing nurses and doctors who had looked after me. They were shocked to see someone so young in there but I helped them art direct their notice board and had a good laugh with them throughout.
As I left the hospital it was the furthest I’d walked in the last two weeks and seeing people walking around was a strange experience. I knew then that it was going to take me a while to rebuild my confidence and fitness.
The first week or two I couldn’t do anything for myself and wasn’t even allowed to do general housework but I started a Cardiac Rehab programme which has encouraged me to become active and build the strength of my heart muscle back up and return to completely normal life. Gradually I’ve started walking, driving, going to the gym and doing normal day to day tasks, as well as returning to work. I’ve mainly worked freelance from home but travelled to do talks at universities and pushed myself to get back to my old self which isn’t easy with the self doubt and worry that something like this brings.
It is three months to the day since it happened and today I had an appointment with the doctor who performed my angiogram. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they have given me the all-clear to be an absolutely normal 26-year old and to go back to playing football and the life I had before. I am now looking forward to having more confidence and not letting anything hold me back by thinking too much about the past.
So… what does it feel like to have a heart attack at 26? Well… not great. However, in many ways, it has made me really appreciate life and changed the way I think about things. I know that family and friends will always be there no matter what, so now I feel like I can go out and do exactly what I want to do in life and make a difference. Too often I have been held back by people who don’t have the same belief that I do and now this has happened I won’t entertain negativity. It’s actually an empowering feeling and I hope I can use this positivity to help creative people as well as being able to do great things.
I would never say that it’s a good thing that it happened…but maybe it is?