Addenbrooke’s and Royal Papworth save my life. Again.

This time it was most definitely a heart attack – the angiogram spotting a huge blockage in one of my arteries that wasn’t there in the 2017 scan and that none of the other tests were able to pick up.

My last blogpost was published on Tues 07 December 2021 – a day where I found myself experiencing shoulder pain that was either a tense muscle that needed a powerful massage on it, or it was heart-related in which case it needed something more substantial. So I used a deep heat roller, and a couple of shots of GTN. Then my skin broke out into a rash and I noticed my lips swelling. So I called for an ambulance. Turned out it wasn’t a major life-threatening reaction, but they gave me an injection of a ‘more powerful antihistamine’ in the ambulance before taking me to A&E.

I had been experiencing mild shoulder pains and had recently had an appointment with my GP to have a number of tests and ECG scans to see if anything was wrong. All seemed normal – blood tests, ECG, heart rate, blood oxygen levels. So I took the events of Tuesday as a one-off, not least because when the lead consultant at A&E got to be before any of the other staff did, he sent me home saying the injection had done its job – which it had.

The following day I rocked up to The Grafton for a CV19-booster. I told them about the previous night and they recommended I wait behind after the injection for longer just in case. Which I did. Nothing abnormal happened and I went home. 6-9 hours after the injection I felt sharp shoulder pains – like someone was poking you with a splintered plank of wood. This sort of pain is *very different* to what you feel when someone thumps you. (Think back to school days).

So I looked at the vaccine leaflet and saw that shoulder aches were a side-effect, so took a strong painkiller to see if it would go down. It didn’t, so assumed it was heart-related and chomped through some aspirin as the paramedics from 2017 told me to do last time I felt such similar pain. See also Harvard Medical School here,

“While waiting for an ambulance, it may help to chew and then swallow a tablet of aspirin (ideally 300mg), as long as the person having a heart attack is not allergic to aspirin.”

NHS UK on heart attacks,.

We called an ambulance and such was the huge demand that they said it would be up to 150 minutes (that’s what I think I heard, but it might have been 15 or 50 – hard to remember when you’re in a panic) so my dad drove me to Addenbrooke’s.

Above – no socks, just a dressing gown, night shirt, tracksuit trousers & a winter coat over me, in A&E at Addenbrooke’s

So busy (and chronically underfunded by successive Conservative health secretaries – and my very partisan tweets would become a feature of the past week – far more than normal) were the paramedics that evening that it wasn’t for another 10-15 minutes that an A&E nurse got to see me. By that time some of the pain had started to subside, although inside of me I feared for the longterm impact on my heart muscle. Surprisingly my heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels were fine, so they booked me in for blood tests.

The first blood test late on Wednesday showed no real cause for alarm, but the second one did – with noticeably raised troponin levels. Which was strange because by the time that blood test was taken, the pain had disappeared to the extent that as the phlebotomists undertook the tests, we had a chat about Sir David Robinson and the founding of the Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge in the 1980s. It was that raised troponin levels that convinced nurses and doctors that I needed to be booked into the Coronary Care Unit at Addenbrooke’s – even though I was under the assumption it might have been a reaction to the CV19 booster or an inflammation of the heart muscle again. This was the opposite to what I was expecting – I assumed I would be ready to go home later that evening.

Above – after not having slept for 36 hours, shortly after being told I had just experienced a heart attack while still in my early 40s.

That was an early morning shock that set off all sorts of alarm bells for me – not least because I had spent the past 4 years on cholesterol-busting statins (legacy from 2017) and that my angiogram from that year had shown relatively clear arteries for my age. How was it that I went from that to clogged arteries in such a short space of time? I think it was only the comments from one of the consultant cardiologists who saw me that morning who convinced me that everything would be fine. These experts have seen thousands of patients and there was nothing in his manner or disposition that indicated my case was anything other than routine compared with my fellow patients on my ward who were all much older than me.

I spent the next few days in the Coronary Care Unit of Addenbrooke’s

Above – me in hospital – where the Government cuts seem to be so bad they are running out of ink in the whiteboard pens.

This ward seemed to be one where most of the patients around me were staying in preparation to be discharged. The restrictions on visitors had already been ramped up in the face of a rapidly-worsening pandemic with yet another variant that could have been nipped in the bud. Furthermore, you could see the impact that 12 hour shifts were having on staff – an ongoing issue that no government seems willing or able to take on.

The sheer diversity of people, roles, backgrounds, and cultures, all working together to improve the health of us patients was right there in front of us. While Addenbrooke’s Hospital recruits people from all over the world – and has done for over half a century (my parents being two of them in the 1960s), the other unsung group of people who also make the hospital run are the young apprentices – some of whom came straight from school while others are under the enrolment of their university – Anglia Ruskin and Suffolk being the most prominent.

A number of the university-enrolled apprentices were mature students both locally or from abroad. Around them buzzed the younger, mainly female (but by no means always) apprenticeships who brought with then bags of energy, humour, and dynamism even to the most grimmest yet essential of tasks that the rest of us might shy away from.

I remembered how this contrasted with the scenes I saw during my civil service days at the now defunct National School of Government at Sunningdale, where they had residential courses. Most of the catering staff there were from abroad, and you could see how the contracting firm made no effort to integrate their staff. It was painful to watch how staff from Eastern Europe would have lunch on one side, and staff from mainly Sub-Saharan African countries would do so on the other. Further more, it didn’t look like it was the happiest workplace. Inevitably the courses that I was on meant that I was always one of the few/only person in the room visibly non-White.

I transferred over to Royal Papworth at the weekend for the various scans and another angiogram to see what had changed from my last one taken at the old Papworth in 2017. The fact that they were operating on weekends showed how under-resourced the NHS is, and how hard the existing staff were working given how many had been laid low by the pandemic.

The plan for me was to have mine early on Sunday morning. Which meant a 6am start. But I had been warned in advance that emergency admissions from all over East Anglia might bump me down the list. Both Addenbrooke’s and Royal Papworth are regional centres for East Anglia and deal with the most complex of cases. I’m lucky to have them both in my part of town.

And bumped I was…all the way into Monday afternoon before I got the notice to go – or be taken. It was the same surgeon (Dr Krishnan) who operated in 2017 and did the follow-ups who worked on me again, so fortunately he knew my medical history. He had a team of seven or so working with him, all of whom knew exactly what they were doing and with no sense of panic at all. It was choreographed beautifully. Although I was under local anaesthetic, I needed an extra painkiller because for whatever reason this time around things felt more painful.

What they found shocked me. One of the arteries close to my heart that was previously clear in 2017, was “up to 99% blocked”. How the F**k did that happen? The ward round consultant the following day told me that if he knew the answer to that, he’d be a very rich person. We can speculate – impact of lockdown, stress of the pandemic, long term side effect of one of the vaccines, but can’t know for certain. It surprised us because as I said to them, I’d been on a statin for the past four years, and had been eating ‘unicorn food’ (i.e. a high fibre diet) for even longer in an attempt to lose weight in the face of chronic fatigue.

They managed to expel the blockage in the angioplasty operation – a high pressure micro-balloon I think did the trick by dislodging it, replacing it with a stent. The scan showing the before & after images were incredible – and on a monster-size plasma screen. It was like viewing a black and white satellite image where a river drained into a desert and evaporated into nothingness, followed by the river back in full flow.

The first thing I noticed internally was the relief of some of the chest-based tension – something that I had been visiting my GP about. Back upstairs I went after the operation and 24 hours later I was discharged and back at home with a new chemistry set of medication (ten different ones) to take at different times of the day.

How do you say “thank you”?

It feels almost easy & trite to say “thank you for saving my life again – here are some links to the hospital charities, please throw some money at them!” or even commit do doing one of the many charity fundraising events that happen in town and across the county every year. But for me that didn’t seem like enough. For info, the main charities are:

It was something I pondered early on (what else was there to do when strapped to a machine in hospital?) and started asking staff questions about their journeys to work – mindful of the consultations that have recently happened, are happening, and are due to happen on the future of city and county. I picked up a whole host of issues that perhaps you can only pick up with face-to-face conversations and with the person asking the questions being familiar with what is happening in local democracy. So I now have a very big list of actions to follow up. Many of them in the grand scheme of things should be cheap and easy to resolve. In principle. But that depends on how the institutions responsible choose to respond.

2022 will be an interesting year.

Again, with ***huge thanks*** to the staff – from the cleaners and caterers, to the apprentices and healthcare assistants, up to the nurses and junior doctors, up to the consultants and specialists, at both Addenbrooke’s and Royal Papworth Hospitals for making our city proud. I said I’ll follow up the issues so many of you raised with me, and I mean it.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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