In August 2018, upon returning from the United States where Sandra participated in a theatre production, she started experiencing breathlessness on the last leg of her journey. It was a real struggle and she had to stop often to catch her breath. The journey lasted more than two and a half hours - an hour and a half more than it usually does. Sandra contributed the breathlessness and her exhaustion to the 26 hours of travel she had just completed.
That night, she had night sweats for the first time. This lasted for a week. It didn’t cause her much concern, but she still decided to visit her local GP. Whilst visiting her doctor, they discussed and attributed her symptoms to an insect bite whilst travelling. Back home, her symptoms progressively worsened – she couldn’t lie down on her back, she felt mentally and physically exhausted and her night sweats continued.
She booked a second appointment with a GP and nearly broke down in tears in frustration with her symptoms. Sandra felt like she was falling apart. Unable to address her symptoms in the GP surgery, she was asked if she wanted to visit her local hospital to find the underlying cause of her worsening symptoms. After being reviewed in the A&E department, Sandra was diagnosed with indigestion and a fatty liver. She was prescribed medicine to treat this and discharged.
Sandra managed to have one good night’s sleep and woke up the following morning, initially feeling better. However, during the course of the day, she deteriorated to the point where one of her closest friends, who was visiting that evening, encouraged Sandra to return to the A&E. Upon arrival, she was put in a wheelchair and admitted for overnight stay in order to run additional tests, including blood tests. She expected to stay for one night only, after the initial medication she was prescribed made her feel that much better. However, four days later, she was still in hospital and an ultrasound of her heart was done by a nurse, who hurriedly informed a doctor of the results, which wasn’t discussed with Sandra. The following day, Sandra was visited by a heart failure cardiology consultant who explained to her that her heart was only functioning at 15% capacity – her heart was failing.
Her cardiologist began to describe to her how her life would have to change dramatically – no more kickboxing, work or stress. His main focus was to get her heart functioning at better capacity – but not letting Sandra know how she could manage this and not offering any positive solutions.
Sandra found dealing with the diagnosis on her own very difficult, but knew she had to find a way to manage. She was not provided with enough information or support to cope with all the challenges she now had to face. 6 weeks after her initial diagnosis, after Sandra proactively reached out for support, she finally met a heart failure specialist nurse.
The first part of lockdown was difficult for Sandra as it completely changed her routine. Yet, it forced her to address certain aspects of her life that have helped her manage her heart failure, such as diet and the importance of exercise.
She has received no contact from any member of her healthcare team to advise her when to seek help, especially during the pandemic when services have been limited. During this period, Sandra does not consider contacting them at all, unless she feels a twinge in her chest.
Her upcoming heart failure appointments have been delayed by 4 months to accommodate the priority on COVID-19 but Sandra has received little information to help her manage her condition during this time.