I am forever grateful to the GP who saved my life! Blog by Roxy Ball

From being little I always remember I found running and PE hard. I was good at rounders because I could hit the ball and then race around the posts! But everything else I was bad at. I never had any stamina!

I always got worried about things too, it would just come on. I used to get horrible feelings about things and feel something bad was going to happen. It used to frustrate a lot of my family, because they couldn’t find any triggers for my worries. My friend’s stepdad used to call me Miss Catastrophe!

When I was 13 I contracted tonsillitis which then resulted in a strong positive test for Glandular Fever. The GP told me I needed two weeks off school. It was Christmas and I was devastated, all of my Christmas concerts were happening, and I missed them all. I played saxophone, clarinet, piano, recorder and sang in the school choir. The GP said that the month rest with the two weeks Christmas holidays would hopefully make everything better.

After that month, I didn’t feel any better. I felt tired all the time and achy. I went for my first clarinet lesson and my teacher was so worried that I’d gone pale and shaky, she abandoned the lesson, asked me to sit on a chair and summoned her mum who was upstairs!

I went back to school but was sent home because I looked ill and couldn’t physically move around the school. My year tutor who was also the SENCO Lead intervened and explained I could just go into school for mornings and work in her classroom. They would get teachers to send my work to her classroom.

Although this part of my life was tough, I’ll always be thankful to her. She had a few of us in the classroom, mainly naughty kids! I would quickly finish the work I’d been set, and she started to ask me if I could help the others who found academic work tough. I look back now and think this was the start of my career! In the face of adversity something I love to do, was born.

I became very unwell and could not physically get out of bed. My parents were extremely worried, and the GP visited me at home. I was admitted to hospital with an irregular heartbeat.

I spent a week in hospital with medics being baffled. What followed was a lot of avenues being explored such as: arthritis, school phobia, chronic fatigue syndrome and post viral syndrome. My parents were amazingly supportive and knew that I loved school – loved doing homework (yeah … I know!) and tried the best they could to try and help me get better.

I spent Y9, Y10 and Y11 in and out of school due to illness, but my year tutor continued to be supportive and I worked in her room a lot. Other teachers such as my English teacher were amazing. When I got my GCSE grades of 2 As, 4 4 Bs and a C I was amazed! I didn’t get entered for some subjects, there was no point as I had missed too much!

I lacked confidence and feared becoming unwell again. My parents supported me to go to a small Beauty and Complimentary Therapy School, which I loved. I achieved an ITEC L3 Beauty Therapy Diploma within a year.

With my newfound confidence and getting a part time weekend job at Debenhams in the cosmetics department, I became the youngest beauty therapist for a prestigious skincare company. I undertook training in London and at 19 became part of their National Sales Team. At 22 I became their National Events Manager. These years were amazing for me working in places such as Harrods, Selfridges, Celtic Manor and The Vale just to name a few.

At 24 I started to feel unwell, I went to see my GP and she asked me to go straight to the hospital to have an ECG. I did and it returned as abnormal. I was continually asked by medics if I had taken any drugs. I hadn’t, but I felt as though I wasn’t believed. I was asked to stay overnight and then told that I could go home but needed further investigations.  I had these and then saw a very dismissive trainee Cardiologist. He told me I’d probably got Glandular Fever which is why I felt ill and that my heart was fine. It would be ridiculous to put me through a risky and dangerous Catheter Ablation.

At this point I was in the last year of my Open University degree and decided to change my career. I’d been recommended to make some lifestyle changes. I moved into tutoring English and maths, in a local training provider whilst working towards a PGCE and GradDipEd once I’d achieved my BSc.

Healthwise the reduction in a physically demanding and national job seemed to help things. However, in 2012 I flew to Australia a couple of days before Christmas on a very full plane from Heathrow. Once we had taken off, I suddenly felt unwell, I don’t remember anything else apart from coming back round to an oxygen mask on my face and an air hostess looking after me. I’d collapsed and lost all control, not what you want on a full long-haul flight! I was then quarantined when I got to Australia and searched. Again, another unpleasant experience due to my strange heart antics!

I’ve now worked in education for over ten years and have always worked with disadvantaged learners. I think this goes back to those school days, there is no better feeling than watching someone achieve more than they think they can! A couple of years ago, I started to fall over at work. I’m quite dippy so I just thought I was tripping up, but I started to fall, regularly resulting in bruises and injuries that I didn’t feel until later. One day I was walking and the next minute I was on the floor. Someone saw this and was insistent I had collapsed, and work asked me to go to see my GP.

I’d recently moved and been very impressed with a GP who had seen me about a skin condition I had had for three years. He had fixed the condition within a month of seeing him and so I requested the appointment with him. I went to see him and he explained he would need to review all of my notes and would run some tests. He reviewed my notes and explained there were some anomalies in what cardiac problems I had. He said as a precautionary measure he would run an ECG but he felt that this was just belt and braces. The ECG was ran by a technician and I could see the look on her face, it was the usual look of surprise. I was then placed in a side room, whilst other people viewed the ECG – again something I’d become quite familiar with! She explained I would need to see a doctor to explain the results.

The GP explained I did have Wolff-Parkinson White Syndrome something which had been identified as me having and then not having. It was always under question. He said that some ECGs displayed the unusual heart waves and others didn’t. He said he would refer me to a Cardiologist. I saw the Cardiologist within a couple of weeks and felt quite shocked. He told me that I either had a Catheter Ablation or I was at risk of Cardiac Arrest and sudden death. He said I would not get life insurance, be able to re mortgage and wouldn’t be able to get holiday insurance. The Cardiologist told me that each time I was falling over, I was collapsing because my heart rate was too high.

I agreed to have the ablation and within four weeks I had the procedure. During the ablation they found not one, but two accessory pathways. I was very fortunate because they took the decision to ablate both of them in the same day, otherwise I would have had to have the procedure all over again to ablate the second accessory pathway they had found.

When the Cardiologist came to see me after the procedure, he asked me how I felt. I said I couldn’t feel my heart beating, he said he’d asked me if I’d had palpitations and I’d always said no. I realised that you aren’t supposed to feel your heart beating and that, that’s what a palpitation is! But having always felt my heart beating, I never understood that you shouldn’t feel it beating.

It took me about six months to fully recover from the procedure. It evoked sciatica in me which made walking extremely painful, but that subsided after about three months. It also caused me to have continual visual disturbances, feel constantly nauseous, tired and have a headache for around four months after. I also suffered from low blood pressure and apparently, I was a funny colour for a while!

However, it was all worth it. Eighteen months on I feel the best I have ever felt in my life. The crippling anxiety I lived with at times, isn’t there anymore. People are disappointed now because I don’t react so much when they tease me! For the first time in my life I have more stamina and I don’t feel tired all the time. I can obtain insurances easily because I’ve had a successful ablation and now, I am not classed as someone with a heart condition. Also, my eyes have improved and I have a weaker prescription, which baffled the optician. They feel the explanation is that my heart must be pumping blood better, which has improved my eyesight!

I will always be truly grateful to the GP who took the time to read through all my notes, examining the detail and the precautionary tests he ran. I’m passionate about young people being able to access screening, the Catheter Ablation has changed my life and my future. I will always be so incredibly thankful to the GP who I believe saved my life.

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