This is what a heart attack feels like…

I turn 50 in July. As I’ve gotten closer to this milestone age, I’ve started to worry about what my health will be like on the other side of the half-century. I’m going to more funerals than weddings these days. When the pandemic hit, like many people, I started to eat my way through the day. While I was fairly fit, I’ve always been pretty heavy and when extra snacking combined with no community sport, my weight started to spiral out of control. Jogging to catch up with my 6yo daughter one day, I realised I needed to change.

2 years later, I’ve dropped 25KG, I have a committed, long term exercise routine and I’m fitter than I’ve been for my whole life! I’m an ice hockey player, and while my middling skills aren’t getting much better, my fitness has lifted my game in a big way! There are so many benefits to being lighter and fitter than before. I’m running a half marathon distance weekly, I’m eating better, drinking less, and being mindful about my health.

I just wish I’d started earlier. It’s easier on the body to rebuild at 39 than it is at 49! I get little injuries and niggles and there’s a whole process of working through those things. Family and friends are mostly ecstatic for me, but there are times when people are negative and mean. The delight in people’s eyes when an injury or setback happens can be quite daunting. I understand it. I just don’t like it.

Part of my health focus has been to include a few natural supplements. I take glucosamine and turmeric because I worry about joint health and inflammation. I take fish oil. I’m not recommending any of these things, nor advocating their efficacy, just telling you about them. They’re important to ME. I’ve had bowel issues over the years and started taking a few tablespoons of psyllium husk each morning which has helped me a lot.

On Saturday morning I was drinking my psyllium and felt a tightening in my chest. Like heartburn. More top of the stomach than chest really. It happens sometimes when I have my morning drink. It takes a while to go away and I was annoyed by it that day and tried to ignore it and keep drinking.

After a second, I realised that was a mistake. I stopped and held on to the kitchen sink as the pain in my chest got stronger and stronger……

Sometimes in a dream, you transition from one place to the next and the transition itself is very hard to nail. How did I get here? This makes no sense

The next thoughts I have are very busy. There’s so much going on, so many faces and people and I realise I am not awake, I’m dreaming. There’s so much happening I can’t seem to grasp any one thing. Everything is very foggy and I’m not quite awake. My head hurts a lot. I sit up and feel very strange, still shaking off the dream, the sore head and the fog of sleep. I’m lying on the floor in the kitchen, flat on my back… I think I may have just had a small heart attack. Have I fallen and hit my head on the floor? Rae is there giving me a puzzled look.

I get up shakily and just like waking up first thing, everything very gradually settles back to normal. The fogginess goes, the headache subsides to a dull throb and I feel almost normal again.

I finish my drink, make a coffee and get ready for the rest of the day. Maybe a beach day with Mads? I haven’t really processed anything yet.

After a little thought, I book a doctor’s appointment. Better get a quick check to be sure. The idea that something big just happened is starting to sneak its way into my thoughts.

As the day progresses I start to worry more. My head hurts, and I’m a little shaky still. Fuck! What if this is the start of a long downhill run? Will I be able to play sport? Will it happen again? Do I need to teach Mads how to call 000? Did I really just have a heart attack??? I keep wondering what happened between me thinking “ooh, this hurts” and waking up on the floor. Did I slump down slowly? Did I drop like a stone? God! What if I’d smacked my head on the countertop? I feel strangely lucky not to be injured from the fall

My folks FaceTime call out of the blue. We chat for a while and they ask how I’m going. In a moment of vulnerability, I share my story from the morning and my worry. I’ve been feeling very alone today. I want to tell my older kids, but these days our relationship is so tense it would feel like something wrong. Like a sad, needy way to ask for their attention… the fact that I can’t tell them makes me sadder still. I’ve been feeling very emotionally alone all day. A fragile, sad old man.

My parents fuss and I start to feel silly for mentioning it at all. Like some sort of attention-seeking child. Part of me is sure that it’s nothing and yet part of me is still paralysed with terror that it’s not. We close the call. Despite my initial misgivings about talking, I’m glad that I have. It’s strange. It was a short conversation. Such a little thing, but I feel seen. Cared for. Loved. The worry that they show warms me up, even though nothing has really changed. It’s still on me, it’s still there, but somebody cares.

As the day goes on, my phone begins to buzz more and more regularly and insistently. I am one of six siblings and the family jungle drums have spoken and my brother and sisters are checking in on me. Again I feel a little silly and childish, but also kinda warm and fuzzy. I don’t often feel the outreach of familial love from my far-flung family these days, but I realise today, even with all our differences, with the distance and lack of regular interaction, their love remains. And more than this, it MEANS something to me. Even me, with my cold, cynical heart, I’m moved by my blood reaching out with worried words. I feel loved in a way I haven’t for a long time. I feel seen, and today that’s everything to me.

At a family member’s insistence, I speak to my 17yo daughter Katherine too. I don’t want her to worry, she has enough on her plate already but her replies make me glad we spoke. I can’t find the right way to even start to talk to my older sons, JJ & Lee so I don’t, but Katherine makes some time to come see me. I love her so much.

I see the doc later that day. I’m nervous. I give him lots of data points and he comments on how fit I am for my age. I like that. I FEEL healthy, I want him to confirm that I am. He listens attentively and doesn’t look worried at all. He measures my heart rate and blood pressure before letting me know his thoughts. As it happens, it’s not an uncommon thing. It’s called swallow syncope. Caused by my esophagus pressing against the vagus nerve. Apparently, it feels 100% like a heart attack (so I feel a little less stupid). Most importantly, he thinks my heart is fine. No strange rhythm, nothing off at all. Blood pressure is great, resting heart rate excellent. I leave with instructions for blood tests (to be sure) and a referral to a gastroenterologist to check my esophagus out. It’s cautiously good news.

I’ll be ok.

I was reminded of something really damn important today. Something that might have made it worth it too… I am loved. And I am blessed with a family that cares. There are lots of things to work on, none of yesterday’s problems have gone away, but these things remain.

1 Response to “This is what a heart attack feels like…”


  1. 1 Srdjan June 27, 2022 at 9:51 am

    Remind me to tell you about my heart attack next time I see you.


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