Do we all think we are going to live forever? When we are younger I believe we subconsciously think, “I’m going to give it my best shot!” Somewhere along the way, we come across a situation that makes you realise that, no, you’re not going to live forever after all.
In my case, I was 44 years old when I came across that situation: a couple of myocardial infarctions. Hey, why have one when you can have two, innit?? The two heart attacks didn’t kill me; so I decided not to act as they had. “If we let things terrify us then life is not worth living,” Seneca said that. But I’d like to share my experience with you; if it can prevent someone from being as foolish as me it will have been worth it.
On or about the 10th and 11th of February 2010 I felt a funny sensation in my chest. It was momentary and I vaguely recall thinking that maybe I should speak to my doctor about it. It happened again a week later on 17th February. I thought the same thing….but didn’t actually do anything. That day at work someone had mentioned to me that I looked tired; and yet I had just returned to work from three days off. Signs…
February 18, 2010. It was the beginning of Lent. I’ve never been particularly good at fasting throughout Lent, but I do start off with a couple of days. I fasted that Thursday and I believe it’s one of the reasons I am still here today. I left work a little earlier than usual because I had to pass through Achimota Golf Club to check up on arrangements for our sponsored tournament.
So because of that I got home before my family and broke my fast alone at 6 pm. They got in later and I sat with them as they had dinner. A little after 7 pm I went to lock our gate for the night and my wife walked with me. She was chewing pork trotters (don’t ask me why I remember) and talking nonstop. I locked the gate and as I turned back to the house I felt a sudden vicious pressure on my chest. No pain, no cramp, no ache. Just severe pressure on my chest and I spontaneously began to sweat profusely. We continued walking and I wiped my brow and cleaned my hand in my t-shirt. I still don’t know why I tried to hide it from my wife.
Once we were back inside she decided to stay in the hall and work on her laptop and I went into the bedroom. The pressure was still there and I was still sweating. I lay down; no change. I sat up straight; no change. I got up and walked around the room; no change. I lay down again. Then suddenly I burped, a huge one, the kind kids do for fun and to entertain their friends. Instant relief! Oh wow, I thought, so it was trapped gas.
I lay down feeling calmer. Within about 30 seconds the pressure on my chest was back and I was sweating again. A very real fear gripped me then and I got up and quickly changed from shorts and a t-shirt into jeans and a top. When I got to the hall and spoke to my wife, she needed 3 mentions of her name and, “Sweetheart, I think I need to go to the hospital,” before she raised her head from her laptop. Actually, she almost threw the laptop up into the air when she realised what I was saying! She understood immediately, God bless her, what was going on.
We backed out of the house with her driving, she speaking to a doctor friend and me speaking to my doctor asking where we should go. It was either Nyaho Clinic or Trust Hospital. As she straightened the car, the pressure in my chest stopped. I mean a dead stop; it didn’t ease off or decrease. It stopped. I told her. She said if I thought we were going back home I was sadly mistaken. We continued down our road and then I pointed out that I had an ID card for Trust Hospital but it was at home. She thought I was trying to deceive her into going back home! But we did go round back home and I got the card.
We ended up at Nyaho. An angel called Josephine was waiting for us. It was her birthday and she was a locum that evening. She ordered some tests including an ECG. I was feeling well enough to notice that the nurse administering the ECG was a fine chick, with a body to die for, but a most unsmiling face! I wonder if that affected the ECG reading. I was standing in front of Josephine when the ECG sheet was given to her.
She didn’t even blink as she issued further instructions to the nurses for some injections and pills to be given to me. Afterwards, I discovered that when Josephine was given the ECG sheet it showed that I was basically having a heart attack as I stood there. I am eternally grateful for her calm demeanour and smooth reactions. She’s my wife’s roommate from Achimota and Legon, and it’s nice to be saved by a beautiful woman.
I was asked to consult with the doctor on duty at Nyaho. I did, and as I waited I suddenly saw another angel appear: Albert, who just happens to be Josephine’s husband, turned up in front of me. What a pleasant surprise! Two doctors attending to me personally! He asked me how I felt and I remember my answer: “Charle, Albert, what are you doing here? I’m just a little tired. I have a busy day tomorrow and I want to go home and sleep.” When you are foolish you are foolish!
He said okay, fine, let’s go to Cardio. Pardon me? Let’s go to Cardio. What did you say? Let’s go to Cardio. Cardio? Yes, Cardio. Cardio as in Korle-Bu? Yes. Whaaaat??
Albert took me out to my wife’s car, arranged my seat in the front to about 40 five degrees, and told my wife to follow him and drive at his speed to Korle-Bu. He drove his wife Josephine’s car (he very wisely came to Nyaho in a taxi). At Korle-Bu he stopped by the ER to speak to a houseman (what do you call a female houseman?). By midnight I was in bed in a room in Cardio, wearing only underwear, alone, and asking God, “Please why?”. I remember being concerned about my wife’s drive home by herself at that time of night.
I was in Cardio from that Thursday night till the following Monday. Test after test after test (the main anomaly was my cholesterolbeing too high; if only my IQ was that high), Albert and Josephine checking on me, Dr. Alfred Doku, other doctors, the female houseman called Margaret, ebei!
Do you know it was only onthe Sunday that someone used the words ‘heart attack’ to me? Albert came to my room at 7am and proceeded to explain with diagrams exactly what had happened to my heart. Oho, now I see! I was happily informed by every single medical person who attended to me (and some non-medical people as well) that I was only alive because we got to the hospital as quickly as we did. And my wife is the slowest driver in Accra….
I was discharged onthe Monday and given some weeks off to go, rest, and sin no more. I behaved….generally….kind of….in a manner of speaking. Then ten days after the first heart attack, 28th February, 2010, my heart tried to finish off the job.
I had lunch with my family and went to have a lie-down. There was a football match on if I recall, the League Cup Final between Man U and somebody. I dozed off (yeah, aboring match, and a factor for any heart attack). I woke up with a start after a few minutes and….hold on….is that….pressure on my chest? Yes, it was.
The mind is a strange thing. After the first heart attack, I had been told ad infinitum that if I felt any similar symptoms I was to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. And yet I sat there on the bed in a daze, wondering, “Can it be? Is it possible? How?? I just got discharged from the hospital!! No way!!” Finally, some inner voice screamed at me (I didn’t recognise the accent this inner voice spoke), “Get off your ass!!
I grabbed a pill I had been given, stuck it under my tongue as instructed, changed, and headed for the hall….where my wife was again sitting working on her laptop. When I got home safely a few weeks later I banned her from typing in the hall when I was home….just in case.
This time we headed for Cardio directly. This time the pressure in my chest did not ease. This time I felt every single bump and hole in the road between Dome and Korle-bu. This time my wife, the slowest driver in Accra, kept asking me if she should put on her hazard lights and blow her horn and drive in the middle of the road. I said no, I beg; knowing her we might have ended up in an accident! My sister Vivian and my niece Haifa met me there, and Albert and Josephine followed shortly.
I walked into Cardio of my own accord but barely. I was admitted immediately, and my abiding memory of that room was the noise as the nurse hit the oxygen tap on the wall trying to make it flow. It was not working. They moved me to the only other room available, a larger one. Lateron I heard that there was a bit of wailing and crying in the corridor because I looked doomed. Fortunately, I didn’t hear any of this.
I was finally stabilised and I settled down. That night a lovely nurse slept in a chair next to my bed. I think I woke up every five seconds and every time I did she was there, attending to me. She left around6am; turns out she was a big fan of my radio show. The pressure on my chest finally eased on Tuesday, by the by.
Even more tests this time, including a trip to Akai House Clinic for an EKG. I had an ECG twice a day, and a gentleman with a mobile monitor came to my room each time to take the reading because Korle-bu didn’t have a portable machine or something. It was his personal business, and I am forever grateful that I could pay for this service. I was finally released on the Friday after admission on the Sunday, and told to get ready to go to South Africa for a procedure.
One thing was confirmed by the heart attacks: I was NOT pregnant! And I was so hopeful…
To be continued…
Columnist: Rami Baitie | blog.ramitalks.com