I used to feel that my life was a bit of a soap opera. I felt that dramatic things kept happening; traumatic things that ruptured the normal humdrum of life, as well as fun and amazing things that seemed so good they were unreal.
Then I met Neil and felt that was it was all smooth sailing. We were engaged in December within four and a half months – formally at least, he had made his intentions known much earlier. We share a close connection that took me by surprise. Some things can’t be measured in days or weeks; the moments are already deep and precious. But recent events taught me never to take things for granted.
Neil had a heart attack just days before Christmas.
It was Friday 22 December, and I had just finished work for the year, and we were given the afternoon off. He was on holidays getting his caravan ready for our trip to visit my family on the Gold Coast.
We were all so excited about this holiday, not least because we planned to share the excitement of our engagement, which we had announced only nine days before. It would also be the first Christmas with his large and extended family.
We planned to go out shopping to pick up a few last-minute Christmas presents, some Prosecco for Christmas Day and caravan food supplies. I was procrastinating, running around doing unimportant things, and he waited for my patiently and without judgement.
When Neil said he felt dizzy around 3pm, just as we were finally about to head out the door, we both thought he was coming down with a cold – especially as my five-year-old son had thrown up the night before.
Neil sat down on the sofa. When he started vomiting, he declared that he shouldn’t have eaten some dodgy leftovers at lunch. Sweat poured over his body, and he was hot, then cold. I fussed over him hovering with a bucket and trying to get fluids into him.
Listen: Holly, Mia and Jessie discuss helpful things to do for people in hospital. (Post continues.)
After an hour or so he wasn’t getting any better. He was still throwing up but was complaining that he was feeling achy and couldn’t get comfortable. He is a solid, stoic man and not one to complain.
He beat cancer many years ago, and when he said that the pain was the worst he had experienced since then, I called Triple Zero and requested an ambulance. I still didn’t predict a heart attack, but worried he was getting dehydrated and needed to be put on a drip.
The ambos came quickly. They looked at him, asked a few questions and concluded it was likely gastro and recommended he stay home. I could almost hear them thinking it was a bad case of man flu. They did, however, offer to take him to see a doctor in the hospital if he really wanted to. He considered it for a little while, before deciding he might go with them just to be safe.
I helped Neil get dressed, handed him his shoes, kissed him goodbye and said I would see him soon. I contemplated packing my kids into the car and driving after the ambulance, but instead contacted his family and let him know that most likely he had gastro but was going to the hospital just in case.
In the ambulance, Neil mentioned that he had some mild pain in his chest. The ambos pulled the ambulance to one side, performed an ECG and quickly concluded that he was having a heart attack.
He had surgery on the left side as soon as he reached the hospital to insert two stents, and will require surgery on the right side once he recovers. It turned out that the left side of his heart was 100 percent blocked, and the right side 80 percent blocked.
Yes, it was serious.
I came close to losing him, as did his family and many friends. He isn’t out of the woods yet, because after the operation he developed pneumonia that was so bad he spent three days in the intensive care unit. He spent Christmas and New Years’ Eve in hospital. We still don’t know when he will be able to come home.
Driving to the hospital when it first happened, I didn’t comprehend that my loving and lovely man, who was looking healthier and happier than when I first met him seven months ago, could be so seriously ill.
I mean, shouldn’t there have been signs or something? He had done a course about heart attack symptoms a few weeks ago, as part of his training with the Rural Fire Service. We have a magnet with heart attack signs on our fridge – how could I have failed to recognise the symptoms when they appeared?
Driving home from the hospital by myself the night after the surgery, the tears came. I know this isn’t all about me, but oh my God what a rollercoaster! We had just announced our engagement, were happy and flying on top of the world, and then suddenly he was lying in hospital in pain! We had expectations of a wonderful time ahead of us over Christmas surrounded by the love and laughter of family and friends.
The mindfulness advocate in me screams that life is about impermanence and that nothing lasts forever. Nor can you ever predict what the future will bring as you only ever have the present moment. Both Neil and I have survived major illnesses before. We know the drill. We thought we had gone beyond all that, survived it and were now living a new life filled with positive vibes and love.
Maybe I should conclude this by writing something preachy about how important it is to look after your health. Or turn it into a debate about public versus private health insurance, or a reminder to maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid a heart attack, especially when there is a family history of heart disease. But really, there is nothing to say – sometimes things just happen.
Thankfully he has a stable job and loads of sick leave, so during this anxious time at least money is one less thing to stress about.
Serina Bird Huang is a personal finance writer and foodie who writes at Ms Frugal Ears. She is passionate about demonstrating how frugal living is not a fashionable choice, but can also lead to financial empowerment.