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Catriona’s Story

“I feel like I can ask her anything – even if it’s a daft question”

When Catriona, a 52 year old nurse from Edinburgh, suffered a heart attack during lockdown, she feared the worst. It came completely out of the blue, and left her fearing that she wouldn’t get to see her daughters grow up.

But thanks to support she received from Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, she’s on the road to recovery and is looking forward to enjoying life with her family again.

Out of the blue

I had a heart attack in April 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It came completely out of the blue. The only sign that something might be wrong was episodes of indigestion which I had for a couple of days before it happened.

It happened when I was at my allotment and luckily my husband Gary was with me at the time. Normally I go by myself, but that day he came along to keep me company by chance really – I don’t know what would’ve happened if I was alone.

I experienced chest pains which came on quite suddenly and at first I thought it was indigestion, but it quickly intensified. I felt very unwell, so I said to Gary I think you’ll need to phone an ambulance.

I was lying down at that point, feeling really sick and the pain was getting much worse. My head was racing and being a nurse, you automatically go through all the scariest scenarios in your head.

My dad died of a heart attack when he was only 50, so that was going through my mind. I have a strong family history of heart disease and it has always been something I have worried about.

My husband was a great support and was reassuring me I’d be okay. He was running back and forth from the allotment to the main road to flag down the ambulance because it wasn’t obvious where we were.

When the paramedics arrived I was so relieved and they started to treat me straight away. I realised from their conversations and the medications they were giving me that they suspected it was a heart attack.

They had to call for a second crew to take me out of the allotment due to the terrain. Gary couldn’t come in the ambulance with me or come into the hospital because of COVID-19. He had to wait outside until someone was able to phone him to let him know what was happening.

I remember crying in the ambulance when the paramedic told me I was having a heart attack, but she was very calm and reassuring and I felt I was in safe hands. I was very frightened, but I reassured myself that I was conscious, heading to the right place and that I would be okay, that I would survive this.

I’ve always known paramedics do an important job, but they’re quite a hidden part of the health service, even though what they do can mean the difference between life and death. They really are amazing.

Alone in hospital

I was worried that COVID-19 would affect my treatment and I worried about the risk of catching the virus while in hospital. When I arrived at the hospital the cardiology team were waiting for me and I had an angioplasty and insertion of a stent straight away. The team were very reassuring and caring and again I felt I was in safe hands.

I was in hospital for four days. No visitors were allowed so I couldn’t see my family or friends, although I was able to speak to them on the phone or by text, I did feel quite lonely at times. It was strange only seeing the staff eyes due to the masks.

When something major like this happens, the support of people around you gets you through. And usually family can rally together too, but they couldn’t all see each other either, or even hug each other, so it was a hard time for my family too.

Finding support

I felt anxious and on edge when I got home. The normal face-to-face services weren’t available, everything was thrown up in the air because of the virus. The usual support wasn’t there.

I was given booklets about diet and exercise when I was discharged home and I was told someone would be in touch, but I didn’t know when. I did feel quite isolated and I wasn’t confident about what to do next, so that’s why I phoned Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland.

I started speaking to Wendy from Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland’s Advice Line team.

Wendy phoned me a couple of times a week for around an hour and really listened to me. We talked through all the questions I had about my heart attack – things like diet, exercise, my new medication and where I should start.

I had frequent indigestion, and this was making me anxious. It was similar although not as severe as the chest pain I had when I had my heart attack so that’s something we spoke about too.

Wendy was able to help me identify how to differentiate between indigestion and chest pain.

I was also struggling with the emotional impact of the heart attack too and I was worried about life returning to normal in lockdown.

I had a panic attack one day and I realised it was because I was feeling very anxious about going outside because I was at higher risk of becoming ill if I caught COVID-19. Wendy was very supportive and gave me achievable targets to start with, like short walks and how to gradually build these up.

She gave me strategies to cope with my anxiety and techniques to use if I started to feel panicky. These techniques are useful and can be used in lots of life situations.

I feel like I can ask her anything – even if it’s a daft question. And I know I could call her at any time if I feel worried. It is so reassuring to know she is there for me.

Being a nurse too, I feel like I worry more about things and kept overthinking everything at the beginning. But she understood and was able to help me see the reality of what was going on and helped me carry on with my life without constantly worrying.

As services adjusted, I also received remote support from the NHS Cardiac Rehabilitation Team and the Nurse Practitioner from my GP surgery was also an enormous support.

The road to recovery

Now I’m feeling ready to go back to work, I walk almost every day for around an hour, do regular yoga and I am feeling much fitter.

I am very grateful for the amazing treatment, care and support I have received when everyone is working in such difficult times.

The Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland Advice Line service offered me a listening ear, invaluable practical and emotional support in such difficult times, when other services had to change and were significantly reduced.

I believe Wendy’s support enhanced my recovery and helped me develop strategies to live positively with my condition.

Don’t put off getting help if you experience chest pain or any other health concern – the services are there, they just might look a bit different at the minute.

There are people like Wendy who can really help when you need someone to talk to.

People are leaving hospital feeling scared and alone. You can change that.

Your donation can help people do more than just survive – you can help them really live.


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