David Oke
Melbourne, Friday October 13 1995

Search your heart search your soul…

On Friday October 13 1995 I was to sing and play, on piano, the Bryan Adams song Everything I Do, I Do It For You at the practice for the wedding march for friends at their church in a Melbourne northern suburb. The wedding ceremony was the next day. I didn’t attend either.

On that Friday morning I woke up feeling extremely dizzy. After getting out of bed I had a shower and noticed a dull pain in the centre of my chest. I had ringing in the ears and by the afternoon I was throwing up like nothing else. I went down to visit our G.P. with a neighbour, as Heather was at home with our week old baby, Daniel. The G.P. took one look at me and called an ambulance. I thought that it was possibly a virus or a ‘grief reaction’, as my mother had died suddenly two weeks prior from a brain aneurysm. Daniel was actually born on the same day as mum’s funeral and I attended both. How extreme can your emotions be?

I was conscious as to what was going on. I went through a barrage of blood tests and X rays, but was very aware of the flurry of activity going on around me. After Emergency I was wheeled up to the cardiac ward and connected to the heart monitor. A short time later a very matter –of-fact nurse informed me that the test results revealed that I had experienced a heart attack. At the relatively young age of 35.  It turns out that the ‘vomiting’ from the afternoon was a gasping for oxygen as my body systems were shutting down. I have no memory of the crushing overt pain often associated with heart attack. Thirty five year olds don’t have heart attacks! I had never been a smoker! How could that be true? My response was total disbelief.

I had no idea that heart attacks can manifest with many different symptoms.

Recovery sure took a while as we later discovered, after having a deep vein thrombosis in my right leg, that my body was full of blood clots. The conclusion is that my blood starts clotting unusually when I am under stress. Mum’s death and the arrival of the new baby were all a bit much. The legacy is that I continue to have daily blood thinning medication. It was then that I decided not take on higher duties as a primary school teacher. Any ambition to become a principal dissolved as from now on I knew that stress is harmful to my health.

In the weeks and months after the heart attack there were re-adjustments to be made. I adjusted my diet and went through cardiac rehabilitation. But, any time I felt dizzy or had a twinge in the chest I went straight back to the hospital for a check up. Once was Christmas Eve, 1995 and the last time would have been in the early 2000s.

 Look into your heart-you will find
There’s nothing there to hide.
Take me as I am – take my life
I would give it all – I would sacrifice

Don’t tell me it’s not worth fighting for
I can’t help it, there’s nothing I want more
You know it’s true:
Everything I do, I do it for you.

I later heard that the Bryan Adams song was played, on CD, as the couple walked down the aisle.

More than 20 years later things are brighter. I have not had re-occurring heart issues. The damage to my heart was minimal. I did not need bypass surgery or the insertion of stents to open arteries. Thanks to the medication my blood test results are consistently stable and positive. Now I am part of a men’s health program called Sons Of The West. In 2017 I visited four different groups, accompanying a guest presenter from the Heart Foundation, to share my heart attack saga and to encourage participants to be aware of heart attack signs and to consider healthy exercise and dietary habits.

However, I still find it difficult to listen to that Bryan Adams song. Everything I Do still triggers a bundle of memories – being in the cardiac ward for days, the hospital smell, separation from loved ones, the desire to get outside into the fresh air, sunlight and hear birdsong, missing the wedding of friends, the disappointment of not being able to lift up my week old baby, the hours of staring at the heart monitor screen – being scared that I might witness abnormal rhythms or of another cardiac arrest, bursting into tears when walking past a defibrillator, the hospital noises in the half light of night time and hitting rock bottom at a time of my life when there should have been much celebration.

Sons Of The West website

David is a Melbourne musician, music teacher and primary school teacher. His debut Stereo Story was about playing Great Balls of Fire at Sun Studio in Memphis. He has assisted in the organisation, and leading of gospel music workshops and Sunday gospel celebrations at the Anglesea Music Festivals, and is a member of The Seddon Jammers. His son Dan is the creative force of the band Jarrow.