Ray Thomas

Ray Thomas left his family farm in South Australia when he was in his 20s and moved to New Zealand. He has always loved writing short stories and watching sport. He married an amazing woman 16 years ago and they both retired three years ago. They love family life, travelling, spending time in their large garden and fostering young children.   

I’m nobody special.

I could be you or someone special to you.

I have been given a “second chance” at living.

I have been married to an amazing woman for almost 10 years. I have two stepchildren whom I love dearly and consider my own, a son in Auckland, and a married daughter living in the USA who has our first grandchild, with another on the way.

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, I thought doctors and anything medical was for women only! Sure, I had a history of high blood pressure, which was controlled by daily medication. When my pills ran low, I simply 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 check everything was okay. It always was, so I resented paying $38.00 for a 10-minute consultation. Yes, I did have some other “problems” which I thought by sticking my head in the sand would go away.

However, these problems did not go away, so I tried to forget them every time they happened, which had been about five times during the past few months. When I really thought about it, I could recall “episodes” going all the way back seven years to my step-daughter’s incredible wedding. It was HER day, and I wasn’t about to spoil it for her. Only her mother knew. I’m nobody special.

I had never mentioned any of this to my doctor because to me, they were minor and didn’t want to waste her time on something I considered to be so trivial.

My symptoms when these attacks happened were: chest palpitations, shortness of breath, giddiness, blurred vision and cold sweats (which were the worst by far). Such attacks never lasted very long, sometimes happened at work without anyone knowing about it. 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 GP and asked my medication be faxed through. This time, she said “No”, as it was about time she saw me to check everything was okay and to adjust my medications, if required.

Great, a 10 minute consultation and $38.00 poorer – I’m obviously in the wrong profession, and should have attended school for a few more years. So, a date and time was set, and life continued as normal. Our daughter had just contacted us with the incredibly happy news that we were to be proud grandparents in about seven months for the second time. Everyone concerned 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 overriding happiness.

Anyway, at the allotted date and time, I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room thinking “Hurry up, let’s get this over with, so I can go home and mow the lawns, which badly need doing”. This time, I was only kept waiting for about sive minutes, so I 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 no big deal.

Everything was going nicely as I had predicted and was about to walk out and hand over my hard earned $38.00 when something stopped me. “Oh, 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 or demanding, and our plan after that was to shower, drive to town for a few things, and then end up at our favourite bakery in time for lunch. This is what we enjoyed doing from time to time.

“This time it was a little different. Without warning I started to get chest palpitations, blurred vision, giddiness, cold sweats, and a really urgent need to sit down. 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 had a concerned look on her face, which surprised me. I thought nothing of it, as these symptoms were nothing new. This just happened to be the first time she had heard them. Anyway, I continued with 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 headed for the couch. After a while, I felt a little better, my wife helped me to dress. The rest 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 couple of booklets to read. I thought, “Great, I have high blood pressure, and now a suspected angina attack.”

She gave me a form to have blood tests early the following day, together with the prescriptions I had originally gone to see her about. As I was about to walk out, I mentioned my plan to mow the lawns when I arrived home, but judging by her reaction, I suspected she thought that was not one of my better ideas.

I was lined up ready to pay, she came out and asked if I could spare another five minutes, as she wanted to do an ECG. on me. By the time I paid my $38.00, it was some 40 minutes later, and I was delighted as I felt I had received “value for money”.

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

The following day was a normal working day. I had my blood tests 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 and a half hours ago,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “The lab. Has just phoned with the results.”

Nervously I said, “Oh yes?”

“Yes, they showed you probably 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, “I think my day just turned to custard”. Actually, they were not exactly the words, but close enough.

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 because I knew she would be there. I knocked on the door and she answered, naturally surprised to see me.

“Hi, what are you doing here?” she said.

“I’ve just had a phone call from doctor,” I said.

“Why?” she replied.

“Because from the results from the blood tests they suspect I may have had a heart attack the other day. They want me to go around to the ED 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 to myself that was not the response I expected. Then I thought I’d better let my boss know what’s going on. As I was leaving, he asked, “Have you had lunch, because you could be waiting awhile in the E.D.?”

I then proceeded to the lunch room for a quick lunch. I was about 30 minutes earlier than usual, and that did not go unnoticed by some staff members. Grinning, they looked at their watches and said, “Aye, what’s going on? You’re early.” They knew absolutely nothing about everything, as I hadn’t seen any reason to discuss it with them.

“Yes I know, but I have to get around to the ED as soon as possible, because my doctor thinks I may have had a heart attack, a few days ago,” I replied as I continued eating my yogurt. Their eyes instantly increased in size, their mouths flew open, but not a sound was heard. I calmly left and walked around to the ED, 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 still felt my problems were still nothing major, and would be discharged later in the day. However, this was not to be, and five hours later, I was admitted into Ward 12, the Heart ward.

That night was very distressing for me, because I was alone in a totally foreign environment, not knowing what the future held. 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 then said it could upset my tummy, and make 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 told me not to 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 then a confidante.

The following day, I had the usual blood tests and other tests done, to find out what had brought on the attacks a few days before. Some 24 hours after being admitted I was notified of the results. They were not entirely sure if it had been a heart attack, or a blockage in one of the arteries. Either way, the result was the same, an angioplasty in a few days’ time. I didn’t like what I heard, but at least I knew.

For me, it was 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 emotional rollercoaster ride, and wanted to get off, but knew that I couldn’t. One minute I felt fine and could fly around like Superman. Next minute I was really low; almost to depression level. I discussed these feelings with my new nurse friends who told me what I was experiencing was totally normal and to be expected. This made me feel a little better.

I wasn’t feeling well physically, and now I was bombarded with so much information, my body was having very real problems in coping. 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 her the way she wanted to. I felt so sad for her because her previous husband of 25 years had died of cancer about 12 years ago. I knew she had been in a very close 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, drift off to sleep holding each other, and then wake up together the next morning, feeling alive again.

I had many times of deep sadness mixed with other times of happiness. I couldn’t understand it all. One day, a nurse whom I had not met previously, came on duty, and became my nurse for that shift.

She soon came into my room and asked if I was okay. I replied, “No”, and she instinctively said “Do you want a hug?” I replied, “Yes”, which for me was very strange as I don’t normally make a habit of hugging strange women, especially those young enough to be my daughter – unless it is my daughter! The instant we hugged, it felt suddenly like a dam burst inside me, and her poor shoulder became instantly saturated. Many times after that, whenever she came on duty, I shed a tear with her. It helped me enormously to get through those fearful few days. I could not thank her enough.

The next time I saw my wife, I asked for family photos. These were placed on the window ledge, under which I wrote “My reasons for getting better”. After that, every time before I had a sleep, I turned so I could face them. For me it really helped.

After being admitted, word soon spread to family, friends and workmates. While it was great to see them, after a combination of virtually no activity, physical pain, and emotional mess, I tended to tire very quickly. However, I didn’t have the nerve to tell them because I knew they meant well. At this stage, a new nurse stepped in and took over with my total approval and blessing. She knew I was tired and knew the reason. With less than 24 hours to go before my procedure, she restricted my visitors to 10 minutes each, apart, obviously from my wife. This was exactly what I needed and enabled me to catch up on some badly needed rest.

By now I had read, understood and signed the consent form required before the operation. When it was explained to me, what could happen I became increasingly anxious. This was increased even more so, when I viewed a DVD of the actual procedure.

The night before, my procedure I was quite excited. I knew I was about to get my second chance. Everything went well, and I was back in my room within 1 ¾ hours. I was conscious throughout the entire procedure, which was amazing considering the surgeons were working on my heart.

I was certainly sore, and had a massive bruise in my right groin which lasted for two weeks. I had no memory for about 25 minutes, because of low blood pressure. My wife told me later the nurses seemed quite concerned, as there were several around me trying to raise my blood pressure.

Later the following day, I was home with my wife again feeling “normal”, with stents attached to my heart I did not leave with. It was great to relax in my chair with our spoilt cat asleep in her basket on my knee then lie in bed cuddling my wife, whom I had missed dreadfully after six 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 of the future? Yes, I know my life as I had known it was history, but with support of various support groups, hopefully my inner strength, and the close loving support of family and friends, my future looks great. My life had been leading down one direction, and now some 50 years later (especially diet) that has to change. I don’t doubt I will face challenges and difficulties which will have to be overcome.

The biggest change in my life is a funny word called priorities. I have 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 know work to live, not live to work.

Right now, I have three little words starting with the letter “F”, which are very important to me.

  • FAMILY – my immediate family; wife, children, grandchildren, and in-laws are without doubt the most important people in my life.
  • FRIENDS – workmates and other people that I know and are close to me. I was humbled to receive 9 beautiful Get Well cards. I will treasure people like these even more.
  • FAITH – this is very personal with different meanings to everyone. To me, it is believing 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 other 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 food shops that would normally purchase from is extremely difficult, but will hopefully lessen in time.

I also hope this emotional rollercoaster ride I’m still on will soon 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 in future 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.

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