Writing

I was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack – it wasn’t, but it’s taught me to give myself a break

I had run 19k, over two days – with no warm up and no build up – and after not having run more than a mile for months

Written by Shaparak Khorsandi in The Independent 6 months ago (Friday, March 26th, 2021)

There was a bit of drama in my life this week: I was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. I’ll tell you here, right at the start, that it was not, as it turns out, a heart attack – and I’m absolutely fine.

It was all my own fault. I had run 19k, over two days – with no warm up and no build up – and after not having run more than a mile for months. I just forced my creaking body around Ealing parks against its will, at a fairly fast pace. Hours after I finished my second run, my airways began spasming and desperately trying to to get enough oxygen into me. I couldn’t breathe. I had to hang up on a work call whilst I clung on to a table and concentrated on inflating my lungs. “It’s a panic attack”, I told myself.

Later that evening, however, it got worse – my chest hurt, and I had pins and needles in my hand. The pins and needles turned out to be because I had been resting my laptop on the arm on the sofa and writing at a funny angle, but put together, the whole thing felt like I was dying. I wasn’t – I was just an idiot.

But why did I suddenly put my trainers on and run until my knees crumbled? Well, I am ashamed to say: it’s because I bought a new jacket. I’d had my eye out for the perfect burgundy biker jacket; and then, during an idle midnight scroll through the sale of an expensive shop, there it was – and at a third of its original price.

Now, like many others – despite my daily dog walks, and regularly watching Joe Wicks’ channel, whilst eating donuts – I have put on a little weight in lockdown.

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By “put on a little weight”, I mean that absolutely none of my clothes fit me any more. My jeans laugh at me if I so much as look at them. Inspired by the body-positive output of people like comedian Sophie Hagen and the singer Lizzo, I decided to take a leaf out of the books of my brilliant younger sisters. I was going to embrace my new shape and get a size bigger.

I would not buy this jacket in my pre-lockdown size, and challenge myself to “slim into it”. I know, from decades of experience, that keeping all my clothes – and trying to shrink my body so they will fit me again – leads only to self-loathing and the inhalation of family-sized bags of crisps. Disordered eating and bulimia have blighted my life since I was 15, and only way to diminish its grip on me is to accept the shape of my body.

The jacket arrived. The bigger size was still too small. Off went my head into an all too familiar hideous spiral that even Lizzo was powerless to get me out of. I ran.

In my thirties, I was a keen long distance runner. Running was my divorce therapy, seeing as I didn’t have the patience to sit still for long enough to see an actual therapist. I ran to feel strong, and to fight the various agonies and wounds that heartbreak brings with it. When I had my daughter, almost eight years ago, I stopped running – partly because I didn’t have time (I had her on my own), but mostly because I was a great deal more buoyant and didn’t need to pound my feet on the ground for 10km to feel something other than grief.

I was still constantly moving, though; performing on a stage for hours every week, rushing around after the children, walking up and down escalators like the London Underground rat I often felt like – so I never got as big as I am now. That’s why I went running.

When I called the 111 non-emergency number, I thought they’d tell me it was nothing; but they didn’t – they sent an ambulance round, and two nice chaps did some tests on me. They decided I needed to be taken in. They blocked my narrow street with the ambulance for 45 minutes, and as it was late in the evening, all my neighbours – who usually remark on emergency vehicles, foxes and drug dealers – were silent on the street WhatsApp.

“No one has noticed what’s going on,” I sulked to the ambulance driver, a young chap from Stockport. He was very sympathetic. “Do you want me to drive away with the sirens blazing?”

“No, thank you,” I sighed. “It’s fine.” But it wasn’t, really. What is the point of being rushed to hospital if no one is around to see it?

My trip in to A&E reminded me of why I love the NHS – for a million reasons, but this week it’s mostly because none of its workers: from the ambulance staff, to the porters, to the two nurses who attended to me and gave me ECGs, to the radiographers who X-rayed me, to the terribly young doctor who told me to train for running properly from now – not a single one of them called me a pillock.

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