Colette's story

On 31st March 2018, I was out for a meal in Glasgow with a friend when out of the blue I felt this intense pain in the centre of my chest. It was Good Friday and being a Catholic, I joked this was my punishment for having a glass of wine (it had been a particularly stressful week!).

As the night progressed, the pain got worse, so much so, I couldn’t eat or drink and even taking a single breath seemed to hurt. My friend asked if I was OK and again I joked, saying, “it feels like I’m having a heart attack” – not that I actually believed this to be true! I put it down to indigestion and called it a night. I stayed at my parents’ house that night as I had a spa day planned with my sister the following day. I felt dizzy and generally not quite right so I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up and felt rotten. The room was spinning and I had a nasty headache. How can I be hungover I thought? I only had two drinks- in fact I only had one as I couldn’t drink the second glass!

The last thing I wanted to do was go to a spa but I didn’t want to let my sister down, so off I went. I remember lying on one of the beds and feeling so tired. I must have dozed off at one point as my sister shook my arm to say she was moving to one of the other rooms. I stood up and felt this strange sensation in my left arm. I didn’t think anything of it and continued with my day…

I went back to Edinburgh that night, still not feeling great but thinking that whatever was wrong with me would surely pass soon.

Oddly however, the strange aches and pains continued for the rest of the week but with two young children (aged four and one at the time), I had no choice but to just get on with it.

The pain came in waves

The pain was at its worst in the morning but I knew as the day went on, the pain would ease….which it did! This seemed to be the pattern each day – the pain would come in waves but then disappear again. Then came the pins and needles. Initially it was just in the one arm but as the week progressed, it was in both arms. Again it would come in waves – starting at my shoulders then working its way down to my fingertips. But then it would disappear…

On the Wednesday, I felt another sharp pain right in the centre of my chest. I spent most of the day in bed – I was so tired! It must be a bug I thought, it will go soon. Again the pattern continued on Thursday and Friday…

On Thursday, I went to my first ever Zumba class. It was so much fun but I must admit I did struggle. I looked round the class and I was by far the youngest person there. Was I really that unfit? I went home feeling very light-headed and nauseous. After a nap however, I felt a bit better.

On Friday morning, I felt OK. Finally I thought – the bug is passing! I went to yoga that evening but on my way home, the nausea came back as well as pain in my shoulder. I must have pulled something I thought so took a couple of paracetamol and went to bed.

Colette with her children.

On Saturday 7th April, 2018 I woke up with a very heavy chest. I got out of bed and struggled to stand upright. The pain was particularly bad but I kept telling myself it would pass.

Later that morning, I took my daughter to her Tae Kwon Do class. I started to feel hot and sweaty and the pins and needles seemed more noticeable for some reason. We got home and then my husband suggested a trip to Ikea and Costco. I thought why not, I needed a distraction!

The kids were playing up that day and I really didn’t have the patience. I remember looking around and everything and everyone seemed like one big blur. I said to my husband, we need to go home so off we went to the car. My husband pulled into a petrol station and as he got out, the kids were arguing in the back seat. I turned round to try and settle them, but then a wave of something just hit me. I felt dreadful and had to put my head on my lap for the whole journey home. I went straight to bed as soon as I got in.

I woke up from my nap and the heavy feeling in my chest felt worse. Something wasn’t right so I reached for my phone and phoned nhs24. As I had chest pain they called for a paramedic to come out right away. I was mortified! What would the neighbours think? I struggled downstairs and explained to my husband and daughter what was going on.

I saw the worried confused look on my daughter’s face as I was taken into the ambulance. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back in time for tea” I told her. At that moment I left my family and went into the unknown. The paramedics must have sensed my fear and told me it’s probably nothing but best to get checked out anyway.

I felt like a fraud

I sat in A&E for hours feeling like a fraud. My ECG was abnormal but no one seemed overly concerned. I sat on my own for hours wondering what was going on. Eventually a doctor came in and gave me some gaviscon and explained it’s most likely reflux and not to worry.

They took some blood and told me I should be able to go home once the results came back. At that point my husband arrived and I told him to go home and be with the kids. He had left them with a neighbour to check on me as we have no family nearby. I insisted he went back home to see to the kids and I explained I would be home shortly. He went back home and I continued to wait for hours on my own.

The doctor eventually came back and I immediately knew it wasn’t good. He asked me if I had a history of sudden death syndrome. I said no and told him he was worrying me now. He then asked if I had taken any drugs. Absolutely not! I would never touch drugs and was rather insulted that he would ask such a thing.

At that point the pain got worse. “I think you’re having a heart attack”…. what? Is this a wind-up! I’ve just sent my husband away and I’m having a heart attack! At that point, as I was getting wheeled away, all sorts of horrible thoughts were going through my head. This is it, I thought…

“I haven’t received any cardiac rehab programme. When I queried it, I was told it wouldn’t apply to me and is more tailored to those who have had a ‘typical’ heart-attack.”

The rest of the night involved lots of machines, injections and a flurry of medical staff rushing around me. I was told I would need an angiogram but it wouldn’t be until the Monday. I was told to be prepared for a lengthy wait as quite often emergency cases bumped the queue.

I got woken up at 5am to be told I was first….OK this can’t be good I thought. The nurse must have thought I was crazy as the first thing I said was; “I can’t. I’ve not even had a cup of tea yet!” I was clearly still in shock!

As I got wheeled down the corridor, all I could think of was that I didn’t even get the chance to speak to my husband or kids. What if I never saw them again? I’ve never been so scared in my life!

I remember lying on the table, shivering. Why is it so cold? One minute I was surrounded by medical staff as they carried out the angiogram then the next minute everyone left and went into a little glass room.

‘You’ve had a SCAD’

After what felt like an eternity, someone came back and explained I had a SCAD. A what? I had so many questions but all I was told was that I would be going back to the ward and someone would be along at some point to see me.

A doctor finally came to see me late afternoon and explained that one of the smaller heart arteries had torn which caused the heart attack. He tried to discharge me later that day but thankfully one of the nurses managed to talk him around. I stayed the night and was discharged the following day.

After that, everything has pretty much been a blur. I was left with a pile of medication and a few leaflets and that was it. I had no idea what follow-up was required, when I could go back to work or what exercise I could do. I was just advised not to lift anything more than 10lb. So did that mean I couldn’t lift my toddler?

To this day, I still haven’t seen my cardiologist. I have an appointment scheduled for end of August 2019, but that is over 16 months since it happened! I did originally have an appointment scheduled for September 2018 however, it was one of the registrars who I saw instead – sadly they couldn’t really answer any of my questions so I felt it was rather pointless going.

A follow-up was scheduled for March then it was changed to April and now I’ve been told it won’t be until August. All very frustrating, but hopefully this time the appointment will be with the Cardiologist.

I also haven’t received any cardiac rehab programme. When I queried it, I was told it wouldn’t apply to me and is more tailored to those who have had a ‘typical’ heart-attack.

Ongoing chest pain

I would say the first six months were particularly bad which involved a number of trips to A&E due to further chest pain. I was re-admitted on one occasion but they put the pain down to the healing process of SCAD. I was also on a lengthy phased return at work (over a period of eight months) due to ongoing pain and fatigue.

In September I had a bit of a funny turn which caused double vision, extreme pressure in my head, numbness and a sense of heat rising up the left side of my face. At one point they suspected a TIA but they are still unsure if this was the case.

I was sent for an MRI and an MRA which showed I had tortuous arteries in my head and neck. I questioned if I perhaps had FMD (Fibromuscular Dysplasia) as, through my own research, I knew this could be linked to SCAD. I was told, however, that it was unlikely.

I am so grateful to still be here but I’m still feeling rather confused about what actually happened. What caused my SCAD?

Was it hormonal? The week it happened, I had my first period since having my son.

Was it stress-related? I battled with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) following a complicated birth and didn’t react well to the various anti-depressants/anti-psychotics given to me in the months leading up to my SCAD.

Did I have more than one heart attack/SCAD? I had identical symptoms a week apart with pain and pins and needles in between. Until then, I was generally a healthy, fit 35-year-old – why me?

Why any of us? I feel I have a lot of unanswered questions and maybe I never will get the answers but I have learned to accept this. It’s time to start enjoying life again and thanks to the support of Beat SCAD, I feel I can finally do this!

It’s time to start enjoying life again