I am a partner in a firm of accountants and work under a certain amount of pressure. I was approaching my 61st birthday and although I was feeling my age I had had reasonably good health up to that point. I think I had been off work ill about five days in the previous 25 years.
I was in Belfast with a client and was hurrying to an appointment. We were walking across Corn Market when I started to feel sick and dizzy. After a couple of minutes I felt better and we continued on to our meeting. On returning to the office, I rang my doctor who suggested I call into Downe Hospital on my way home. They kept me in overnight for tests which confirmed I had not had a heart attack but had high blood pressure and a raised cholesterol level.
I had further tests as an outpatient and finally an angiogram in Belfast City Hospital. Because of the position of the blockages in my arteries it was impossible to insert stents and it was recommended that I go for heart bypass surgery. I was operated on in the Royal Victoria Hospital on 3 August 2006.
During my time both at the Downe hospital and in the Royal, I found all the staff considerate and helpful. As you can imagine, this was a very stressful time for both my wife and myself and my only complaint would have been not being able to talk to someone who had been through a similar experience. Thankfully I was able to talk to someone shortly before I went into hospital and because of him sharing his experience, any fears or forebodings I had were lifted.
I left hospital on 9 August and made a conscious decision that I was going to get back to normal living as soon as possible. I returned to work in the first week in September. In October I went through a Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme in Downe Hospital and also became an active member of Down Cardiac Support Group.
A number of years after this I became aware of the NICHS Taking Control Self– Management Programme and attended one of these programmes in May 2010. From the benefits I received directly from the programme and from own my experiences I decided that I would take the training to become a volunteer leader and take programmes on behalf of the charity. Self–managing your health condition isn’t easy but I know the benefits and I wanted to share these with others in a similar situation.
I have firmly believed in self–management for a long time, ever since I had my operation, and both the rehab programme and the cardiac support group helped me develop my own plan. This was relatively simple and consisted of a dietary plan, exercises, monitoring my blood pressure and so on. I should say at this point that I had been a smoker for fifty years but had had my last cigarette the day before my operation so it was important that this plan helped me quit for good.
More recently the Taking Control Programme reinforced and reinvigorated my own self–management. There is a major psychological benefit in feeling that I am controlling my long–term health condition rather than the condition controlling me. I feel that my general health has improved and I have a general feeling of well–being. I have a better understanding of my condition and am able to cope with it in a much more positive way. Other than my annual checks, which form part of my own self–management plan, I tend to have fewer visits to my GP. At 67 I am still fit and able to continue as a partner in our firm.
I now have a new assistant to help me in my self–management, Poppy my black Labrador. I walk her on the beach every morning and she accompanies me to work two days a week. Having to exercise her helps me exercise and stroking and playing with her helps me to relax and unwind.
Within the area of cardiac care and support I can see the benefits of the Taking Control Self Management Programme forming part of the cardiac rehabilitation pathway. And also how it could have a part to play in managing all long–term health conditions.
Find out more about the cardiac support services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.