Hi, I’m Gerry, I have CHD.

I have had hypertension for many years and I have had more tablet combinations than I can remember but eventually we found a combination that actually lowered my BP. Yay! And when asked “Do you have hypertension?” I would say no “Errr….” it’s controlled, I don’t have hypertension. “You have hypertension”. Admitting I had it was something that, for some reason I just did not want to do.

After the heart attack I would go to fairgrounds and things where signs would say “Not suitable for people with heart disease” and I would ignore these signs because, after all, the cardiologists were saying everything is fine.

I had to attend reviews at the doctor’s surgery for hypertension and CHD to make sure the medications were working correctly but these were a big nuisance – not a sign or an acceptance that I had either of these.

And then came the anger when it was finally acknowledged that there was something wrong and life could have been made easier for me 10 or 11 years ago – but still not an acceptance.

But when the cardiologist acknowledged that a ‘fix’ (if indeed it would fix it) was ‘complex’ and we should try by medication I finally started to accept that I do have CHD.

Last night I dreamt I fulfilled that dream that is on many people’s bucket lists – to ride second seat in a Red Arrows jet. You know how silly dreams can get… well when he started to pull a gentle gee turn I got angina. I dreamt I had angina! That’s not how dreams are supposed to go! If that’s not an acceptance of the disease then I don’t know what is!

Hi, I’m Gerry, I have CHD.

Things A Marshal Should Never Say

I run very few events. When running an event you drive yourself on to finish it in the best time you can and that’s a great philosophy. But when you have CHD it’s important to maintain comfort first and above everything else.

I have run a few club events and a few Parkruns as well as The Hairy Helmet (which is a fabulous local 2 mile relay event). I have marshalled on quite a few events. 10ks, 10miles, and half marathons. I have also witnessed marshalling at marathons.

So you’re trying to run along and keep it all together – this is not going like it did in your head during training. You’d swear you’ve just been passed by a zimmer frame and you’re wondering why you got out of bed.

Then some bright spark marshal shouts “Well done, you’re doing great!” and you know he’s not telling the truth.

But he is. You may not be challenging for the win but you are out there doing it and making a better job of it than every one of those people staying snug in their beds.

Even the runners leaving you standing on that hill – the one that has your legs burning and your will to live receding into the distance – tell you you’re doing well and those runners are also telling you the truth. You are amazing. You are doing it.

But occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, there’s a marshal or spectator that will say “Call that fast?” or “Start running” or “You can go faster than that!”. I have witnessed things like this myself and sometimes aimed at me. What they don’t know is the path you are walking. The person they are addressing may be coming back from injury. They may be carrying a major emotional burden. They may, like me, have to slow down to allow pain to pass before going again slowly. They may be running at 98% max HR and doing well over 100% of what they should be doing. The way to help them is by clapping them and tell them how well they are doing and leave the encouragement at that.

No, every runner out there from the first to the last is doing a fantastic job and doing it brilliantly and let’s remember to tell them that. And let’s remember that the winner of a marathon will probably be on his/her feet less than two and a half hours, whereas the last guy could be on theirs for more than six hours – who’s doing most? (Just a fun fact to think on)

February 2018

So in August 2017 we started a regime of medication for my angina which was modified several times over the course of the next few months, addressing the issues of my body.

I also started the Angina Plan which enabled me to start addressing the psychology side of CHD as well. On occasion I do revisit the plan to make sure I remain on track.

With this two pronged approach I started to feel ‘enabled’ or capable of achieving more of my goals and ambitions while, at the same time, recognising that some were just unrealistic. I was actually starting to feel better than I have in all the time I remember and with that in mind I set a goal of running a half marathon.

The anxiety in the angina nurse’s voice when I told her was obvious but she quickly realised I had left myself 4 months to prepare and she trusted me to take it carefully.

Training was going quite well when I was called for a biopsy of the old prostate. It would take a week out of training, I was told, so I could afford that. But it didn’t heal properly and it took 3 weeks to return to training. So not only had I lost 3 weeks training I had also lost 3 weeks fitness and I was about 8 weeks from the race. To get back on target I risked injury so I had to take the middle ground and accept that I wouldn’t do it as easily as I had hoped.

I have to admit that my fitness on race day before the race was a disappointment to me but I was doing this! And Jane had kindly agreed to be my running buddy – without whom I do know how I’d have managed but I wanted Second Only Child to run her own race as much as possible and get a PB. SOC got her PB by 3 minutes and that was a huge lift for me after the race. I know, that had I been alone, she would have buddied with me.

Jane kept me going and tolerated a lot of whining and apologies from a guy who was grateful but disappointed to be where I was.

As I turned to the finish I did, however, have enough left to finish a little stronger than I’d been running and the cheers from club members who had hung around waiting for me (they could have been home long ago!) was a huge lift. Crossing that finish line was something very special to me and without the support of Shelton Striders then I am not sure I could have done it.

My time was a lowly 02:37:36 – but I’m not complaining because on the day I could not have done more.

A huge thank you to Jane, SOC and the other runners who stood around for what must have seemed like hours, on a cold, blustery and at times wet day waiting to cheer me home!

So where now? I run for fitness and since then I have found that running the half marathon while not properly ready has set my running back quite a bit – which seems weird to me – so my first goal is to get back to truly comfortable running against as many route profiles as I can just so that I have a good firm base for building on. But remaining injury free. My pace is coming back slowly but it’s not all about pace. Comfort, for me, is not a thing in the legs but a thing in the chest and CV.

Running the half marathon incompletely prepared did reward me with angina at times and I have encountered it since a few times, as I try to rebuild the foundation. But using perceived pace and an HR monitor to ensure I understand that comfort (does that make sense to you?) is rewarding me with runs now that are some of the strongest I can remember. And I am building the miles back up based on that – but gradually.

My goal for 2018 is to cover a half marathon distance comfortably in a time inside that of my race time. But this will not be an ‘event’ but it will be on Strava so it will be real.

Plans beyond 2018? To ensure I keep fit and, as far as possible, injury free. Take each day as it comes and each run as a bonus – even the bad ones.

My Journey With Shelton Striders

In 2004 I started running and was running daily for seven months and making no progress when I had a heart attack. During rehab we were told not to run. Walk, dance and other activities but running was high impact and was not recommended.

We were also given a few months of reduced price gym access. I worked hard on the CV kit but things didn’t improve for me and my GP kept referring me to cardiologists who said that I was fine just go away. Until one said “We will be able to help when things get worse, and they will get worse, so we’ll see you then”. I came away angry and went to the gym, wound the mill up and started running.

I wasn’t doing badly in the gym when it occurred to me that, having taken early retirement, I couldn’t afford the gym anymore. So I tried running outside until a friend recommended I join Shelton Striders.

On my first visit I buddied up with a couple of runners who supported me and showed me that running on a mill is not to be compared to running outside. Over a time my running, supported by a number of Striders, improved significantly.

Then when out on a club run in winter I was hit, full in the face, by a cold wind and my chest tightened up and shut down in seconds. I insisted they go on and leave me to follow but after a while the group returned and supported me a little further. It was a fantastic gesture but I felt like I was being pressured to pushing harder than I could so I did manage to persuade them to leave me.

I then asked that in future, should it happen again, I be left to drop off the group. Curious thing was though that whenever it happened there was always another runner who was finding the group’s pace too much anyway. You’d almost think it was a conspiracy… one for which I was hugely grateful and the two of us would continue with no pressure.

I was later stented and when I came to return to running I was supported, almost bullied, into taking things cautiously. And later one cold evening a runner said “You need to take a walking break. Let’s walk”. I said we’d carry on and he said “Well I’m taking it for you” so I had to walk as well. Later I realised that he was absolutely right.

The Striders aren’t a club, they are a community that looks after each other – as I found out once again when I came to run a half marathon.

If you want support while running and don’t enjoy the support that I’ve had from my running club, may I suggest you look at other clubs?

Today I run at the back of the third group more out of choice than need – I try to repay just a little of what I’ve received. I don’t call it the slow group, although we are not the fastest in the club. Some are graduates from couch to 5k, some are runners like myself – merely performance challenged but triers none the less.

Thank you Striders one and all!

August 2017

The decision, by me and the cardiologist, is to stent the second artery. The odds of complications are 250/1. These are standard odds that they undertake all these procedures on. I’m prepped and the artery in my wrist opened with the catheter inserted.

I’m told that there is a third artery across the front of the heart that he wants to also investigate. He explains that this is to be a pressure test. Saying “This may be a little unpleasant” he starts the test. It is hugely excrutiatingly painful! Telling me he’s finished that test he says that the planned stent now has odds of 20/1 and do I want him to continue. “Take a moment”. “I’d just like to repeat that test” he says as he starts it. This time is considerably worse. “While that wears off, what do you think I should go ahead? I can see that it certainly causes angina. I think I can do it.” I ask if I risk further scar tissue and he confirms this. I ponder when he says “We’ll put it off for 6 weeks and in the meantime be more aggressive on the medication”. So that’s what we chose.

I was also put into touch with the hospital’s “Angina Nurse” who identified me as suitable for the Angina Plan – something that also helped no end. She encouraged me to talk to my GP and suggest certain medication changes – something I never thought I could do.

At first it didn’t improve enough so I asked for a further delay and the GP kept upping the meds.

I have now hit a point where 95% of my days are pain free and life is good. Granted those other 5% I am like a bear with a sore head but I try to talk about it now and control my mood a bit.

Before August I would not talk about how I was feeling because I was concerned about the repercussions.

In fact I started to feel so good I put in place the plan to step beyond my usual 10k runs to run a half marathon! I had plenty of time to train (something that the angina nurse insisted on) so I started extending my runs. I also enjoyed massive support from my running club – Shelton Striders.

My journey with the Striders has been one that is well worthy of a separate post completely.

CHD and ‘Depression’

More accurately I want to talk about my experience with a heart attack and my moods. In talking to others who have have had cardiac incidents, then their experience is not a million miles from mine.

Dateline – 7th July 2005 while sitting on the cardiology ward connected 24/7 to an ECG machine. There was one thought buzzing around my head… “Why me?”. The day before I had taken delivery of  6 new servers and I needed to get them installed but instead I was stuck here. Waiting.

Nurses entered the ward further down discussing in horrified tones some explosions in London. So what? I’d had a heart attack – how was this going to unfold for ME? A truly selfish and heartless attitude but I won’t deny that that’s what went through my mind. I heard no more of the London bombings for a few weeks. Nurses and family didn’t raise the subject or wouldn’t discuss it.

I was feeling down. Well you would wouldn’t you?

As I left hospital some days later and had to walk across the car park I felt like sitting down and crying with the effort. Surely this was some form of joke?

During the days and nights that followed I was tired and ‘down’ for much of the time. The summer of 2005 missed me altogether as I found anything difficult and mood crippling.

Then came rehab in which we met other cardiac cases and were told about diet, medication, exercise and other relevant topics. Was this to be ‘life’ from now on. It was said and repeated time again “No Running”.

It was some time later that I visited the GP and, for no accountable reason, found myself crying like a baby and unable to stop. A week or so later I received a letter from my GP explaining – for the first time! – that cardiac patients can suffer from depression and offering help. No-one had suggested this before and we were a 3 or 4 months down the line! It was too late for help, I had to live with it now.

I also found myself increasingly intolerant of “fools” as well as more aggressive in my driving. I don’t like to describe myself as ever having been depressed because that would risk understating the depression I see others suffer – and I mean truly suffer.

When I returned to work I found I was intolerant of the tiniest things. Those servers had been installed by the company who were contracted to cover me in the case of disaster. Everything worked fine. Except one of the server cabinet doors wouldn’t close! A hugely minor issue.  What would have happened before would have been a phone call, a laugh and a joke and it would get fixed. But I was angry. Unreasonably angry, and I knew it was wrong and out of proportion to the issue. But that was how it was.

One day I decided to quit early – as I had been told to do by the company secretary if things got too much. I put the car key in the door and it wouldn’t come out again. I boiled over once again. It wasn’t worth the energy but it happened anyway. And there were plenty of others occasions too.

12 years later I have those downs far less frequently and then only really when my fitness and/or health starts dropping down the scale. I am very lucky in that regard but it’s been a very long haul.

CHD defines my life

During 2017 I got a running injury and with that I had several months where I couldn’t run effectively if at all. My health suffered and it went down hill on a regular basis. I would get angina so rest for quite a while but the angina attacks became increasingly frequent. I felt like giving up. I was later put on the “Angina Plan”** which explained exactly what was happening and how it affects many people. They “can’t” do so much and become “disabled” – that is how they think of themselves. The Angina Plan explains how to get out of that loop and start to enjoy life again.

Currently I take tablets when I wake, tablets after breakfast, tablets at lunch, tablets at tea and tablets at bedtime. But it works – it genuinely works! I have to have alarms set in my phone to remind me but that’s what technology is for isn’t it? So in this way CHD defines my life.

With these tablets 95% of days are good days providing I keep my CV (cardio vascular) system as efficient as possible. Good CV efficiency means good oxygen. Good oxygen keeps the heart happy and a happy heart means no angina and easier breathing.  So in this way CHD defines my life. So I exercise regularly – running, allotment and some CV workouts on days that threaten to be slow. The most effective for CV efficiency is running. But I enjoy running so it doesn’t bother me at all, in fact it’s a good excuse. And with running I can also do my allotment more effectively as well as everything else I want to do.

But what about those 5% days?

The next issue is to keep the core warm. For me it’s difficult to imagine too warm. My “at rest” hear rate can be as low as 42 so I can feel the cold easily. This rate is not because I am superfit but because that’s what my heart does.

I recently ran my first half marathon in a long sleeve cotton t-shirt, a technical t-shirt and a fleece hoodie and at times I was not warm enough. A cold core means the heart starts to focus everything on itself and still struggle for oxygen so angina returns. So in this way CHD defines my life. But who wants to be cold? Wearing a cotton t-shirt, jumper and heavy coat this week the core started to get too cold while ambling round gardens and things got difficult again. No such thing as inappropriate weather, only inappropriate clothing – to use a quote.

On the 5% days there’s a strong desire to curl up and keep warm which is completely the wrong thing to do. When I feel like staying in bed it’s time to get active and warm things up properly.

I went to the GP this week and he said “It always impresses me when you tell me about your running” so I told him that in February I had run my first half to which he patted his paunch and replied “I’m still waiting to run mine”.

So in these ways CHD defines my life…. or rather it would if I let it.

**The Angina Plan doesn’t suit everyone and should not be shared but if you think it could help you ask your GP if you can do it.

Living with Coronary Heart Disease

In about 2003 I was diagnosed with hypertension and started on medication. I felt ‘fine’ but for two years I was seeing my GP and cardiologists while they tweaked this and that trying to get my blood pressure (BP) right. I genuinely hated all the messing around and resented taking the tablets, which from time to time I stopped taking. I was threatened with hospitalisation and advised “If you were my brother I would plead with you to take the medication!”. Well.

I had tried running daily for about 8 months (and was getting absolutely nowhere) when on 6th July 2005 at 2:00am I had a heart attack. I was ‘rehabilitated’ and medicated afresh and that was it. But for 11 years I struggled with mood, with ‘depression’, with daily life. (I’ll come back to depression because it’s an important point).

I underwent the Exercise Tolerance Test 3 times and scoring 101% on each occasion so was told I was fine, just carry on. Each cardiologist I saw said the same thing except one who said “You may have an issue but we’ll help you when it gets worse”. Angry, I went home and wound up the treadmill and started running again. As I ran I would wind up the mill as high as I could tolerate and pound the belt for all my worth finding that I was leaving some of my anger and depression behind.

I had chosen to take early retirement if 2007 because, after 30 years in IT, my hobby had become a chore that I didn’t want to get out of bed for, After a couple of years of retirement I found I could no longer afford to pay for a gym so I took to running outdoors.

Running outdoors is nothing like running on a mill and so I joined a running club who encouraged and supported me every step of the way.

But I would still get short of breath and bad tempered when feeling less than brilliant so I went to see my GP because my mood was impacting my family. He sent me to get my breathing checked and the doctor in charge of my case was like a dog with a bone. He sent me for test after test after test with each one saying that the lungs were OK. He also wanted my hiatus hernia investigating. The doctor investigating the hernia asked “Do you ever get chest pain running?”. It would have been stupid to lie so I admitted it and she told me to see my GP, and make sure I did because she would be writing to him too.

The GP requested an angiogram but the cardiologist was once again dismissive. He greeted me with “You saw Dr XXX in December.” err No! “It says here you did” Well I didn’t. (This was early 2016). “Oh, that was 2007” Maybe then. Silence as he studied the screen. More silence. I considered getting a book and reading a while. “Ah, there is a problem” Eureka! One of the breathing tests had also involved an ECG and it was these results that he was looking at. I had waited 11 years for that moment – the point when I would get some positive help.

Further tests revealed “moderate LV systolic impairment”, bystander disease in the left circumflex and the right coronary restricted. The right coronary was duly stented and later it was decided (by me) not to stent the left circumflex because it was too complex, instead new tablets were added and others increased and I started to feel well for the first time. This takes me through to 2017.

I’m still running and wouldn’t want to give it up because it’s an important part of my health and I enjoy it immensely – even the bad runs (although maybe not at the time).