second chance – by ray thomas


I have been married to an amazing woman for almost 10 years. I have 2 stepchildren whom I love dearly, a son living in Auckland, and a married daughter living in the U.S.A. with her husband and our first grandchild, with another on the way.
For my wife and family there was nothing special or unusual about that.
Recently and totally unexpectedly, my life as I knew it was turned on its head.

This is my story.

I am a 62 year old man, and like most men thought doctors and anything medical was for women only. Yes, I had a history of high blood pressure and in recent years, arthritis which were controlled by daily medication. No big deal. When my pills ran low I contacted my doctor who faxed through the prescriptions to the local pharmacy from where I collected them.

Every few months my doctor would ask to see me to make sure that everything was alright. It always was so resented paying $38.00 for a 10 minute consultation. To me, I was just your typical male. Yes, I did have other problems, but I thought if I ignored them they would go away. However, they never did, for any length of time. When I actually stopped to think about them, I could recall at least 10 times it happening going back 7 years to my stepdaughters incredible wedding. I never told her, it was her special day and I wasn’t about to spoil it for her. Only her mother knew. I’m nobody special. Recently they had been happening more often.
I had never mentioned any of this to my doctor because to me they were minor and didn’t want to waste her valuable time on something I considered to be so trivial.
When these attacks happened my symptoms were:

  • Chest palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Giddiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Cold sweats (which were the worst by far)

Such attacks never lasted very long. Sometimes they happened at work, without anyone knowing. Most times I didn’t even bother to tell my wife.
This is the background to my story.

A few weeks ago my somewhat predictable, normal, uncomplicated lifestyle changed dramatically for which I was totally unprepared.

Being low on medication I phoned my G.P. and asked my prescriptions be faxed through to the local pharmacy, which was the normal routine. This time she said “No,” as it was time she saw me to check that everything was okay and to adjust the medications if required.
So a date and time was set and life continued as normal, or at least almost normal. Our daughter had just notified us with the incredibly happy news we were to be proud grandparents for the second time in about 7 months. Everyone was overjoyed and my wife and I began to prepare mentally for the great event. Our daughter was incredibly ill with morning sickness, but not even that could quell our over-riding happiness.

At the allotted date and time I was sitting in the doctors waiting room thinking, hurry up let’s get this over with so I can go home and mow the lawns. This time I was only kept waiting 5 minutes so felt we were off to a good start. Just the normal “How are you?” type chit-chat and the normal blood pressure check-180/95; a little high but reasonably normal for me so big deal. Everything was going nicely as predicted and was about to walk out and hand over my hard earned $38.00 when something stopped me. “There is one more thing,” I said before proceeding to tell her the boring story of what had happened a few days before.

“I had been outside cleaning the garage with my wife, nothing too physical and our plan after that was for me to shower and go to town for a few things then have lunch at our favourite bakery. This we enjoyed doing from time to time. Without warning I started getting chest palpitations, blurred vision, giddiness, cold sweats, and an urgent need to sit down before I fell down. So what was my reaction? That was a little nasty probably caused by running out of blood pressure pills a couple of days ago. Anyway, after a few minutes I stood up and headed for the shower.”

I happened to glance at my doctor and noticed she seemed concerned which surprised me. These symptoms were nothing new. It just happened to be the first time she had heard them. Anyway, I continued my story.

“I hadn’t been in the shower for too long when I realised I needed to get out and in a hurry before I collapsed. I quickly turned the water off, grabbed the towel which in my haste didn’t cover anything (fortunately we live in the country with no close neighbours) and rushed for the couch. After a-while I felt a little better. My wife helped me to dress and the remainder of the day went to plan. End of story.”

My doctor looked at me and said, “I think you had an angina attack” and gave me a booklet to read. I thought great, I have high blood pressure, arthritis and now a suspected angina attack. She gave me a form to have blood tests, together with the prescriptions I had originally gone to see her about. As I was about to walk out I mentioned my plan of mowing the lawns but judging by her reaction, I suspected she thought it was not a good idea. As I was about to hand over my $38.00, she asked if I could spare another 10 minutes, as she wanted to do an E.C.G. As my wife and I had no urgent need to be at home, and being a typical male, I thought I was getting “value for my money”, so happily obliged.

Upon reaching the car my wife wondered why I had been so long. I told her everything that had happened. When we arrived home we read the booklet. There was a sense of not knowing and not liking what was about to happen. I was concerned enough not to sleep very well that night.

The following day was a normal working day. I had my blood test taken, picked up my medications and took them as required. At approximately 11.50am, my ‘phone rang and my life suddenly changed. It was my doctor.
“Hi Ray, it’s doctor…….,” I was somewhat surprised to hear from her, and replied “Hi.”
“Have you had your blood tests taken?” she asked.
“Yes, about 3.5 hours ago,” I said.
“I know,” she added “I have just been phoned with the results.”
Nervously I said “Oh yes,”
“Yes, they showed you possibly had a heart attack a few days ago so please go around to the Emergency Department as soon as possible.” This was no big deal as both my wife and I work at the hospital. By this time I was somewhat stunned but stammered, “Oh…okay. I’m in the middle of an important job right now, can it wait?”
“Yes, but don’t be too long,” she replied.
“Oh, okay, ’bye,” I said.
Hmm, I thought to myself, I think my day has suddenly changed for the worse.

I put the phone down and tried to continue working but my mind just froze and knew I needed to see my wife urgently. I headed for her lunch room. She was naturally surprised to see me.
“Hi, what are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’ve just had a ‘phone call from doctor …….” I said.
“Why?” she replied.
“Because from the results of the blood tests they suspect I may have had a heart attack the other day, and they want me to go around to the E.D. as soon as possible,” I said.
“Oh, okay. Let me know how you get on.” She said.
I replied, “I will. ‘bye.”

As I walked away I thought that was not the response I had expected. Then I thought I had better notify my boss what was happening. As I was about to leave, he said, “Have you had lunch, because you could be waiting awhile in the E.D.?”

I said “No” before going into the staff lunch room, for a quick lunch. I was in shock, and not particularly hungry. I was at least 20 minutes earlier than usual, which did not go un-noticed by some staff. Grinning, they looked at their watches and said, “Aye, what’s going on, you’re early?” They knew nothing as I had not discussed my health problems with them.

“Yes I know, but I have to go around to the E.D. as soon as possible because my doctor thinks I may have had a heart attack a few days ago,” I said as I continued to eat my yogurt. They were speechless, and looked at me in total shock. I soon left and calmly walked around to the E.D. where my wife soon joined me.

It was now about 12.50pm and I was about to lose control of my life which for me suddenly became very scary. Initially I felt my problems were very minor and would be discharged later in the day. However, this was not to be and 5 hours later I was admitted into Ward 12, the Heart ward.

That night was very distressing because I was alone in a totally foreign environment not knowing what the future held. Again, being a typical male, hospitals were for sick or pregnant people and felt I didn’t fit into either category.

During the first evening I had a couple of angina attacks. During one attack a nurse asked if I was allergic to morphine, to which I replied “I don’t think so.” She said it could upset my tummy and caused me to vomit, which it did shortly after, giving a nurse directly in front of me no time to take evasive action. I felt so sorry for her but she said “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” She must have forgiven me because for the next few days when she was on duty she remained (initially) my nurse and later, a confidante.

The following day I had more blood tests taken and under-went a stress test (walking on a tread-mill at different speeds) and had an ultra sound performed on my heart to find out the cause of the attacks. Some 24 hours after being admitted I was notified of the results. They were inconclusive. Either way, the same result, an angioplasty a few days later. I didn’t like what I heard but at least I knew.

At about this time my life really did change and suddenly I was really scared. I began a series of days of being on an enormous roller-coaster ride. I wanted to get off but knew I couldn’t. One minute I would feel fantastic, next minute really low, almost depression level. I discussed these feelings with my new nurse friends who told me what I was experiencing was perfectly normal and to be expected which made me feel better. I was so grateful to my own room so I could be alone with my thoughts.

One day happened to be a Saturday and in the morning I knew our working department would be open for a few hours. I kindly asked my young inexperienced nurse if I could go for a walk. I needed normality, so in my dressing gown and slippers I slowly walked around to work and did some light work. Was it a stupid thing to do? Absolutely, but I needed to feel normal, not a patient. My co-workers were naturally surprised to see me, but after I explained my reasons for needing to get away from the Ward, even for a short time, they understood. Besides, they did not appear to be very busy, so it gave us a chance to “catch-up” and for me to take my mind off what was about to happen in a couple of days time.

My wife still had her life to live and visited when she could. Our daughter was still very ill with morning sickness and my wife felt powerless living thousands of miles away, to help the way she wanted to. I felt so incredibly sad for her because her previous husband of 25 plus years had died about 12 years before of cancer. I knew she had been in a very close and loving family and I didn’t want to be the reason for causing her more pain. It just didn’t seem fair. I felt extremely lonely and confused. All I wanted was for her to lie down beside me and drift off to sleep together and then wake up together feeling alive again. The next time I saw her I asked for family ‘photos. These I placed on the window ledge under which I wrote; MY REASONS FOR GETTING BETTER. Every time after that, before I slept I turned to face them, which certainly helped.

The rollercoaster ride was emotionally very draining for me. One day a nurse whom I had not seen previously came on duty and became my nurse. She entered my room and asked if I was okay. I said “No,” and she instinctively said “Do you want a hug?” to which without thinking, replied “Yes please” which for me was completely out of character. The instant we hugged it was like a gigantic dam burst inside of me and I soon drenched her shoulder. After that whenever she came on duty she allowed me to shed a few tears. It helped enormously and I could not thank her enough.

After being admitted word soon spread to family, friends and workmates. While it was great to see them, with a combination of no physical activity and emotional distress, I tended to tire very quickly. At this stage a new nurse stepped in and took over with my total approval and blessing. With less than 36 hours before my procedure she restricted my visitors (apart from my wife) to about 10 minutes. This was exactly what I needed and allowed me to catch up on some badly needed rest.

This was the time of the Rugby World Cup. The night of the semi-final, I was watching the All Blacks playing when suddenly I felt an angina attack. I attracted the attention of the nurses and was soon in my room being attended to. However, I was more concerned about the rugby score and was relieved to find out later that the A.Bs had won.

By now I had read, understood and signed the consent form required for my procedure. Now that I understood everything that could (although unlikely) happen, I became increasingly nervous, even more so after my wife and I watched a DVD of an actual procedure. The night before I was excited mixed with nervousness. I knew I was about to get my second chance which many people don’t.

Everything went well. I experienced some pressure on my chest at times, but as was explained to me this was to be expected. I was conscious throughout the whole procedure which I thought was amazing considering the surgeons were inserting 2 different stents in the arteries of my heart. I was back in my room within 2 hours. Upon arriving back in my room I have no memory for about 25 minutes because of low blood pressure. My wife told me late, there were several nurses around me trying to raise my pressure and they seemed quite concerned.
I was certainly sore and had a massive bruise in my right groin which lasted for 2 weeks, where the wires etc. were inserted into my body, and up to my heart. Although I had been given a “local” anaesthetic, it felt like someone trying to cut into me with a blunt knife.

Later the following day I was home again with my wife. It was great to relax in chair with our spoilt cat asleep in her basket on my knee then lying in bed cuddling my wife whom I had missed after 6 long, lonely nights. I was a happy, peaceful man, and slept contentedly for 10 hours.

The next stage of my second chance had begun.
So what about the future? Yes I know my life as it was is now largely behind me but hopefully my inner strength and the close loving support of family my future looks great. My life had been leading me down one direction but now some 50 years later, that has to change, especially diet. I don’t doubt I will face challenges ahead and difficulties which will have to be overcome. The biggest change in my life is a word called PRIORITIES. I have now been given a second chance and now those priorities have changed. For instance, work which I really enjoy and is still important in providing us with the financial opportunities to do what we enjoy suddenly doesn’t seem so important. I now work to live, not live to work.

Right now I have 3 words starting with the letter “F” which are really important to me:

  1. FAMILY – my wife, children, grandchildren and son-in-law, are without doubt the most important people in my life, which maybe I tended to take for granted.
  2. FRIENDS – my co-workers and other family members and people close to me. I was humbled to receive 9 beautiful Get Well cards. I will treasure people like these even more now.
  3. FAITH – this is very personal with different meanings to different people. To me, it is the belief in a higher power that has been with me these past turbulent days helping and guiding me.

I have so much to be thankful for compared to some people. What I have endured is very little. Without that help and support I don’t know how other people are able to survive.

Yes I have my struggles. Going into town and bypassing my favourite food shops because it wouldn’t be good for my heart is extremely difficult .Hopefully this wiil lessen in time. Hopefully the emotional rollercoaster ride will end. Maybe it doesn’t. It would be great to see friends without breaking down. Maybe it is just a healing stage.

However, I intend to live life to the fullest because unlike many other people I have been given a SECOND CHANCE. I am ready to love, appreciate and embrace my second chance with arms wide open and a happy, tearful face.

I thought I was nobody special but with this SECOND CHANCE I have been given somehow I do feel rather special.


Ray and Kay Thomas

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