Pill boxes.

‘I’m not going to have a bloody pill box!

My words when it became clear about the sheer number of pills that I was going to have to take for the rest of my life.

Well it’s coming up to week three and I have a pill box.

The shame of it.

Granted it’s not a proper pill box, because pill boxes are for old people who are ill and I’m not. I’m not even 50 yet. It’s not like Alan, my father in law. Now Alan is ‘proper ill’ as Jackie would say. He has Cardiomyopathy associated with atrial fibrillation and a bunch of other stuff. Ray Wilkins had an S8 to my Audi A1, well Alan has an Audi S4, one of those ones with the matt black paint. And he has pills. Pills that need a pill box because Alan is ‘proper ill’.

Alan’s pill box is broken down into weeks and then days and then within days into parts of the day. It’s large enough that he has probably had discussions about subletting bits of it out to ‘Big Yellow Self Storage’ to help them cope with seasonal peaks. Small animals could hide for days in Alan’s pill box and not be found. Days.

I wasn’t going to have a pill box like that.

Instead, my pills stay in their boxes and look proudly out of the see-through carrier bag on the side in the kitchen, (No 5p charge levied), that The Royal Oldham Hospital Pharmacy team had given me when I was discharged. The boxes that I had from my first refill prescription are hidden away in a metal Jacob’s cracker tin under the stairs.

Why would I need a pill box? Everything was organised.

Because I don’t live in the kitchen all of the time. That’s why. Because I need to go out, if only to kid myself that life will return to normal (Which I actually think will happen, or at least some new version of ‘normal’ at some point, I just don’t know when yet).

And when I do go out I can’t take my see-through carrier bag or my Jacob’s cracker tin with me. Well I could, but it would look a little silly and being a six foot tall redhead I don’t need any more reason to attract attention to myself, particularly wandering through the streets clutching a Jacob’s cracker tin like some demented fool.

Add to that the fact that pills have to be taken at different times of the day, well mine do anyway – in the morning, evening and at night and it almost feels like a conspiracy by the makers of pill boxes.

And the other thing is just how many pills you have to take. Now I think that I have got off lightly. I have to take 7 a day, 6 of them for the rest of my life and one just daily for a year. So if you assume that this stent holds out and does its magic for the next 30 years or so and all of the nutrition and exercise and work-life balance stuff actually works – and that I don’t get run over by a bus in that time – then I reckon I will take the best part of 66,000 pills and that’s before you add on vitamin supplements and all that other stuff that I’ll end up buying from Holland and Barrett. 66,000! That’s one for every person in West Ham’s ground, the London Stadium. Well it would be if they had any fans and could sell it out, but you get where I am coming from.

So I have a pill box.

But it’s not like Alan’s, it’s a metal cufflink case that has had the elasticy string bit that keeps the cufflinks in place cut out and it will hold a few day’s pills in a disorganised mess on top of some faux suede lining. That way if anyone sees me with it they will turn to their partner and say ‘That six foot redhead over there has a rather nice metal cufflink case with him.’ They won’t think that I have something akin to a large yellow warehouse that you see alongside the Westway. And there will be no small animals hiding anywhere. None.

Picture the man when the heartbeat stops.

It’s not like the dying fly. It’s not about lying on your back with your arms and legs in the air flailing around and then stopping. That’s not a heart attack.

But I always thought it was. It just shows how little I knew of what a heart attack is. But the thing is, I don’t think I’m alone. In fact I know I’m not alone. In my generation and maybe in our children’s generation there are so many misconceptions about what a heart attack is, how it presents itself and what the outcome is.

‘So Dad, you really did have a heart attack? And you didn’t die? That’s so cool!’

That was Edward, our 16 year old son, when I told him what had happened to me. It turns out I could be good for his street cred at the moment. Every cloud and all that.

The BHF says that on an average day 545 people will go to hospital with a heart attack. And on an average day how many people die from a heart attack? 180, that’s how many. Granted that is 180 too many, but it’s only a third of the total. If you have a heart attack there is a very high chance, a 7 in 10 chance in fact that you will survive. I never realised the figure was so high, largely because I held a popular misconception about what a heart attack is.

In my mind a heart attack was when you collapsed to the floor, did a little bit of the dying fly and stopped breathing. Then everyone around you tried to remember how to do CPR and also remembered that they hadn’t contributed to the collection for a defibrillator that they had seen in the pub that time they were last in, felt hugely remorseful and vowed to do so next time they popped by.

That’s not a heart attack. That’s a cardiac arrest.

A heart attack is when one of the coronary arteries in the heart becomes blocked. The heart muscle is robbed of its vital blood supply and, if left untreated begins to die because it is not getting enough oxygen.

A cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body and they stop breathing normally. It is true that many cardiac arrests in adults happen because of a heart attack and that is because a person who is having a heart attack may develop a dangerous heart rhythm, which can cause a cardiac arrest. But a cardiac arrest isn’t a heart attack.

When you have a heart attack you are conscious, when you have a cardiac arrest you are a long way from being conscious.

And rather than having a 70% chance of surviving a heart attack you have less than a 10% chance of surviving a cardiac arrest.

So let’s dispel that little misconception. When you have a heart attack you are going to be conscious. Very conscious.

The most common symptom is chest pain, a feeling of tightness in the centre of the chest which can come on for seemingly no reason and may last for several minutes, doesn’t decrease with resting and can pass also for seemingly no reason. I had this. And it hurt. And when it had passed it felt like someone had smashed my chest with a hammer. It was sore. But not everyone who has a heart attack will experience chest pain.

That chest pain can spread to other areas, often the arm, the jaw, neck, back and abdomen. But it doesn’t always and it doesn’t have to. It did with me, my left arm and the area under my arm felt painful and I experienced a pins and needles sensation.

You may be short of breath, you may cough and wheeze, feel weak and light headed or dizzy. You may also feel or be sick, feel anxious and sweat. You may even notice your heartbeat and have palpitations.

‘Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.’ said Margaret Mead, a US anthropologist from the late sixties. I wish I could have found a quote from Churchill, or Einstein or Maggie, but I can’t so I’m going to have to run with this one. The point is simple though, what I experienced and felt when I had my heart attack is different to what Paul, the guy who was in the bed next to me at Oldham had felt. There is no list that means once you have ticked all of the 11 items off in order that ‘Congratulations Mr Barnetson, you are having a heart attack!’ is the cry. It doesn’t work like that. It is the combination of symptoms that indicate what may be happening. And these symptoms or combination of them are likely to be different for everyone.

It’s at times like this that I wish that I had paid more attention to the creative minds around me when I worked in the branding and marketing agencies that I have in my career. They would have been able to come up with a wonderfully catchy acronym (and probably a nice logo) that summarised what the symptoms of a heart attack were that would make it very easy to remember, but I have to admit I am facing into the abyss of failure and can only offer you – CSWSALSWP. Not a lot of use I know, I mean where are the vowels when you need them?

One other learning that I had is that when you have a heart attack, you haven’t got heartburn. So passing it off as heartburn and devouring half a packet of Gaviscon, as I did, and remarking on how bloody useless they are because they obviously don’t do what they are meant to isn’t going to work. It might work for Tim and Tom, the twins in the advert, but if you are having a heart attack Gaviscon is of bugger all use. Absolutely none.

It is true that both heartburn and a heart attack commonly cause chest pain, which might radiate to the jaw or arm. It is the character of the pain and accompanying symptoms that provide the clues. A burning chest pain accompanied by a sour or bitter taste in the mouth and burning in the back of the throat point towards heartburn. I didn’t have any taste in my mouth or burning in my throat. But I still ate half a pack of Gaviscon though, as I wasn’t having a heart attack, because I hadn’t collapsed on the floor and I was still conscious. On the other hand, chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating and/or dizziness suggests the underlying problem is more likely a heart attack.

And one final thing that I never realised. When you have a heart attack there isn’t a fanfare, there aren’t big flashing lights and a celebrity dressed to the nines walking down a sweeping set of stairs towards you. It’s just normal. Unbelievably normal and you can be anywhere doing anything. I would love to say that I had mine doing some wonderfully adventurous sporting accomplishment. But I didn’t. I was at home sitting on the sofa watching Italy play Scotland in the Six Nations and someone came and smashed me in the chest with a hammer and that box of Gaviscon in the kitchen was useless. Bloody useless.

Ray Wilkins

So I never thought that my second blog post would be about Ray Wilkins, that wasn’t the plan. But then I realised that in the end that is exactly what all of this is about. Nothing is planned, we can’t make assumptions about anything. Anything at all really, particularly our health. That’s been one of the biggest wake up calls for me over the last two weeks. You can’t take anything for granted.

I’m a Chelsea fan. Slightly lapsed recently (please forgive me) but a Chelsea fan nonetheless. In my time, I have been a season ticket holder in The Shed End and I’ve travelled home and away, over land and sea ‘and Leicester’ as we sing to follow ‘Jose’s blue and white army’ and the variants that came before and after the great man from Portugal. From Man City to Moscow and Southampton to Sophia.

One of my earliest memories is of us beating ‘dirty’ Leeds in the 1970 FA Cup Final and in our attic are scrap books that I kept through the mid and late ‘70’s that heralded the rise and fall and a little bit more of a fall of that team that were so close to my heart.

Central to those scrap books, particularly from about 1977 onwards was Ray ‘Butch’ Wilkins. At 18 he was the youngest Chelsea captain and he became a talisman for the England midfield appearing for them 84 times and captaining the team on 10 occasions. The first ‘Captain Fantastic’. Ray was everything that as a 10 year old you wanted to be. Everything. And the parts of my wall at home that didn’t have Tubeway Army or Gary Numan posters on had posters and pictures of Ray Wilkins and his Chelsea team.

Ray was omnipresent through my Chelsea life, from player to captain to assistant manager to caretaker manager and because of that we forgave him his dalliances with other teams, because we knew at heart that he was Chelsea through and through.

‘At heart.’ ‘Heart’ is a phrase that is used a lot in sport. It describes the passion and commitment of both players and fans. How ironic is that?

It turns out Ray’s heart was not that good, because yesterday he died at the age of 61 following a cardiac arrest. It wasn’t the first time that he had issues with his heart, less than a year ago he had had a double heart bypass operation. The signs were there.

Now that makes what I have look pretty basic. I’ve got the Audi A1 to Ray’s S8 when it comes to heart issues, but nonetheless here was a man, a sportsman, who whilst he admitted to having some challenges in his personal life, was a man who had captained both Chelsea and England. Guys like this don’t get ill, they aren’t unfit and hell they don’t die of cardiac arrests.

But that’s the point, the whole big thing point to all of this. They do. They bloody well do. What Ray died of and what happened to me is probably one of the most politically correct illnesses that you can have. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t discriminate at all. It doesn’t care how old you are, what sex you are or what ethnic background you are from and least of all, it doesn’t give a damn about how many times you have captained your national team. It doesn’t care.

So I never thought that my second blog post would be about Ray Wilkins, that wasn’t the plan.

But it has been and it shows that none of this is planned. All you can do is understand what is going on in your body, read the signs that it clearly gives you and adapt your life to accommodate those signs. That way you can start to see what the plan is and if you are lucky you can make changes to it if you need to.

Rest in peace Ray, you were then and always will be, in my eyes, what is often an overly used phrase. You Sir were a legend and all of us who have ever held Chelsea dear in our heart salute you.

‘Heart’ see there it is again.

‘I’m 49 and I’ve had a heart attack’

‘I’m 49 and I’ve had a heart attack’ that’s a phrase that I never thought I would utter.

But I have and I did.

I’ve spent the last 9 days in The Royal Oldham Hospital having come into A&E with chest pains. I’ve been there ever since.

I’m fine now having had an angiogram and ultimately having a stent put into one of the arteries in my heart but it’s been a hell of a week and hopefully I should be discharged later today.

This isn’t a post looking for sympathy. Far from it, I actually feel a lot better now than I have for sometime. It is post to ask you to stop and think. It is a post to ask you to act.

Heart attacks aren’t the exclusive domain of the elderly or the frail. They aren’t limited to those who smoke or drink too much or those who are overweight.

They can be caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stress.

And how many of us even know what our blood pressure is or what our cholesterol levels are? I know I didn’t until this week.

So it’s simple really….

Go and get your blood pressure checked, make sure you know what your cholesterol is and then act on it. And for your sake and the sake of those that you love and love you, make sure you know what the signs of a heart attack are.

I wish I had.

Today is the first day of the next part of my life.