One of my arteries was 90% blocked
MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE : Fair Cityactor JIM BARTLEY's dizzy spells turned out to be minor strokes
WHEN I started getting dizzy spells, I put it down to high blood pressure. My doctors have told me since that those dizzy spells I was having were mini- strokes or “events” as they call them. I have to laugh when I hear them talking about “events”. To me, an event sounds like something you would be taking part in during the Olympic Games.
Back in 1992, I had started to experience shortness of breath after walking a distance. I was brought in for an angiogram, which found a blockage in one of my coronary arteries. I had an angioplasty which involved pushing an empty balloon through the artery and then inflating it to open up the blood vessel and let the blood flow through. Once the blockage was cleared, the balloon was taken out.
I had no problem after that and was doing my job fine until, just a few months ago, I began to have dizzy spells. I thought it was just my blood pressure. In June, I was finishing a week’s work on Fair Citywhen I had another dizzy spell. Earlier that week, I had been having hot and cold shivers.
That weekend, I was out with my partner Helen having our usual Sunday lunchtime drink. When my right arm touched the counter of the bar, I felt a very cold sensation. It was a very strange feeling – I thought it was maybe temporary pins and needles or that type of thing.
I was off work for the next week and I was at home on Monday when I began to feel a little strange. I was trying to read the newspaper, but the sentences and words were all jumbled together. I thought to myself, this is very strange. I picked up a script that I was due to start rehearsing the following Saturday and I noticed that the lines were all joined together. I thought, if I can’t read the script, that’s me in trouble.
I rang my GP who sent me straight up to the emergency room at Tallaght hospital. When I was filling in the forms for the hospital, I had to tick some boxes, but I was missing the boxes. They put me on a monitor and started doing tests of my heart and reflexes. All my limbs and extremities were working perfectly, apart from a numbness from the wrist up to the bicep on my right arm.
A more detailed examination of my brain showed that my dizzy spells had, in fact, been minor strokes. They were going to let me go home on the Thursday, but Prof Des O’Neill, who is an excellent doctor, said he wanted to do an ultrasound of my carotid arteries in case they might be a bit furry. He found that one of my carotid arteries was nearly 90 per cent blocked and told me he was putting me on the list for surgery the following week.
I was due in to film a week of Fair City that week and was being totally illogical and impractical about wanting to get back to work. I had to face reality though; I could be in serious trouble if I didn’t have the surgery.
The surgeon, Bridget Egan, an absolutely lovely lady, came up to see me. She told me she would have to open the artery and take out the cholesterol that was clogging it because if it continued to move up behind my ear, I would be in trouble as the carotid arteries are the main arteries bringing blood to the brain.
Any kind of surgery involves danger and I was not so much afraid of the surgery itself but my big fear was that I might suffer a major stroke during it which was one of the risks. I said to the surgeon, “I have to trust you because my mother’s maiden name was Egan so that’s a good sign.”
Another lovely young doctor named Michael Kelly chatted to me at the bedside and between the three of them, they convinced me that this surgery had to happen the following week. I went in for the operation on Tuesday. It took three and a half hours which is long enough. When I came to in the recovery room, I was fully compos mentis within about two minutes. All my extremities were working perfectly and the surgeon rang my partner to tell her I was sitting up in bed chatting away. That was great. Actually, it was great just to wake up!
After the operation, the surgeon gave me a little canister with the gunge she took out of my artery. It was as thick and nearly as long as a caterpillar. I have to say that I enjoyed my stay in Tallaght hospital. Whatever problems they might have with funding and bureaucracy, when you’re in there, in the system, they’re amazing. I was in the William Stokes stroke unit where the nurses and caring staff were absolutely wonderful.
After the surgery, I had stitches right up my neck, which have since almost disappeared, and I was not disabled to any degree. I was released from hospital on the Friday and I have been very well since then. I missed only one week of work because filming was not scheduled to resume on Fair Cityuntil September, so I had plenty of time to recover. I am working away again now and feeling well.
We all know the advice about not smoking and not drinking too much, but I would say to people who are having dizzy spells that they should go to see their GP and not just put it down to high blood pressure like I did. You might be having an “event” without realising it and it’s best to get yourself checked out to be on the safe side.
Jim Bartley will present awards at the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, today at the Irish Heart Foundation’s second annual stroke awards, sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim, which honour the courage of stroke survivors and their carers.
In conversation with MICHELLE MCDONAGH
CARTOID ARTERY DISEASE: WHAT IS IT?
The carotid arteries, which are located on each side of the neck under the jawline, provide the main blood supply to the brain.
Carotid artery disease is a condition in which these arteries become narrowed or blocked. It occurs when sticky, fatty substances called plaque build up in the inner lining of the arteries.
The plaque may slowly block or narrow the carotid artery or cause a clot to form which can lead to stroke.
You may not have any symptoms of this disease or you may have symptoms of a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) which is sometimes known as a mini-stroke. Some of these symptoms include weakness in one part of the body, blurred vision, confusion, loss of memory, problems with speech or loss of sensation.
About 10,000 people suffer a stroke each year in Ireland and about a quarter of these die as a result. An estimated 30,000 people are living in the community with disability from stroke.
For more information on stroke symptoms, see stroke.ie or talk to an Irish Heart Foundation nurse on the Heart and Stroke Helpline, tel: 1890-432787