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Senior Constable Craig Berquist with his wife, Julie.

Three heart attacks in three days

Senior Constable Craig Berquist is feeling lucky to be alive and says he has learnt a valuable lesson about the downside of “being a stubborn male”.

In November, my life changed forever.

I arrived at Auckland Airport after six days in Australia visiting family. As I walked to my car, dragging my suitcase, I felt an extreme pain in my chest, like someone was standing on it, and I was struggling to breathe.

I was cold and clammy and had lost feeling in my left arm. I couldn’t pull my case another step and began to panic – I was sick and alone, and it felt like I was having a heart attack!

I thought, “I don’t want to die here, on the footpath. I need to get home to my family”, so I pushed on, using my other hand to pull the case, gasping through the pain.

When I made it to the car, I sat for some time hoping the discomfort would pass, which it did. I had made it, I thought – survived whatever had just happened to me – so I drove, cautiously, to Hamilton, arriving in the early hours of the next day, home and pain free.

I decided not to tell my wife, Julie, what had happened at the airport. A day later, however, the pain and numbness struck again, and there was no hiding it, although it subsided after resting for about 15 minutes.

Julie insisted I get checked. I agreed, but, being a stubborn male, I said I’d wait till the next day. I was due to work a day shift, so decided I would bike to the station and then make an appointment. I didn’t make it far… While riding my bike, I suffered a third attack.

It finally dawned on me that something was seriously wrong and I was going to have to seek help. I also had to confront the fact that I was embarrassed to admit I needed help; no one wants to appear inferior or weak. In fact, I was shit scared.

I saw the doc that day, had the blood tests and an ECG and then went to work, fully expecting, and hoping, to get the all-clear later in the day.

I realise now that this was a combination of the old stubbornness and wishful thinking. A couple of hours later, my doctor was on the phone: “Get to the hospital now! You have had a heart attack. I am hanging up from you and phoning the hospital. They will be waiting for you.”

I couldn’t believe it. Not me, 52 years young, biking to work and in good health. How could this happen?

A week later, I had an angiogram that showed one of the three main arteries from my heart was 99 per cent blocked. A stent was installed and, apparently, once I’m fully recovered, that artery will be better than before.

The cardiologist said I was very lucky. I felt I had dodged a bullet – or three!

Now, back at work in my usual role as a senior constable working in prevention, I take medication every day, but I’m feeling heaps better and I’ve even been back on my bike.

Looking back, I can see there were warnings: I’d felt tightness in my chest after biking, but put it down to getting older; I’d fall asleep on the couch watching TV; and I constantly felt lethargic.

Julie suspected something wasn’t right and for months she’d been urging me to get some tests done. My answer was always that I was just tired after a busy day, just like everyone else – normal.

I chose to take the “she’ll be right” approach – it won’t happen to me! My stubbornness nearly cost me my life.

As police officers, we’re great at giving good advice in the course of our duties, but we are not so good at taking it when it comes to our own health – physical and mental.

I hope my story may make even one person listen to what their body (and their family) is telling them. Get that check-up, then, hopefully, someone else will also get the second chance that I am so grateful to have been given.

Craig Berquist during his stay in hospital.

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