The First 24 Hours

Two years ago, at about this time of day, I was sitting in the back seat of my dad’s car, trying not to cry. Mum was collecting a letter from my GP. She had instructed me to get myself to Emergency (with a bag packed for admission) after she finally sent me for a chest x-ray. 

I had known something was wrong for a while, I had been coughing for so long. 

I had no idea that I had a severely enlarged heart, and was in such a bad way. 

It was a long night in Emergency. Mum and dad went home after a couple of hours, knowing I wasn’t going to be seen for a while. 

I then sat by myself in those excruciatingly uncomfortable plastic chairs for the slowest hours of my life. I had my vitals taken and a doctor saw me briefly twice I think, then it was back to the chairs. I can remember the doctor saying the word severe to me repeatedly. Severe + heart = me quietly freaking out. 

After about 7 hours in the hell chairs, I scored a bed in Emergency, around 1am. I don’t think I slept at all, as I was worried and it was busy/noisy. I had my sketchbook with me, so I passed some of the night  drawing. 

The next morning I was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit. I can’t remember now who first said heart failure to me. I think it might have been “Dr Severe”… it didn’t really matter,  I had no comprehension of what heart failure meant. 

I remember feeling glad to finally be in hospital, which was kind of odd. 

After I was settled into the CCU, I had a big ol’ shudder-y cry – I was so tired, sick, and overwhelmed. Michelle was my nurse that morning, and she ROCKED. She was so supportive and lovely.  (Nurses are 🥇.)

Then she stuck my guts with a needle and gave me some tablets, and I peed, and peed, and peed and peed, and peed and peed, all day long. Now I wish I’d counted the number of times I went to the toilet! It was CRAZY! I basically just walked a loop from my room (literally their windowless storage room, as the ward was so full!) to one of the bathrooms and back again. 

By that evening, I got moved to a single room. I am so grateful for that. It allowed me to get heaps of rest and have visitors without disturbing anyone else. Bonus, there was a bathroom directly opposite my room! 


That was two years ago, 27 April 2017. 

I’m stiill here. 


Annette x 




I might write more about my hospital stay tomorrow.

Lessons from the heart

I’ve had nothing but time on my hands since I was wheeled out of surgery last Thursday. 

Here are some things I’ve been pondering.

Hearts are amazing. 

Really, that should say hearts and heart surgeons are amazing. 

Last Thursday at 10am I lay in the catheter lab, on a bed/slab whatsit which I’m sure has a fancy medical name I don’t know, and two surgeons guided three teensy wires into my heart, and the process didn’t kill me. 

Not only that, they attached those wires to a little electrical box that is now controlling the beating of my heart. 

I mean, wowee kazowee I’ve got my very own internal beatbox!! 

And I was awake while all this happened; though I will say the sedatives they gave me were excellent and I wasn’t really *there* for a lot of the procedure. I would dearly like to pash whoever invented those drugs. 

Nurses are incredible. 

All nurses deserve to be applauded each and every day as they arrive at hospitals and clinics the world over. If you are a nurse or a midwife reading this, I want to say thank you. 
Thank you from the bottom of my beatbox heart. 
What a magnificent job nurses do, caring for people on their most vulnerable days. 
As my procedure wound down last week, the only place I was feeling any pain was my lower back. I was on that whatsit slab for three hours, and my back was not happy about it. 
I was crying under the surgical drape, knowing I had to stay still and let the doctors finish their work, and I asked one of the nurses if she would hold my hand. Without hesitation she grabbed my hand and held it for what I think was about 20 minutes, until I was stitched up and patched up and wheeled back to the ward. I love that nurse! 

Family matters.

Team Hill has been sensationally present and supportive throughout this whole process.
My awesome sisters tag-teamed taking me to and from hospital on surgery day, and my parents have been wonderful in making sure I’ve got everything I need as I recuperate. From having enough fruit at home to coming over to cook for me, to spontaneous pharmacy runs and putting the bins out, they’ve been so helpful. Thank you family! 
A special shout-out goes to my niece Matilda, who let me sleep in her bed that first night after surgery. Her room used to be my room when I was a kid, and there was something wonderfully comforting about peeking out at the night sky from the exact same spot I did that 30+ years ago. 
I reckon the familiarity of home has healing power. 

You got to have friends…

This one’s a biggie. It’s one I’m lucky and grateful to say I’m bigly blessed in. 
I have outstanding friends. Outstanding! 
I’ve had friends rallying and sending me sweet words, and utterly delightful cards and gifts; beautiful art, home made tea bags, care packages bursting with chocolate, flowers, some beautiful soft tees, journals, and magazines. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone or anything!) My workmates even bought me some super cute recovery pjs! 
I am absolutely convinced that all the positive energy that came my way prior to surgery helped me to stay calm on the day. 
I’ve had lots of super uplifting messages from friends old and new, and offers of help, and I’m proud to say I’ve allowed myself to be helped, without worrying about whether it’s an imposition. Pro-tip: when someone offers help and you accept it, you’re not imposing on them. 
Also, when someone else makes you a chicken sandwich, it always tastes at least 84% more delicious. Fact. 
Being stuck at home (I still can’t drive until the end of next week) I’ve been hanging out online a lot and posting a lot of #recoveryselfie photos. It’s great to still be able to connect with people, even if I can’t get out and about. 
On that note, a friend saw a post of mine on Facebook last night, where I was fretting about my wound, and she called to check on me, then turned up on my doorstep after midnight with supplies from the chemist! We gasbagged and laughed for a few hours, so I got to use up some of my words, and even better, I was distracted from worrying about my wound. 
Another beautiful friend offered to cook for me, and arrived earlier in the week with a gigantic basket filled with home-baked, and low sodium, meals. They’ve all been delicious! 
Like I said, bigly blessed. 

Wounds, and hearts, know how to heal. 

it’s extraordinary how the body is built to heal. 
Each day since the surgery, I’ve felt better and better. 
Sleeping has been a massive part of that incremental improvement. 
I’m convinced that the vast majority of us underestimate the power of sleep, not just for post-operative healing, but for daily rejuvenation. We need more sleep. Do whatever you can to get it. 
Generally, I’m not much of a rule follower (you’re shocked, aren’t you?!) but I have been extra diligent about not moving my left arm much, not trying to do all the usual things myself, and it is paying off. 
Yes, I’m bored, and I’ve got cabin fever; but I’d much rather be bored now than land myself back in hospital, or worse, because I didn’t follow doctor’s orders. 
My heart muscle is still damaged, but it is working more efficiently. My pacemaker sees to that. 
My body is wounded, but it’s healing. 
That’s how it’s designed.
Pretty awe-inspiring isn’t it? 
From the couch, 
Annette xxx 

What’s cooking?

Hello all! Happy weekend to you! What’s cooking? 

Speaking of cooking, I have been wanting to share a little bit about my new eating regime. There’s a sentence I never expected to type. 

I’ve now been following a low sodium path for almost three months. 

You know what they say; time flies when your heart’s enlarged. Bahahahaaaa. 

But seriously folks… 

When I was told to radically reduce my sodium consumption, after being diagnosed with heart failure, I felt quite daunted by the prospect of it. I’ve always had a combo sweet/salty tooth and I was worried that going #loso would mean banishment to the land of bland. 

I have had to make some big changes to my shopping, cooking and eating habits. The first thing I did was clear out my fridge and pantry, getting rid of so many every day things, from benign looking pasta sauces to chocolate biscuits that had crazily high levels of sodium. Self-raising flour, forgetaboutit. Tinned soup, buh bye. So many things you’d never think we’re loaded down with sodium – bread, salad dressings, peanut butter, mustard, even some brands of tinned corn. Tinned chickpeas didn’t even make the grade. 

The “grade” by the way, is 200mg of sodium per 100g. That’s the dietary advice I was given before I was discharged from hospital, so that’s my standard. If I wanted to be super hard core, I’d ratchet that down to 120mg, but I am allowed to ease in at 200mg. In a perfect world, I should consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. That’s not as easy as it seems. Turn a few tins over, you may be mightily surprised by what you find. 

Those first days were truly eye-opening. I think often the only salt people pay any attention to is table salt, which when combined with salt used in cooking, accounts for less than 25% of the salt/sodium we consume, according to the Heart Foundation Australia website. Just 25%! 

Shopping for groceries used to be an opportunity to zone out, just me and my trolley, starting in the fruit and veg section and winding our way unhurriedly to the milk and eggs in the opposite corner of the supermarket. 

Once I started reading every single label, and avoiding the chip aisle entirely, grocery shopping became a chore, and a frustrating bore. 

It took a while, but I found my feet and didn’t have to spend 40 minutes shopping to return home with only tinned tomatoes and not very loso at all bread, which was the only exception I allowed myself. Overall I’m grateful it hasn’t been as difficult as I first anticipated, but it was a big adjustment. Big.  

In the past almost three months I have eaten:

zero McDonalds, 

no pizza, 

not a single more-ish piece of KFC popcorn chicken, 

nothing involving soy sauce, oh I miss you Asian cuisine…

not a bought from a cafe/fast food joint/nestled-beside-a-juicy-piece-of-restaurant-chicken chip or french fry or a paper wrapped fish and chip shop burger… none of these things have passed my lips. 

I haven’t even had a scraping of Vegemite on toast. 

And, I have lost NO WEIGHT AT ALL! Going #loso is not the next 5:2 diet, I assure you! 

I went completely cold turkey on potato chips, which I ate mostly every evening as an after work snack. This withdrawal made me cranky enough to kick a kitty on several occasions. Properly, swearily cranky. Thankfully, that’s passed now.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago a friend sent me a message saying she’d noticed a particular brand of potato chips had only 200mg of sodium per 100g…. (right on the edge of the gold standard). Intrigued, I bought a packet. I weighed out a small bowl of chips (65 grams to be precise) and sat down on the couch, raised a chip to my mouth and cough, splutter, choke, they were SO SALTY, they actually burned my tongue! Potato chips. Weakling 200mg sodium potato chips, I found them almost inedible. 

Proof positive that our tastebuds regenerate pretty darn quickly. 

Those chips got binned a few days later. So that’s over. 

The thing that I can’t get over is that the brand and varieties I used to devour daily had three and four times more sodium than those weakling, tongue burning ones. Triple and quadruple the sodium. Almost every night. For years!  

Poor heart.   

I’m sorry. 

For everything I’ve had to give up, there’s been a gain, or a new discovery. 

I bake my own bread, and it’s delicious! I use this recipe. Works every time. 


I have replaced the savoury crunch of potato chips with lightly pan-fried wholemeal pita breads. There’s even a low sodium sweet potato dip in my fridge at the moment! I do miss the ease of a thrown together dinner of bakery bought bread, ham, olives, dips, and cheese. Beloved cheese… but there’s always a cheeky slice of Swiss, which is one of the lowest sodium cheeses, or a teensy sprinkling of parmesan on my crispy pita bread. 

I’ve discovered Sophie Dahl’s wonderful recipes. Her cooking is robust, simple and vegetable driven, and delicious! 

Lentils and pumpkin and kale, oh my! 

Fooled you – I don’t eat kale. I haven’t gone bonkers. 

I do eat these… absolutely scrumptious, super low in sodium, full of flavour chicken meatballs. Thank you Jamie Oliver! 

They’re my favourite fake-away dinner, and I get three meals from a $5.50 tray of 20! Frugal AND #loso! 

Also on high rotation, loads of mushrooms, sautéed with leeks and olive oil, a little garlic and some passatta – heaven. Perfect with the one brand of low sodium gnocchi I’ve found, or atop a crunchy slice of home baked toast. 

Tomorrow I’m going to make BabyMac’s chicken and vegetable soup. I haven’t had soup for almost three months, as I’m on a daily fluid restriction. It is crazy cold in Melbourne at the moment, so I’m going to give it a whirl, measuring cup in hand!

Thankfully, I found a super low sodium (but quite expensive) chicken stock at my local Coles, and the Coles brand salt-reduced chicken stock is close enough to 200mg to pass muster. 

Tip: home brand products are often lower in sodium than their fancy shelf mates. Organic doesn’t mean low sodium. Foods labelled “low sodium” can still be off the richter scale if you really need to cut back. It’s all about reading every label, until you get the lay of the land. 

Like anything, change takes time. I’m changing one pantry clear out, one shopping list, one home baked loaf of bread, one label, one new recipe at a time, and I’m happy about it. So is my heart. 

It’s good for me to have a reason to take better care of myself. I am worth the extra time and effort. If only I could find someone to do the dishes for me. So. Many. Dishes. 

So that’s a little insight to what’s been going on in my world. 

What’s cooking at your place this weekend? Let me know, I love it when your comments keep the conversation going. 

Cheers, and don’t forget to read your food labels! 


Annette ❤️


Update: That BabyMac soup, it’s utterly EPIC! Here’s a progress shot. Oh so good! 

Under The Pump

Hello friends, 

I’m glad you’re here. I want to tell you a bit of news. 

Almost two weeks ago, my GP sent me off for some tests, after I went to see her complaining of increasing shortness of breath. She mmmm-ed in a concerned way as she listened to my chest, and that mmmm confirmed to me what I knew instinctively – something wasn’t right. 

Things had gotten to the point where getting through the supermarket checkout, walking back to the car and loading the groceries left me panting, and getting dressed left me breathless. I was avoiding seeing people if it meant any level of physical exertion, and even waking up in the night, coughing and short of breath. That’s not normal for a girl of any size. 

Before that day was over, I was packing a bag and heading for the emergency department of the local public hospital, at my doctor’s behest. 

I spent a total of seven hours in the most uncomfortable chairs in the world. (Seriously, those chairs sucked, hard. Someone call the OH&S team.) 

After surviving the chairs, I spent another seven hours in a bed in emergency, and was then admitted to the cardiac care unit. There’s a clue. 

I don’t mind telling you, there were a few tears that Friday morning. Once I’d run the gauntlet of the emergency department, and adrenaline turned to tiredness, there was time to contemplate the words of the various doctors I’d seen over the past 14 hours. Heart failure. Gulp. 

Once I’d levelled up to a bed in the emergency department, the young doctor pulling the night shift asked me if I had any questions for her. 

Just one – is this going to kill me? I like to cut to the chase. 

She said no, not in an entirely convincing manner, bless her, but it was well into the wee small hours by then. I think the directness of my question surprised her a little. 

Heart failure is a terrible name for an illness, don’t you think? I know I do. It’s a scary one too. 

All up I spent five nights in hospital, and have nothing but praise for the level of care I received. Nurses are incredible. Doctors too. I don’t know how they do what they do, but I’m bloody grateful for their expertise and compassion. Even the food was passable. I felt better than I had in months, within a day or two. 

I had a long chat with my GP today, and though I still feel like my head is swimming with new information, and we don’t have all the answers yet, I do feel like I can get my head around it all, incrementally. It’s a whole new world, but I can adapt to it. Goodbye potato chips, hello apples. I’m even thinking about buying a bread maker.

I’ve been resting, reading food labels and googling like nobody’s business – but steering well clear of the “cure yourself with lemons” brigade. I’ll take my advice from reputable scientific sources, thanks. 

There’s a plan coming together, and I feel very, VERY lucky to have access to the level of expert care and assistance that I do. I even went back to work today, which was great in its ordinariness, if a bit tiring. 

My pump may be a bit fucked, but it’s not over yet. 


Annette x