When your heart hits the floor
Brian King’s cautionary tale about how stress and long hours contributed to a heart condition is compulsory reading for all flooring contractors
IT’s Friday night and I’m laid in a hospital bed in the cardiology ward. I have a nurse wiring me up to some machine, another nurse shoving a needle in me taking blood and another taking my blood pressure.
Usually Friday nights I’m at home with my family celebrating the beginning of the weekend with a few drinks and making Friday night home-made pizzas with the kids. All I can think is what the hell am I doing here and what if something happens to me? Who’s going to pay the bills etc?
I’m lying there looking at my life line on the screen. Then, to make things worse, a middle-aged gentleman in the bed opposite me starts to have a heart attack.
Doctors and nurses start running around, then they pull the curtains around his bed. It’s not the best thing to witness as I watch the lines and numbers on my screen start to quickly rise.
It all started about four weeks previously. I started to get short of breath and kept getting dizzy spells and sweating for no reason; I’m the sort of person who doesn’t go to the doctor – too busy and if I’m under the weather, I don’t tell anyone, I just keep it to myself and hope it passes.
I just tried to ignore it but one Friday morning I woke up and it was worse than ever. Usually I torment the kids, waking them up for school and make everyone a cuppa before I head to work. But my wife Debbie noticed I wasn’t my chirpy self and asked if I was okay.
I told her I’ve been short of breath recently and that morning was struggling to breathe and kept getting dizzy. She insisted I ring the doctor and rang my customer to say I wasn’t well enough to go to work.
I said I’d ring the doctor but had to go to work as I don’t like letting customers down. The receptionist said she’d get the doctor to ring me so I went to work.
The doctor rang about an hour later and asked what was wrong. He told me to come in straight away for a quick check-up so I told my customer I was just nipping to the doctors and wouldn’t be long. After a short wait, the doctor checked my blood pressure and it started to bleep with the reading flashing red. He listened to my heart and sent me straight to A&E.
He said my blood pressure was high and my heart didn’t sound right. After a thorough MOT at the hospital they concurred with the doctor, adding that I had an irregular heartbeat and started to ask me questions to try to find out why.
They soon concluded it was stress from long hours at work. I told them I rarely get home from work before 8-9pm most nights. I explained I work till about 6pm, then do a few quotes before heading home as most customers work so I can see them only after they get in from work.
I told him I work away a lot and tend to work long hours as going back to a hotel at 5-6 pm when there’s nothing to do seems to make the night drag. I tend to work up to exhaustion. I forget sometimes I’m not in my 20s anymore; I’m 43.
I’m the sort of person - like many of you - who thrives off finding work and gets a buzz from making my business the best it can be. And I don’t like turning down work.
I often talk to retailers and fitters who get stressed because they’re constantly chasing payments and struggling to fund jobs and pay wages because they’re owed money. Or they can’t get stock, staff ring in sick, materials run short, the workload is burdensome, there’s not enough work… You get the picture.
I started to worry I’d left a job half-done. I was allowed to make a few calls and like I’ve said many times about this trade, the best thing about it is the people. I rang my friend (and great young promising fitter, Mathew Ruddy) who was more than happy to help. He went after work and finished the job for me and wouldn’t take payment for finishing it, he just wished me a speedy recovery.
When you’re in a hospital bed for 12 hours you think about quite a lot. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have your livelihood.
I pointed out to my wife and one of the nurses who was taking more blood to try to lighten the mood a little that the installer who fitted the flooring in that ward welded the joints the same day as fitting it because the joints had split. That didn’t go down well and I was told off.
I was told I’d have to take medication for the rest of my life and have to make some lifestyle changes. First was to slow down at work, eat more healthily and cut down on alcohol.
As many of you practicing floorlayers will know, we have very physical jobs. After getting in from a hard day on your knees then after doing paper work/quotes etc and having dinner and a shower we look forward to relaxing with a glass of wine or a beer.
He asked me if I did anything to help myself relax or if I partook in a hobby of some sort. I said the one thing I do that relaxes me is my after-work routine with my kids: getting them in bed and reading them stories. I also enjoy sitting down on my own and write my monthly article for CFJ. That’s one thing I do that really relaxes me.
I know this isn’t really flooring related but unless you’ve experienced something like this you don’t realise how important your health is. Floor-laying is a very physical job and the older you get, the harder it becomes.
After 27 years of installing floorcoverings, I still love doing it and can’t imagine not doing it. We don’t really think about the stress some retailers are under, the representatives who’re pressured to meet targets etc. Is it worth risking our health over?
The one piece of advice the doctor gave me that will stay in my mind is: look after your health and your health will look after you.
Brian King is a NICF council member and floorlayer in Greater Manchester