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Surviving a heart attack changed my life in many ways, from priorities and values shifting, to a profound sense of gratitude for the new gift of life that I had been bequeathed. As I came to terms with refamiliarizing myself with the practical element of life – from returning to work and adjusting to public transport – it felt like my confidence had vanished, as simple tasks that I had previously taken for granted, filled me with awe and apprehension.
This anxiety increased significantly as I started planning my first holiday abroad, something I had initially looked forward to until I realised what lay in store. Even though my cardiologist had given me the go-ahead to fly, I still felt overwhelmed and confused with all the conflicting information I had come across on the effect of altitude and cabin pressure on the heart, in my Google searches. Add to that the shock of learning that my current holiday insurer refused to continue my cover once I had updated them on my condition – the number of calls and hours spent researching alternative options felt like Groundhog day, with each company saying no.
So, when I mentioned this quite by chance to my friend Saida one afternoon over a cream tea at the Garden Centre, I was delighted with her recommendation for a company she had already researched and used, having faced a similar experience herself. I called them up, and within a few minutes I was covered, at a very reasonable rate – her efforts researching all this took away all the stress and gave me additional time to focus on other key areas. She also gave me great advice on packing my medication – I had never heard of one of those weekly travel pill boxes until she showed me hers, a great way of organising all the medication by days of the week, and day/night-time in one place.
That’s when I realised that I wasn’t alone in this, and there are countless others facing these issues. At times, an illness or disability can make you feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help from a stranger, and even when you do it can feel like you’re not understood or significant. Having someone who has gone through something similar, who can empathise and share mutual experiences not only empowered me and facilitated my journey, it also gave me hope and helped to build my confidence.
With flights, accommodation and insurance sorted I was able to focus on the fun stuff, and before I knew it the day arrived. I made a point to let my friend who I was travelling with know about my health condition and explained that I would need to take things at my own pace, so as not to overdo things – this took the pressure of me having to keep up or participate in everything. We planned a few relaxing excursions together, but I also ensured I made ample time to relax and read by the pool, have massages or simply take an afternoon nap, enabling her to pursue the faster paced activities that she enjoyed. Communication is critical, so I also made it a point to share family contact details with her in case of an emergency.
Luckily, there were no unexpected turns, and I arrived home a week later relaxed, refreshed and with a renewed sense of confidence in the future. This experience taught me above all that each and every one of us has a story to tell, and collectively we can all make a difference by sharing, listening and simply saying “I understand, I’ve been there…”
MA, London UK