A Heart But No Soul

This year is my tenth anniversary. It’s not one of those happy anniversaries that we look forward to either. Ten years ago I suffered a heart attack.

At the relatively young age of 33, whilst playing football, it happened to me. Me! I couldn’t and still can’t believe it. A brief history. Since around the age of 9, I have either trained, or played football twice a week. When I say I played football, I mean proper organised football, at an amateur level. Nothing great but at the same time competitive. I trained hard and kept fit. I have never been overweight, I don’t use salt, and probably only ate greasy foods once a week. So I ask again. Why me?

Everyone has their Achilles heel right? Why would I be any different? Well it turns out that I’m not. I’ve smoked cigarettes since the age of 15. As a teenager you don’t tend to think about the future too much. So the smoking cycle begins. You hit your twenties thinking that you can stop at will. By the time you’re 25 you may have tried quitting a few times and by the time you hit 30 you wish you’d never started. That’s how it went for me anyway.

I’ve always had that little voice in my head saying, “Don’t worry you’re fit and healthy”. Besides, heart attacks are for fat people. Well I’ve got news for you, no one is bullet proof. Like most people I realised all of this too late. And the sad thing is I still haven’t. I convinced myself that I couldn’t stop and have continued to smoke.

About 2 years ago, whilst walking my dog I began to have spells of breathlessness. As the days and weeks passed it began to worsen. At first I could walk for 20 minutes before feeling it, then 15, and then 10. I convinced myself that I had a cold, or maybe a chest infection. But eventually reality kicked in. After a trip to the doctor I was diagnosed with angina. I was informed that I would need an angioplasty. A simple procedure where a balloon is inserted into a coronary artery to remove a blockage. Simple! Not when it’s your heart! I lay on an operating table for 50 minutes, fully conscious watching a complete stranger cut my wrist and then “tamper” with my heart. Not only did I get to watch him, but to see your own heart on a 40′ LCD screen is a memory that I will never forget.

The day after my operation and for the next 6 weeks I had a whole new lease of life. In less than 24 hours I was playing on a trampoline with my 2-year-old daughter. We were running around the local park, playing on swings, climbing. My little family went for a short break and stayed in my sister’s cabin in the Scottish Highlands. We went hill walking; life was good being healthy again. But then the mind starts playing tricks on you, you’re “as good as new” according to the doctor. If you’re as good as new then it goes without saying that I can start smoking again. Strangely enough I returned to the 15-year-old that didn’t think about the future. I considered myself to be bullet proof and I would have years of happy smoking ahead of me.

There is no real happy ending to this story. I have repeated the cycle and now at the age of 43 find myself again wishing that I had never seen a cigarette. I still live in hope that one day I will quit for good, but it makes you wonder how many chances you get. In these past 10 years I’ve had more than enough warnings and chances to change but alas the mind is a powerful entity. If I could overcome that, maybe I’ll get one last chance. As is my way, I live in hope.


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