First I had indigestion - then a heart attack

How Britain's biggest killer nearly claimed a life.
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The Independent Culture
TWO MONTHS ago, I had a heart attack. Not the full blown televisual sort that requires George Clooney and his ER team to jump-start you, but none the less an attack, or myocardial infarction, to use the correct terminology. Britain's biggest killer tapped me on the shoulder, marking my card without sending me off.

It started with indigestion. I was at a wedding: gusty singing in the church, followed by a reception and a jazzy evening at Pizza on the Park in Knightsbridge. As I left the club, I started feeling dizzy and experiencing some pain in my chest. Feeling very unwell, I got in a taxi and went back to my hotel. I didn't sleep very well, and woke up feeling the same.

I got my girlfriend to drive me to the Royal United Hospital, back home in Bath. There I discovered a great way to get to the front of the casualty queue, past the twists, sprains, cuts and bruises: clutch your chest and complain of pain. In moments I was undressed, on a trolley, and wired up to a machine. ECG readouts and blood tests revealed that I'd had a heart attack. I cried quiet tears that marked the beginning of a less carefree life.

From A&E, I was wheeled into the cardiac care unit and skilfully slid from trolley to bed by means of a giant Rolf Harris wobble board. My hand was plumbed into the bedside drip and wires that were strategically taped to my chest created dancing electronic graphs on a screen high above my head.

I spent a few days being monitored in the coronary care unit, wired up to a machine and being drip-fed. Then I was moved into a ward with William, Derrick, Owen, Rob and Sean. We were like soldiers in a trench, in it together, and I was there for a week.

It was strange to find myself on the receiving end of my own medicine. I'm the sales and marketing director of a greeting card company, and received 24 get-well cards, mostly made by my competitors.

On Wednesdays, "God" visits the ward (otherwise known as Dr T). He said that my pulse, blood pressure, temperature and cholesterol were all completely normal. I was the envy of the ward.

I decided to play my get-out-of-jail-free card. The words: "I'll pay" were barely out of my mouth when I was on the way to Southampton Hospital. I was no longer patient number 3324919, I was Mr Charles Berridge. The check-in process was just like a five-star hotel, only that the date of departure was up to them. I was given my own room, with en-suite bathroom. I had a TV, and could switch between 14 channels.

Dr D was like a merchant banker, distinguished, grey, and pin-striped. He was going to perform angicardiography, and probably angioplasty, too. Angicardiography involves looking at blocked or damaged arteries.

The nurse presented me with a small tin of talc, a disposable razor and a bin-liner. I had to harvest the hair around my groin. "Give yourself a nice bikini line," joked the nurse.

The other preparation was the will. Apparently it's common practice. Two official witnesses were drummed up by the clinical management team. Nurses aren't allowed to witness wills. They can witness births and deaths, but not wills. Then come the pills to relax you and the porters to take you off. Two cheery porters pushed me along the hospital corridor. "Cheap day return, governor?" quipped one of them.

I was wheeled into the operating room and transferred to a table over which an X-ray machine was poised. A tube was inserted into an artery and coloured liquid was injected somewhere in the groin..

The cause of my heart attack was spotted, and a stent placed in the offending vessel. In builder-speak, a stent is scaffolding. Dr D described it as chicken wire. It is metal and designed to hold open the blockage in coronary arteries. It remains to be seen if it will bleep when I go through airport security.

Once the job is done, you're not encouraged to hang about. I was out the next day. I am now back at work part-time. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with is that I actually had a heart attack.

There are no outward signs, other than a bruised groin. There are no battle scars to show off. My son came to visit, and expected to find a grey old man hobbling along on sticks - but I feel fine and look just the same. All I've got are the photos, the before and after shots of the operation, given to me by the hospital, like gruesome holiday snaps that serve to remind me where I've been. Where I go from here, is up to me. But I would be a fool to ignore my heart-felt message.

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