A Wigan health boss got an unexpected and shocking look at the NHS from a patient’s point of view after suffering a heart attack.
Professor Craig Harris, the managing director at Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), ended up in the coronary care unit at Wigan Infirmary following the dramatic diagnosis aged just 41.
Prof Harris said he had begun experiencing chest pains and other symptoms of a heart attack but as he was suffering from a flu-like illness at the time thought little more of it.
However, when he went to his GP a couple of days later and spoke about the pain he was sent off to hospital for tests where it was confirmed he had suffered a heart attack.
Following a week’s treatment in Wigan Infirmary he is now back at home recuperating and coming to terms with the jolt to his world.
Prof Harris said: “Looking back, if I hadn’t have had the flu I would have connected the pains in my chest, being sick and profusely sweating and said that sounds like a heart attack.
“At the time, though, I carried on at work until I went to my GP and was told I should go to hospital for all the tests as a safety precaution.
“When I got to hospital I still thought I had some sort of virus and was working on that basis.
“I had an angiogram and that was when I found out I had had a heart attack.
“It certainly stops you in your stride. There’s almost a disbelief, then a shock, then everything runs through your mind.
“I was wondering how I was going to tell people and what I was going to do, I was thinking about my partner, my little boy and my work. It all rushes through your mind.
“The cardiology staff were fantastic. Even though I’m a nurse who’s worked in the NHS for 20 years they went through things step by step, they walked me through it.
“They said I should expect to feel emotional and there was always some uncertainty.
“I don’t believe they were fantastic because I’m part of the NHS family, I believe it’s because that is what they do, day in and day out. They are absolutely committed.”
Prof Harris said he was regularly visited by colleagues during his week in hospital.
However, he said arriving back at home after being discharged was a real shock to the system.
He said: “I thought I would be able to carry on because in my mind I was well. In my mind I thought I could run a marathon, but then I did a lap of the island in the kitchen and I was out of breath.
“Physically I was just drained and had to really take it easy. That was one of the hardest things for me, getting out of the fast lane doing a job that I love and being busy with all my other roles.
“I went from that to sitting on the sofa not being able to do the dishwasher.
“I’m now just recovering, recuperating and rehabilitating at home. I need to have some more tests and I’ve got a few other things to do like a scan and some physio.”
Prof Harris now says he has realised that by speaking about his experiences other people who start to feel the symptoms of a heart attack could be helped and realise they need to get urgent medical attention. He also used his own medical knowledge to give out some advice.
He said: “I’ve been doing a couple of social media messages and videoblogs and someone said about me putting the message out there as a heart attack survivor.
“I never thought it would happen to me but I am living with it and getting on with it, whereas for a lot of other people it is so devastating.
“I was told that hearing my story could really give people hope that it’s not the end of the road. I thought that was quite powerful. I was tweeting to say how I was because a lot of people had been asking about my journey. I had never thought I might be helping people I didn’t even know, so that was quite interesting.
“I would tell people to listen to their bodies and not to panic. There’s nothing wrong with getting checked out, even if it turns out to be nothing. It is absolutely better to be safe than sorry.
“I love the NHS and it is there for when people need it. ”