JOHN Thompson admits he’s “fat”.
And arthritis has a grip on his ankles, wrists, elbows and neck.
He already knew he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
But nothing prepared him for his most serious health hurdle, which started with a bout of the flu.
The retired chef was feeling constantly tired and had a chesty cough 2½ weeks ago but when he started coughing up phlegm, he thought he was on the road to recovery.
“I thought ‘you beauty, I’m on the other side of it’,” he said.
But there was no instant recovery for the Culcairn resident as that night he was unable to sleep on his left side.
“I described the feeling to my wife; it was like 10 men were standing on my chest,” he said.
Mr Thompson, 57, had an appointment with his doctor scheduled in a few days and planned to ask about his chest pain.
The former chef at the old Albury base hospital and Kinross Woolshed Hotel visited his doctor of 40 years on August 14.
He was diagnosed with asthma and referred for a chest X-ray later that day.
The next morning he woke at 5.30 to say goodbye to his wife Marilyn as she set off to Newcastle to visit her sister who had recently undergone chemotherapy and their 90-year-old mother.
“I felt sick so I went back to bed and then woke again to the phone ringing at 7.30am,” he said.
“It was the doctor and he said ‘John, we got your results back and I’m calling an ambulance for you to go straight to Albury base because it doesn’t look good’.”
Mr Thompson hung up the phone and had a million thoughts running through his head, the last thought was for his own wellbeing.
“What will I do with my dogs? I better ring my wife. Wait, don’t ring her she was looking forward to her holiday. They were just some of the frantic thoughts racing around.”
The ambulance arrived at Mr Thompson’s home but could not take him straight to Albury so transported him to Culcairn.
He waited at the hospital for more than two hours before another ambulance turned up to take him to Albury, still unaware of what was wrong with him.
At Albury, the doctor told him he would have to be taken to Melbourne.
“I knew then whatever was wrong with me was serious but I still did not want to worry my wife,” he said.
He said he started thinking the worst and panicked but realised he was in the right spot if anything was to happen.
The hospital told Mr Thompson he would travel by helicopter or plane and somebody started to measure him up.
“I was just laying in the bed and I said, ‘What, are you measuring me up for my box?’,” he said.
“I had no idea what they were doing.
“(But) he was measuring me for the plane and I said, ‘What because I’m fat?’”
Mr Thompson was on the tarmac ready to be flown to Melbourne at 1.05 on a Friday morning, 17½ hours after his doctor had phoned him at home.
His knuckles were white and he was sliding down the bed as the plane took off with more speed than anything else he had experienced.
He landed at Essendon airport one hour and 10 minutes later and was put in an ambulance for another 30-minute journey to The Alfred Hospital.
This was where Mr Thompson was first told of his heart condition.
He was informed his heart sat in a round sack and there was fluid around it, which acts as a shock absorber to protect it.
He said he was told an infection had gone into his heart and more fluid had entered the area, which started to build up in the sack.
“The sack stays the same size and your heart gets slower,” he said.
“If I had waited any longer my heart would have exploded and stopped.”
The doctors told him it looked as if they would have to operate and put a nil-by-mouth sign on his bed to indicate he was fasting.
“I knew it was time to tell my wife and she was on the next plane down there,” he said.
The operation would have required a tube insertion to drain the fluid out.
“Because I’m bigger they weren’t able to put the tube in normally and would have had to put it through my sternum, which is like open heart surgery,” he said.
“It’s too risky and they didn’t want to go down that path so they put me on heart tablets.”
The Alfred Hospital’s director of cardiovascular medicine Professor Tony Dart said Mr Thompson went to The Alfred with temporary inflammation of his heart that had been caused by a viral infection.
“While the condition is quite serious and can sometimes lead to needing a heart transplant or other intervention, John was fortunate to return to health without need for surgery,” he said.
“This is a great example to other men, that if you have difficulty breathing or experience chest pain, it’s important to see a doctor — in John’s case, it saved his life.”
Mr Thompson said he was one of the lucky ones as he got regular check-ups.
And he is adamant it’s important for all men to pay attention to their health.
“Men should get checked, that’s 100 per cent, no actually 200 per cent,” he said.
“We take it for granted and men like to be the macho man and say ‘I’m right’.”
Mr Thompson is the president of the Men’s Shed in Culcairn and he said a lot of members were not willing to get health checks.
“They have pulled their heads in lately after I’m the fourth one to get sick in six weeks,” he said.
“My main concern is guys in their late 20s to early 40s who are reasonably fit and think they are strong as an ox but that’s when problems can start and you may not realise it.”
The stepfather to 23-year-old Erin, from Geelong, and father to 32-year-old Anthony, who lives on the NSW-Queensland border, said men who did not get checked by a doctor if they had problems were punishing their family.
“Don’t be an idiot, you’re not gaining anything by not getting checked,” he said.
“Your family will be left to pick up the pieces.”
Marilyn said her husband’s condition came as a shock.
“He has got a lot of issues but he’s never had a hassle with his heart,” she said.
“He never even dreamed of it and of course everybody gets the flu.”
Mr Thompson left hospital on August 23 and will see a specialist next week to decide on the next steps for his recovery.
The Alfred Hospital is gearing up for its annual Father’s Day Appeal to raise funds for the cardiac ward.
You can donate to The Alfred Men’s Health Father’s Day Appeal by calling 1800 888 878 or visiting fathersdayappeal.org.au.