When David De La Haye, 61, from Vienne began to feel tired in the afternoons, he put it down to lack of fitness. But a trip to the hospital revealed that three of the four main arteries to his heart were blocked
My wife Lyn and I moved to France in July 2016, having spent nine years volunteering in Uganda. We’ve taken on quite a renovation project here, so I was doing a lot more physical work than usual.
Even so, I was surprised to find myself completely exhausted by 15.00 every day.
But I put it down to lack of fitness and resolved to start building my strength up.
In April 2017, we had arranged to pick up some furniture from a local seller, so set off with our car and trailer.
When loading the furniture onto the trailer, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by tiredness and experienced a feeling of tightness in my chest, together with a little sickness. It was not terrible – I just felt a bit unwell.
Lyn told me to sit down, but I told her I was okay. We finished loading the trailer and went home, where she encouraged me to call the doctor. Hearing my symptoms, he told me to go to hospital to get checked.
As soon as I told the hospital why I had come in, I found myself on a gurney undergoing tests.
Suspecting a blockage, the hospital in Thouars helicoptered me to a larger centre in nearby Niort where I was given an angiogram (this is when dye is injected into a blood vessel under X-ray to detect blockages). I was shocked when they told me that three of the four main arteries to my heart were blocked!
Once I had been diagnosed, I was transferred to Poitiers where there is a specialist heart unit to await a triple bypass.
Unfortunately, the blood thinners given to me before the angiogram put me at higher risk of bleeding, so they decided to wait a week until the medication had cleared my system before performing the bypass, but admitted me for observation.
A few days into my stay, however, I had another attack while being examined by a team of doctors. Seeing my condition, they decided to operate the same day and within two hours I was in theatre.
The operation itself took about five hours, during which they opened me up like a garden gate! They cut through my ribs and put me on bypass during the procedure, which is obviously terribly traumatic for your body.
One side-effect you don’t often hear about is the confusion patients can experience afterwards. Thinking about it rationally, it is hardly surprising that, as brain and the heart get out of sync, patients often experience disorientation on waking.
When I woke from the operation, I felt extremely angry and frightened – I thought I was trapped and had lots of delusions. It took me a few days to overcome that sense of anger and confusion.
Physically, I suffered quite a lot of pain around the site of the operation. This settled down after a few weeks and I now have an impressively neat scar!
I was discharged from Poitiers after a week, but sent to a convalescent unit, where I underwent over three weeks of rehabilitation, which included exercise, dietary advice and information on heart health.
Having only moved to France a few months before, my French wasn’t perfect – but I learned a great deal, especially when it comes to medical terminology!
Arriving home was a relief after spending close to eight weeks at various hospitals.
Now, although I take it easy when lifting, I’m back renovating – and I also cycle 15-20km, two to three times per week. I feel fitter and healthier than I have for some time!
FACTS ON HEART BYPASS by Dr Patrick Donzeau-Gouge, a cardiovascular surgeon at Hôpital Privé Jacques Cartier in Massy, Essonne
What are some of the symptoms of a blocked artery?
Blockages in the coronary artery are usually caused by atheromatous plaque, which decreases the blood flow to the heart muscle. The most common symptom is chest pain.
Depending on the severity of the blockage, this pain may resolve itself when the patient ceases activity.
How long does bypass surgery usually last?
Coronary bypass surgery lasts from three to four hours depending on the number of blocked arteries and coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) performed – usually three to five per intervention.
How long do patients stay in hospital for coronary bypass surgery?
A typical patient will stay in hospital for around eight to nine days; they are often admitted the day before the procedure for final tests.
After the procedure, the patient will stay in an intensive care unit (ICU) for 24 to 48 hours, after which they must usually remain hospitalised for four to five days.
What further care may be needed after surgery?
After staying in a cardiac surgery department the patient will have to undergo cardiac rehabilitation.
This can be done by staying internally in a specialized unit but it can also be done by ambulatory care.
This rehabilitation is two to three weeks in duration.