Linn's story

On the 20th August 2019 I had a SCAD heart attack. I was 35 years old. This day changed my life, and I have now almost nine months later written down my SCAD story because, although I was left scared and confused afterwards, the continuous journey of recovery has taught me a lot as well. And who knows, perhaps my story might bring some encouragement to someone else.

I also wanted to share my story due to the topics of heart health and heart attacks in women not being as common knowledge and well researched as compared to men’s heart health and heart attacks. So, this is my SCAD story as I can recollect it nine months after the event.

20th of August 2019 at 11:07am, Canary Wharf, London. I am sitting at my desk, feeling quite happy as I got my Greece holiday confirmed that morning. It was a good day! I had just answered an email, when I feel this strange and uncomfortable sensation in my chest. It is like my chest is tightening, and it’s getting tighter and tighter, and my breathing becomes harder.

I sit by my desk and try to sense if this is a passing pain and sensation. But it is getting worse; I can’t shake it off. I need help as I have never felt like this before. I am thinking to myself if perhaps this is what a panic attack feels like? But why would I have a panic attack when I was so happy about by upcoming holiday to Greece?

I’m feeling nauseous and cannot remember at what point I start feeling a pain in my left arm, a pain that will stay with me until the next morning. Additionally, my left hand goes numb, and it feels like those electric waves when your leg ‘falls asleep’ due to a lack of blood circulation.

Chest pain and pain down the left arm are not a good combination; I knew I needed help! And fast! I got up and whispered to my colleague, Louise, sitting across of me, that I was not feeling great and we went out into the hallway. I needed to get down on the floor because it was starting to be difficult for me to stand up. We sat down against the wall and my head ended up in Louise’s lap.

Things did get a little blurry. I believe Louise mentioned that I was warm. A colleague passed by and Louise asked the person to get our manager, Chloe. Chloe and people from our team came out. I remember my team member, Joce(lyn), calling the ambulance (or 999), trying to explain my symptoms. Simon in my team is a first-aider and he asked me questions. After a little while, someone came upstairs. He was part of the ambulance personnel and could come quickly due to driving a motorbike. I was impressed.

There were also people from another company on our floor, who came and checked what was going on. Not sure if they came before or after Mr Ambulance man on a motorbike (sorry, can’t remember his name). What I do remember is that I was touched that they cared enough to enquire about me.

Mr Ambulance man asked some questions about my symptoms, and how I was feeling. He checked my blood pressure with a monitor, and I was also checked with a stethoscope. He took some notes and I believe he gave me some medicine. I definitely did get some meds in the ambulance.

The ambulance personnel, two people, came out of the elevator, asked some questions and it was decided that I needed to go to a hospital. I was taken downstairs (can’t remember in what) to the ambulance. Meanwhile all my belongings had been gathered and it was decided that Louise would be accompanying me to the hospital.

In the ambulance they did an ECG, or perhaps more than one. It was abnormal. I got a needle injected first to one hand; not successful, but the second attempt on the other hand was. We needed to go to the hospital, and I believe it was two options; either St Barts or Royal London. The sirens went on and off we went. They said the sirens were on to clear the traffic, and I guess I was okay with that. I was tired, but we tried to keep the mood humorous and light.

I felt I was in good hands although I had no clue what was going on. ECG? What was that? All I knew was that something was wrong in my body, and I was on my way to the hospital.

We ended up at St Bartholomew’s hospital. I was lying on a bed in the ambulance, and I was carried into the hospital on that bed before being transferred to a different one when I got inside and was waiting to get into another room. I spoke to at least a couple of hospital staff, and kept on repeating my name, date of birth and my allergy to prawns. I had to sign a document which gave the doctors permission to operate if needed.

I got rolled into what must have been an operating theatre with lots of bright lights, and I remember the room being cold. The nurses undressed me and they really struggled with my tight wrap dress and tights. Poor nurses. It still makes me chuckle a little. I also apologised for not having waxed before this unexpected event. LOL. They got me into a hospital gown. Not sure at what point a needle would be introduced and looked away as I cannot stand seeing needles or blood. Nevertheless, I was 100 % co-operative because I knew these were the people that would save my life.

Survival mode

I was in survival mode! Adrenalin was probably kicking in as I was very focused on survival. I also felt God’s peace, almost like Him saying that everything would be okay, and that I would live. My internal conversation with Jesus was: What is going on? Will I survive this? My prayer was that I would.

Louise was outside waiting while all of this went on in what I believe was the operating theatre. I got more meds before they performed what I later found out is called an angiogram. They went in via my wrist with dye to check my heart, arteries and so on.

When it was all over, a Kiwi nurse spoke to me (sorry, don’t know her name either). She told me I needed to wait for a room, and they had to transfer me to another bed. I’m not sure how long I was waiting in there, but what I remember very well, was that I could – after all of this (not sure if it lasted an hour or more) – lower my shoulders and finally let a few silent tears stream down my cheeks. I had and would survive this!

And from that moment started my journey of recovery…

I heard the term SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection) for the very first time that day. SCAD is a tear or a bruise in one (or more) of the coronary arteries that can result in heart attacks in mostly quite young and middle-aged women. They are often healthy and rarely have any pre-existing health conditions.

I had to start taking four different medicines, and at least one of them for life. For someone who was healthy and only took painkillers on occasion, this was a huge shock. Thankfully I did not need a stent or surgery, as I was told that the medication should hopefully give my heart a ‘holiday’ for the tear to heal. I was monitored in hospital for five days, before I was sent home and would come back on regular check-ups.

I wish I had written down everything sooner while it was all fresh in my mind. It is now nine months since that life-changing day, and it has been tough and life transforming. There have also been blessings along the way. I have rediscovered the importance of being close to family, and I’ve experienced what real friendships look like. I’ve also seen that not all people were able to handle that I changed and became weak for a season.

I’m very thankful to Louise who came with me to the hospital that day, and for the support of my team. I am also forever grateful for the NHS and the NHS staff, they helped me survive and went on the journey of recovery with me.

I was traumatised in the beginning and could not always think rationally. I almost started to cry when the pharmacy personnel told me that I needed to pay for my medication, and no one had informed me about this beforehand.

I was very fearful and knew I needed some sort of therapy. I found out about something called cardiac rehabilitation from reading on the British Heart Foundation’s website (very thankful for that website). I spoke to my wonderful doctor, Dr. Hata, and she recommended that I call St Barts to enquire about cardiac rehab. I called them and they informed me that I had been referred to Kings hospital at Denmark Hill, London. I therefore called them, and they could confirm an appointment with a cardiac nurse, Cecilia. I remember she was very kind and understanding – just the kind of person I needed to meet at that point in time.

I had many questions and was very scared. I felt like my heart and body had let me down, and they could not be trusted any more. Was I a faulty product? Was this going to happen again? Would a heart attack take me out in the end?

Forever changed

I was forever changed. My life was changed. There was a before and after, and I could not pretend that SCAD did not happen and had not affected me. The Linn I knew had changed, and I had to work through what this meant.

This is where the cardiac rehabilitation came in. I needed cardiac rehab, and it ended up being such a blessing to me; both the gym sessions and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I have grown so much because of this. It took me some time to be able to see this, but SCAD ended up being a blessing in disguise and a new chance at life. In the end I could say this about myself: I am a survivor. I am a SCAD survivor!

My advice

I want to share some advice both for a) when interacting with someone who’s traumatised and b) for the ones who are traumatised. This is based on my own personal experience and what I found helpful and not so helpful in my season of recovery. It is not a professional advice and it might not apply to everyone.

  • My personal advice for when you deal with someone who is going through trauma:
  • Listen more than trying to give advice (which might not be the kind of advice that the person needs). It’s not your responsibility to try to fix the person or the situation.
  • Do not tell them that they will soon be back to their old self. That is highly unlikely as they have gone through something life-changing and need to adapt to a new normal.
  • Do not give your opinion to, nor label or name, someone else’s struggle. Instead let the person do that themselves when they are ready. I had people say that I did not have a heart attack when I did. Not helpful.
  • It is totally okay not knowing what to say. We need your acceptance of who we are in this season, more than your words. We need to feel like we are not a burden, and not feel judged or having to force ourselves to be fine, ‘our old selves’, healthier, happier or more normal (whatever that is). We need to feel it is okay to not be okay, and that we can be vulnerable with you.

Here is some personal encouragement to the traumatised:

  • You are loved! I know that it might be a strange thing to say, but I had to remind myself that in the trauma, I was loved and loveable. I saw that people stepped up and loved and supported me. And they wanted to and thought I was worth it. For instance, my sister put her life on hold, and flew over from Norway to take care of me for two weeks. I had a friend who came and cooked for me. My colleague Louise came with me in the ambulance, and another colleague came with me to hospital check-ups. So, look out for the people who make an effort to stay in your life! Those are the people you want to have around.
  • This journey will be lonely at times! My CBT therapist said that no one could know what I was going through because I was the one who had gone through it, not them. So yes, it was lonely, and it can be difficult to this day to explain my journey to people. But hear friend, although people can not relate, some people will still make the journey with you. Notice those people and keep them close – and be there for them when this is all over.
  • And yes, there will be people who disappoint you due to their lack of empathy, understanding and support, and sometimes these people are people in your circle. Nevertheless, allow yourself a window to be sad, angry etc about it; then my advice is to see that this is a reflection of them as a person, and not you. The best thing you can do is to move on as you cannot change people, and it is not your responsibility either. Let it go.
  • Give yourself self-love, compassion, grace and time. Allow yourself to be weak; you do not always have to be the strong one. You are only human, and this will be hard. Forgive yourself if you have been neglecting yourself. I had to do that myself. Love yourself dearly, like you would someone you care about. This was one of my great lessons from the journey of recovery. The longest relationship you have in life, is the relationship with yourself – so make it a good and healthy one.

Remember: You are a survivor and have to date survived ALL of the worst days of your life.

Final words, I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.

Lots of love from a thankful survivor, Linn.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

 Maya Angelou

I needed cardiac rehab, and it ended up being such a blessing to me; both the gym sessions and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I have grown so much because of this.