I believed I was reasonably fit (February 2019, age 76). After all, for about 10 years I’d been doing a lot of jogging and other exercise. Typically I ran 6 or 7 miles a week (almost two miles every other day) and on days when I didn’t run I usually lifted weights for about 20 minutes followed by 50 press ups.
Small health problem
However in early February 2019 I had some palpitations in my chest and felt a little bit dizzy on a couple of occasions. There was no pain and I recovered within a few minutes of these episodes which only lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. I really didn’t think they were serious, but I have since learnt that any one of the episodes was likely to have been fatal.
Being puzzled about what had happened I decided to look on the NHS website Apparently chest palpitations are extremely common and normally are of no medical consequence, but if they are accompanied by a feeling of dizziness or fainting then they can be serious, even life-threatening.
It was a Monday morning and Julie and I were all packed ready to set off for a few days break in The New Forest. Nevertheless, I decided to phone the NHS helpline (111) to ask a few questions about my experiences. To my surprise I was advised to see my doctor immediately.The medical advisor said he would phone my surgery directly to tell them I must have an immediate appointment.
I got an appointment the same morning and following an ECG test and a blood test I received a call in the early evening to say that one of the tests had revealed a matter of serious concern. My troponin level was 73.3. Write this down now. Then go immediately to Accident and Emergency at the Princess Royal Hospital and give the receptionist the piece of paper with my troponin score on it. ”They will know exactly what to do.”.
Suddenly in hospital
This seemed to me like an overreaction but at 8:30 pm on Monday the 18th of February I walked into the accident and emergency department of Haywards Heath Princess Royal Hospital and handed in my blood test result. I was soon put on a hospital bed and into a hospital gown. I had several electrode sensors stuck to my chest to monitor my heart rate and rhythm. My oxygen level was monitored, and my blood pressure taken every 15 to 30 minutes. The heart monitoring carried on continuously for another fortnight but the taking of blood pressure was done at less frequent intervals although it still continued in the middle of the night throughout my stay in hospital.
My heart rate was running in the low 30s, whereas my normal heart rate is about 45 beats per minute. While in hospital (for the next 16 days) my heart rate continued mostly to be in the low 30s.
When a doctor came to see me he said that he was concerned about my low heart rate combined with low blood pressure. However, he was not a cardiac specialist and he would phone the cardiac unit in Brighton hospital for advice. He came back after some time to say that the cardiac unit in Brighton said I should be taken down to Brighton straight away. He said he would order an ambulance.
Sent to specialist cardiac unit
A little before 1.30 am two bright, beautiful and smiling faces appeared round the curtain. The blond girl said,”Hello, Mr Roberts. I’m Julia and this is Alex and we are going to take you to Brighton.” The nurse who had been keeping an eye on me said “Oh! Look at your heart rate now! It’s 50!” Perhaps I just needed more excitement in my life.
By 1.30 am I was in the ambulance and connected to the ambulance portable monitor with a new set of sticker electrodes on my chest. I was strapped to the trolley. Paramedic Alex stayed with me in the back of the ambulance and Julia drove. It was my first trip in an ambulance and I was going to be delivered to Brighton Accident and Emergency department.It all seemed quite exciting. I had not the slightest thought that I might have a serious health problem.
I felt very upbeat all this time and spent the journey chatting with Alex, mainly about her work which she clearly found very rewarding. I mentioned that we had been about to go on holiday that Monday morning to a cottage in the New Forest. Alex said,” Oh well, we are taking you down to the seaside.” I said, “ Yes, and a change is as good as a rest.”
Arrived in Accident and Emergency Department, Brighton
We arrived at 2 a.m. and the accident and emergency reception area was packed with people on beds and trolleys awaiting attention and with lots of relations and friends around bedsides. Nurses were bustling to and fro. It was a scene of amazing activity considering that it was the middle of the night. I waited on my Trolley for another half hour with Alex and Julia standing by until someone could be found to take me to a bay where I could be attached to the Brighton hospital heart monitor with another set of electrodes stuck on my chest and where a printout could be created of my ECG. (Electro cardiogram – a print out of the pattern of my heart beats, the rhythm and electrical activity, in fact quite a bit more information tha just the regularity and strength of the heart beat.)
I stayed in that accident and emergency department for another 14 hours, still being continuously wired up and monitored. I was clearly just an object waiting to be moved on when a signal was given. No one came to me except when I used a call bell to say I needed to go to the loo. On these occasions they disconnected the heart electrodes and the device that measures oxygen in my blood so that I could take a short walk up the corridor. (I thought nothing of it at the time, but perhaps it wasn’t really the correct and safe procedure.) It took quite a while for a nurse to attend to my calls so, after two or three occasions, I decided, having observed the process, to do the disconnection myself, go to the loo and return and reconnect myself.
When I had been put into the ambulance Julie (my wife) had been advised to go home and get some rest. She turned up at the A&E department in the afternoon so was able to go with me when I was at last moved to a cardiac ward in the hospital about 5 pm.
Next part: the Angiogram