This week's message won't have the usual weekly team updates, sales results or upcoming events. As per the title of the post, that information probably won't cut it today. As some may have already heard on the grapevine, in the early hours of Friday, 27th May I suffered a significant cardiac arrest, i.e. heart attack.
I'll start by saying I’m feeling OK - pretty good actually. I’m into my 8th day of recovery, feeling as good as one would expect after such an event.
I was debating whether or not I should talk about this very personal matter and open up on what happened, why we believed it happened & all the mixed emotions in between. I admit, I'm not finding it easy to talk about and reliving the event, let alone putting my feelings and thoughts down on paper. To this very moment, I'm still in a state of relative shock as it was something that I just didn't see coming. It just didn't cross my mind that I may be at any risk - these sorts of things only happen to 'other people.'
So I guess the main reason I decided to reach out to the team and share the experience, is that I felt that if I can’t share my personal challenges and struggles, and seek support from those work colleagues around me, how can I possibly ask the same from them? It would fall well short on what we stand for, and that is one of supporting each other, especially at times when it's most needed. I felt it may be a little hypocritical of me to hide it, avoid discussing it, being possibly embarrassed by it and pretending it never happened. As importanlty, if not more importantly, there are some valuable lessons which I hope by sharing will help someone who may unfortunately find themselves going through a similar experience at some later stage.
A day to remember, 27-7-18.
For our first week of holidays, we've settled into our new home on the island of Crete, have been doing the expected running around with the final touches of our renovations and tying up loose ends with all the tradies and of course going to the beach on a daily basis.
On the Thursday night we did the traditional catch up with Maria's side of the family, there was about 22 of us at a magical tavern in one of the coastal villages in Chania. It was a sensational night, lots of laughter, lots of food, some drinking, some more than others and an all round great evening. We finished up at 1.30am and it was a quick ten minute drive back to our place in the village of Gerani.
We get home, and all the family saying goodnight and heading off to bed. I hop in for a quick shower, get out and start walking to our room. The first sign of anything unusual was a very small (and I mean very small ) sensation along the insides of both my arms - from elbow to armpit. It was like someone was touching me very lightly on the outside of my skin. I mention it to Maria; 'That's a bit odd? Never felt this before' - mind you I just did 6 hours of high pressure cleaning of the outside of our yard the day before, so my arms were feeling generally sore from that physical activity. I didn't think twice about it after that and lay down in bed.
Now, as anyone in my family knows, I've never struggled to fall asleep. In fact, Maria often comments that I'm sleeping before my head hits the pillow and today shouldn't have been any different. It was a long day of holidaying, and I was tired. But I couldn't sleep. The sensation on the insides of my arms was still there, then I started to get a little heaviness around my upper chest - something similar to a mild case of indigestion. OK, probably had too much to eat, but I only had one glass of wine so it's not like I went hard on the alcohol to have created any indigestion. But still couldn't sleep. About an hour has passed, by this time Maria is getting a little concerned and saying should we go to the hospital. 'Do you think it may be something with your heart?' My reply, 'honey, don't be silly. The feeling is not painful at all, it's just a feeling, I've probably got a bit of indigestion and pulled a muscle in my arms from the gerni yesterday. I'm not having a heart attack, I did my full check up 4 weeks ago and the doctor said I'm perfect.'
So then Maria went onto 'google doctor' and tried to look up further signs and symptoms which could describe what I was feeling. Questions she found to ask me were, "do you feel weak, dizziness, pains in the jaw, nauseous, are you sweating"....and the list went on. But I had none of that. I was in no pain, no indication that anything serious was about to happen. In fact, by 4 am, I felt fine. No more sensations in my arm or chest. Thank god, I can go to bed now. That's where the nightmare began to unfold.
I went to lay in bed, but before laying down flat, there was this most peculiar sensation right across my upper body. It wasn't pain, just a big wave of a pressure feeling right across from the left to the right of my chest. I sat right back up, turned to Maria - 'honey, something is wrong, I think your right, we better get to the hospital.' I stand up, lean over to put my shorts on, and the pain kicked in, and well into overdrive. Fucken painful is the only words I can describe it as. If anyone has had kidney stones - it's worse! This time in my chest, and of course, I didn't want to believe it, but I'm thinking this is probably a heart attack. Feeling weak at the knees, close to passing out, Maria, in an emotional state as one could imagine, grabs me by my arm over her shoulder and helps me to the car.
Now everyone is probably thinking why didn't you call an ambulance? Reality check. We are not in our familiar surroundings in Frankston. For those of the team who visited our home in Crete last year know, our home is in a remote village on the outskirts of the main city of Chania, and no ambulance was going to arrive in time to get me to the hospital. It was a given that Maria had to get me there.
We hop in the rental car, make our way out the dirt roads to the national highway, and Maria pushes it. At this stage, I'm so thankful she has the reputation as the 'lead foot' in our family. It was about a 15 kilometer drive on the national highway to the hospital.
So there I was, passenger side of the car (which is the right seat in Greece) curled up in a ball in excruciating pain, begging Maria to go faster, she averaged 150 km per hour balling her eyes out as she drove, the fear was evident in her face, as she saw the state I was in was not good. In the meantime I'm also being a back seat driver, giving her instructions, "turn on the hazard lights, keep them on, turn on your high beams, don't slow down, overtake that (expletive) truck...." Maria replies,...in only the way Maria could, with fearful and tearful emotion, "YOUR HAVING A HEART ATTACK - DON'T TELL ME HOW TO DRIVE, SHUT THE FUCK UP AND BREATHE!"
I headed her words. I started concentrating on staying alive; the reality was really hitting home that shit, my wife was probably going to be the difference between life and death for me - she needed to get me to that hospital pretty fast and, she knew it too.
This post isn't meant to be funny, or to make light of what happened. But picture this; we're in this 2013 Toyota Prius - a hybrid car, travelling in the middle of the night, pitch black at 150 km per hour in the not so safest roads and I'm thinking to myself, 'this can't be happening, not in a friggin Toyota Prius, not here, not whilst on a holiday, but also thinking at the same time, if it was going to happen to anyone, I was glad it was me, and not Maria or one of my kids.'
We get to the exit ramp for the hospital - Maria overshoots it and locks up all fours. It's like a scene from the movie; she drops it into reverse, plants her foot on the accelerator at the same time yelling, 'fuck, fuck, fuck.....!' We ran every red light to the hospital and when we get there, of course there are no signs for the 'emergency wing' well at least ones we could quickly find; so we just pull up at the front entrance, mount the footpath and she runs out seeking help. (Lucky no one books you in Greece for illegal parking!). I'm still curled up in the car close to passing out and the panic and shock by now has set in. A stranger jumps into the car with Maria to give her directions to the emergency wing, and when we get there, the emergency team get into full swing and carry me out of the car, put me on the stretcher bed and get me to emergency.
So there they were, wheeling me to the ward; four people working on me, needles and drips in my arms, shaving my chest hair (don't laugh Peter Gourdouros!) cardiogram wires all over my body, and then one of the most frightening moments of all. They spread the bottom of my feet apart and drop a defibrillator machine in between and get ready to use it. As I write this paragraph my eyes are welling up and the ball in my throat tightens as I recall the picture of horror & tears rolling down Maria's cheeks, as she places her hands over her face when she sees this. This is really happening.
Thankfully they don't get to use the defibrillator; but was placed at my feet as a precautionary measure in the event my heart stops. By the time my condition stabilizes, Maria is joined by her first cousin John Tsivourakis (who we all consider as the father figure of the family and the go to person - he knows just about everyone in town and we could call on his help for getting us the right people to take care of us). And I get to speak with the head of the emergency ward as he asks me some questions in broken english. ( for some reason, even though you tell them you are an Aussie-Greek and speak Greek, they still choose to speak to you in English! - just something I thought peculiar at the time). He goes on to ask me in his best Greek/English accent the following, followed by my reply:
Do you smoke? NO.
Do you have high blood pressure? NO.
Do you have cholesterol or diabetes? NO.
Do you have a family history of heart disease? NO.
After answering all his questions with a no, I wasn't sure if he was disappointed, or perplexed. I then asked him, so what's happened to me, quietly hoping that by answering 'no' to all the questions, it wasn't a heart attack - but some other not so serious condition. But that wasn't the case. I was suffering a major cardiac condition; one of the three most important arteries feeding blood to the heart muscle was 100% blocked. All others seemed to be totally cleared, just the one, the most important one, was blocked and needed urgent surgery.
One thing that the locals have always told us. 'Our hospital & medical facilities are crap, but our doctors & surgeons are the best in the world.' Now when I mention crap; I'm saddened to say that the general hospital in Chania is in major disrepair, understaffed and has limited medical equipment. Only a few days earlier I went to visit my aunt who had had a knee reconstruction and I was taken back by the state of the hospital. If I were to compare ours to theirs, it would place ours like the Hyatt Hotel and theirs as an off road one star highway motel. There is simply no comparison; and none of us back home should ever complain about the level of tax we pay; at least we have some of the best facilities in the world.
So lying in bed, conscious of the situation, the head of the department advises that the next stage is to engage a cardiologist to perform an immediate coronary angioplasty stent insertion to the blocked artery. (Up to that point in time, I thought they were going to do open heart - I had never heard of stent insertion through the groin or arm). The challenge was that the Chania General Hospital neither had the equipment or surgeon to perform the work. The closest hospital was three hours drive away in Heraklion and that was just too long a time to wait. His next question was 'do you have insurance cover?' I replied, yes of course. His immediate sigh of relief was evident, and he immediately contacted the 'Iasis Galanakis Private Hospital' to get me admitted. Maria got on the phone to our insurance broker Craig Wells and got it all happening. Another lesson in travel. When getting insurance cover, get the best. This is not a plug for Craig Wells, this is a first hand experience of what good insurers can do in these situations. They were & have simply been amazing.
So the cardiologist who was to perform my surgery arrived within 15 minutes. At first sight I had my reservations. He was wearing a white linen shirt, hanging over faded blue jeans with rolled up long sleeves in nike runners. One hand in pocket and the other holding a 'frappe.' Now on any other occasion I would have said that's a cool looking dude. In this instance I was judging his talent by the way he looked, and I wasn't necessarily looking for 'cool' I was looking for 'does this guy know his shit?'
He introduces himself to me, said "Don't worry, everything will be fine. We get into the ambulance now I come with you to the private hospital." Half English, half Greek, I wasn't really saying much; quite frankly I was in a state of panic. I was scared shitless; didn't feel confident things would go well; couldn't believe this was happening to me; felt it was unfair and everything in between.
In the ambulance, the cardiologist was still holding onto his frappe, quite evident he was scrolling through his phone; I'm thinking is it Facebook or is it work? I asked him a few questions and although he could not give me a definitive answer, reassured me that everything will be alright. He wasn't a talkative fellow. I could see outside the vehicle window we were navigating the streets of Chania; our cousin John following behind us on his bike and Maria in the Prius. The ambulance siren ( a few distinctive honks of the horne) only going when crossing an intersection. I thought to myself that must be a good thing that they were not in too much of a rush. It can't be that serious!
We get to the hospital, another team swing into action and they wheel me through the corridors and elevators to the operating theatre. I'm feeling a little more confident at this stage - this hospital looks like the real deal! I recall looking to the ceiling and thinking again to myself, 'how many people have seen the corridor ceilings, surrounded by nursing personnel with drips (just like the movies) as their final picture?'
They get me into the operating theatre and by this stage, I'm feeling reassured that I will pull through and I'm in good hands. The equipment looks brand new; it was a full on theatre room. As they prepare for the operation, me thinking they are going to put me under, my surgeon leans over and briefly describes what is about to happen. They will insert a stent via my right arm (I always thought it would have been closer going via the left; but hey, WTF!). The operation will take approximately one hour and we need you to be awake during this time, and as relaxed as possible. Your kidding! Awake! Now I'm not really afraid of neeedles and all that stuff but being awake for this major procedure. Come on!
They strap my arms to the working tables, drips and needles continue - it's funny how you just get used to people continually jabbing you! After the surgeon paints my whole arm with betadine, he explains what I should be feeling, and if it's anything different, to let him know immediately. Before making his first incision, I ask how long will I be in recovery after the operation. He said about 5 to 10 days depending on how it goes & how much damage has occured. '10 days?' I yelled back at him. He calmly looks at me when I displayed my dissatisfaction and he grabbed my arm and said, "Manos, if this happened to you on a plane, or you came to us 2 hours later, we may have never met - I wouldn't worry about how long it takes for recovery - at least you get a chance to recover." Thanks for the 'reality slap' doc; I'm feeling confident now this guy has got this.
So he makes his first incision to my wrist, there's a squirt of blood - at least I knew he got my vein! Inserts the die that will help track the procedure on the TV monitors; there was a burning sensation from the point of entry to the heart. Unbelievably weird feeling. Then he grabs this huge tube that holds what they call the balloon and what will deliver the stent to the artery.
Now, I don't know if you have ever seen the movie the 'Mummy' and recall the scene where one guy gets a cockroach looking insect and it gets under his skin and travels all over his body - well, that's the only way I can describe the stent insertion! You see it travelling up your arm and feel it in your chest. The miracle of medical science; although still scared shitless, feeling pretty grateful that someone cared enough and invented this procedure. Being awake, I also get to see everything happening on the TV monitors. A surreal experience.
The procedure continues to plan - only one hiccup during it and that was that the artery blockage could not be handled by only one stent and that two stents had to be inserted. I overheard the team talking in Greek and saying there was a problem - I wasn't sure what it was but fear and panic set in again; my legs start to shake. The surgeon asks me to calm down and reassures me that everything is going fine and nothing to worry about.
One hour later, procedure is over and they take me to the ICU. Was told that everything went really well, and although there was significant damage to the heart, I should make a steady and good recovery. I stayed in the ICU for three days and in the general ward for a further 3. Recovery went as well as expected, and there is quite a bit to go. This holiday, by strict Doctors instructions, has turned into a very very do absolutely nothing holiday so I can get fit enough for the long flight home by the end of the month.
I had an exceptional team of carers throughout my ordeal. They actually cared; about everyone. They worked as one team; you could tell they enjoyed working with each other. They got the job done professionally and with a smile on their face. Maybe due to the circumstances my sensory attention was in overdrive, but hey, what a difference their positive energy made on me. It was also even evident to our insurers. When Maria last spoke to them, they made a special mention of how co-oprative and a pleasure it was to deal with them. You know, Greece has been given such a bad wrap for some time now, and it is so undeserved. I received as good care as any I would have received back home.
In the I.C.U. Book in hand and earphones. Never read any of the book...just listened to the Top 500 Best 80's music videos on You Tube for the whole time. It was the best!
My hospital team - they were awesome.
These two used to fight over who was going to take my daily blood samples.... just not right!
This is Joanne; head of the department. Came in everyday to see how I was travelling.
This is my cardiologist, Thanasis. I was told he is the best cardiologist in Chania who performs the stent procedure. I later find out he is the only one in Chania who can do it! LOL! But he was very good and hey, he got the job done even with a 'frappe' in hand!
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
There's an old Greek saying which states 'All the good things and all the bad things you do always have a pay date.' How does this relate to me? I never classed myself in any high risk category. Always did my yearly checkups and never showed any signs of concern with relation to a possible cardiac condition. Only four weeks prior I did all my tests, bloods, pressure etc as we always do prior to going OS. They have always been very if not excellent & well within normal range results. But thats been only the last eight or so years ago.
My past bad lifestyle habits more than likely helped contribute to the event. I was a smoker for 20 years, only a two to three pack a week, but from 18 to 33, I smoked. I was considerably overweight from the age of 25 to 45, and since 45 and to this day have been at least 10 kg more than I should have been. Although my cholesterol readings have always been well within the normal range, as my cardiologist said, 'normal range' for my body was too high. Being in the hospitality industry (Fish & Chips) for 13 years, eating fried food almost on a daily basis, would have surely contributed to the blockage. Our stress levels currently at work are always challenging and something I know I have to really work on as this too would also be a recent contributing factor. My six plus coffees a day probably didn't help the situation either!
I had no symptoms or any signposts that something could be wrong. I have felt as fit as I ever have, I've been walking 5 km at least 5 to 6 days a week; trained for my yearly 50km walk to Melbourne every year for the last 6 years and have quit smoking for over 15 years now, rarely eat junk food, but regardless, this did happen. My cardiologist said it could have been something you were born with. You just don't know. But all of the above didn't help. Now what my surgeon did say is that, thank god I did start taking care of myself. My current health habits would have helped survive the attack and will help enormously in the recovery process. Otherwise I may have still been in hospital for quite some time. As the Greek saying went, the 'Good and Bad things you do have a pay date.'
Leading up to this event, I realised I have only really been 'interested' in my health. I was never 'committed.' And there is a big difference between interested and committed!
I sincerely hope that my ordeal helps at least one more person to evaluate their personal health, get that full check up, and I hope that this post stimulates all of you if you aren't already, to get committed:)
So I'm back home on the seventh day. I get up with Maria at 6.15 am in anticipation of another sunrise from the balcony of our holiday home. And as melodramatic as it may seem, it was the best sunrise I have ever seen - it sure beat the inside of that Prius!
It goes without saying that my family has been my rock during this time. Family, friends and the messages of support have been incredible. I sincerely thank everyone. I have never felt more supported and feeling very humbled by it all.
We've always appreciated and have been grateful for everything we have been blessed with. I certainly didn't need to go through this to re-confirm what we already felt. But Friday 27th July 2018 will be my 'second chance day.' It will serve as a timely reminder that one day, this too will all end. Life, has a use by date; none of us are getting out of it alive - but till that date, (and for me I hope it's at least 50 + more years away!), lets spend a little more time with those that matter, less time stressing the small stuff, and smile more than we have in the past.
I sincerely thank those that have already sent messages of love and support. It's meant so much to know that when the chipps are down, there are people who truly care. To Arthur & Mary; no one comes close to the love and support you guys give, we love you very much. To our corporate team - a huge thank you; knowing that it's business as usual is in itself such a peace of mind for ourselves.
So this will be me for the next 4 weeks - Doctors orders! See you all in September:)