Dying Is The Easy Bit

18th September 2016 was a pretty normal day. It was Sunday, we had the grandson over, I cooked a roast. In the evening I complained about a bit of a weird feeling in my chest, kind of indigestion but not. I shrugged it off, went to bed and thought if it continued I’d call the Doc after work the next day. I woke up around 1.00 am with a sense of foreboding, still a bit of a funny feeling in my chest, it had moved a bit, into my throat, nothing painful. I was actually having a heart attack which at approximately 1.30 am on 19th Sept lead to five Cardiac Arrests.

I still have no idea what prompted me, but I got out of bed and somehow found the phone in my hand calling 111 for advice, whilst arguing with myself that I had important stuff to deal with at work the next day! I was making a fuss over nothing. I had no classic heart attack symptoms, wasn’t in any pain, but just felt something wasn’t right. That sixth sense,  a feeling of impending doom maybe. Despite apologising that I was wasting peoples time, and saying I was sure I was worrying over nothing there was no hesitation on their part in sending a paramedic.

About 20 minutes later, after following their advice to open the front door and turn on lights, I’d got my somewhat bemused partner out of bed and got myself dressed. Whilst being examined – ECG, BP, all the usual questions – I felt no urgency or panic and was even joking about the whole situation, apologising for wasting his time. Anthony, my lifesaving paramedic, said ‘Doesn’t look like it’s your heart, but we’ll get you to Basildon Hospital just in case.’ I was still arguing that I’d go to the doctor in the morning and felt stupid for making a fuss. Suddenly I remember saying “That really hurts now’” and felt what I can only describe as the most enormous bear hug –  I went into cardiac arrest. My ‘memory’ of it is of peaceful, black, calm nothing although this isn’t a true memory, more my brain’s way of trying to make sense of that time.

That amazing paramedic with support from my neighbour, an anaesthetist who just happened to be not on a night shift but up reading when my partner went running for her, saved my life by doing CPR & delivering shocks from an AED. I’ve since found out from Anthony that I actually had two arrests at home before coming round on the floor surrounded by people – a sea of green with concerned faces. As they lifted me out to the ambulance I remember telling my partner to make sure my daughter and grandson knew how much I loved them.

The ambulance crew with family

The ambulance crew then saved me a third time when another CA happened on the way to Basildon Hospital. I have a particular memory of a very reassuring lady, Teresa, on board and just remember that crushing feeling, and saying ‘It’s happening again’ before the blackness took over. I arrested twice more that night in hospital but remember the first and third times only. There’s a vague memory of coming to in the cath lab, of seeing my heart on a screen as they were inserting a stent, and having a conversation with a nurse about my nail varnish!

My poor partner is the unlucky one who witnessed the whole thing. Apparently after that first stent was fitted, I had a further arrest, was resuscitated, and was taken back for another stent to reopen the first.  Talk about a ‘chain of survival’ – right place, right time, and all because of a phone call that I still don’t know why I made.

The Immediate Aftermath

I was in hospital for two weeks and had three stents in total. I’m told I came round two days later thinking it was still Monday morning and demanding someone call work to say I’d be late. Those first days are a bit of a blur but I do remember them. The fantastic doctors and nurses, visitors coming and going, beeping machines, oxygen masks, being referred to by hospital staff as ‘the little miracle’, other patients leaving CCU and wishing me luck, telling me how pleased they were to see me doing so well, and an elderly gentleman who told me he’d been praying for me although I hadn’t even spoken to him. But mostly an absolute under appreciation of what had happened to me! I wanted home, I was fine, I wanted ‘normality’! Little did I know….

I wasn’t fine.

Normal wasn’t normal.

Dying is the easy bit – surviving is infinitely harder. 

For the first few weeks I was in an almost euphoric haze of ‘Wow, I survived death’. Then overnight, reality and, with it, an emotional upheaval like I’ve never known. I never understood the meaning of the word ‘sadness’ until that moment. Bam, the tears started and felt like they’d never stop. Would I ever feel like ‘me’ again, when would life return to ‘normal’? 

I’ve been left with a number of physical medical problems: emotionally & psychologically the fallout from surviving death is hard to cope with, and fear, anxiety, depression & PTSD is, I now know, common in cardiac arrest survivors. 

And now … ?

Life changes! My memory is shot! I never did make my meeting or even make it back to work. I don’t have the independence I’d worked so hard for. You lose some of yourself somehow. I felt like I’d come back, but had left something behind. My personality has changed; I suffer fools less gladly, I’m calmer in some ways, but so much angrier in others. I don’t want to ‘sweat the small stuff’ and I want to really live.

I realised that we all imagine that dying is the end, your belief system is completely shattered when you survive dying! I was so blessed to, one night while sitting in tears, stumble across an amazing Facebook group, Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK. I posted how I was feeling and the response was incredible. People out there understood, I wasn’t alone, and  I wasn’t going completely insane!  This group has helped make some sense of my new ‘normal’.

Despite all that, I know statistics show that only 8% of people suffering a cardiac arrest at home survive! Thanks to EEAST and Essex Cardiothoracic Centre, I consider myself immensely lucky and couldn’t be more grateful to those that saved me that night. 

Charlie with daughter and grandchildren

I am now 48 years old, and thanks to these amazing people I am still here to see my 5 yr old grandson, and newly born granddaughter grow up. I’m here to continue living & loving my family and my life. 

On the 9th June 2018, I was privileged to become a Guinness World Record Holder along with 126 others from across the UK, for the largest gathering of cardiac arrest survivors in one place, at Basildon Hospital. This was a true celebration of life.  And I’m currently the Chair of a local group in my village, working to provide public defibrillators in our community.

I’ve been involved in instigating a Hospital Heroes award for my Cardiologist, who supports SCA UK. He won! On my 2nd anniversary, 19th September 2018, I finally got to put names and faces to my lifesavers! One of the most emotional experiences of my life! How do you thank people for the gift of your life?

Charlie and the ambulance crew (close up)

I truly cannot say ‘Thank You’ enough, or find ways to express my gratitude to all those who made living possible! It was an overwhelming day, for the four paramedics and ambulance crew, as well as for my family and me. I got some questions answered too, which helped with some of my ‘lost’ moments. They got to see the results of their work, and seemed very happy at the outcome. There’s no describing the emotions running through me when I finally met them.

Yes life is different, but time, my family and friends, SCA UK (& the ongoing support of a very good psychologist!) continue to help me make some sense of it all. It’s been a good excuse never to cook a Sunday Roast since….

The cardiac arrests may have tried to take my life, but I’m a survivor.

I’m taking ‘ME’ back!

I’m not a poet, but I wrote this a while back about my experiences:

Funny feeling in my chest
Time to lay down, time to rest
Awake, foreboding, don’t feel right
Don’t yet know I will die tonight

Paramedic checks my heart
Massive bear hug, just the start
Peaceful, black, time stops still
My body gives in, it has no will

Ceiling, faces, shining bright
Hurts my eyes, this isn’t right
Ambulance, sirens, wailing, shrill
My life will end four more times still

Watch my heart upon a screen
Chance of surviving is pretty lean
See the arteries, talk of clots
Alarms go off, my heart just stops

Hospital, doctors, they didn’t shirk
I think I might be late for work
Worried faces, a loving look
Five cardiac arrests, my life they took

Life goes on, but not the same
Something missing, no one to blame
Sadness, panic, emotions raw
No one knows the things I saw

Pain, confusion, numerous meds
Days I can’t get out of bed
The aftermath of death is hard
The odds all changed on the turn of a card

I died that night but yet I’m here
What’s the reason? It’s not clear
My grandson’s smile, a hug, a kiss
The things I’m grateful not to miss

Life’s upside down, it’s round & round
Sense no longer can be found
Normality, for that I strive
I died that night – but I’m alive.

Charlie Dickens

Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK support group leaflet announcement

It’s with great pleasure that I can announce the first edition of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK support group leaflet.  The leaflet is intended to give an insight into what the group is about and hopefully attract people who might benefit from being a member i.e. those affected by an unexpected and sudden cardiac arrest.  This could be survivors, rescuers, partners, family members or interested medical professionals at any stage of their involvement with an SCA.

This has been a team effort and so many thanks are in order:

Firstly to Anne Jolly of SADS UK and Ben of Stryker Physio Control for sponsoring the project, Dawn and her team at Katapult for branding and design,  Zoe Sanders for copywriting services, Richard Wiseman for the cover photo and various members of the group for their ideas and input.

Thanks everyone!

We hope to start distribution soon and if you can assist in placing at suitable venues i.e. cardiac wards, cardiac support groups, related conferences please do let us know.

You can view the leaflet in PDF format using the following link

Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK Leaflet

 

Seven minutes

Seven minutes of my life are missing.

All is black.
All is silent.

There is no consciousness, no awareness, no realisation of unconsciousness. It is silent, amorphous, a world without verbs or adjectives.
None are possible.
They don’t exist.
Neither do I.

“Hello ! Can you hear me David ?”
I do not respond.
“Can you hear me David ? Do you know where you are?”
There is a bemused look on my face. I still don’t respond.
“Lie down David and try to relax, we’re here to help you”

Reality seems strange, it’s as if I am now dreaming, but dreaming in black and white, a fuzzy black and white. I can hear people speaking but the words make no sense to me. I am sitting on the tiles by the side of a swimming pool clothed in just my swimming trunks, my goggles are on my upper arm. I am surrounded by people. Some are in their swim wear, some clothed.

Reality disappears.

It returns.

The ceiling and lights fade in from nowhere, colour partially restored. I look across the swimming pool. What am I doing sitting here when I should be swimming? Pain is searing through my rib-cage, its intensity changing with each breath. Confusion still overcomes me.

Sleep.
I need to sleep.
I need to finish this dream.
I want to wake to the proper reality.

Someone is kneeling, looking at me, talking to me. He is wearing green. His mouth is moving, words are escaping and traveling towards my ears. They fail to gain entry. I have lost the ability to comprehend.

Unconsciousness engulfs me, the dream has disappeared and I see the blackness of nothing. I have returned to my world devoid of verbs and adjectives.

Time has no meaning in my world, for tracking the intervals of a clock ticking would require consciousness and perception and I have none. Instead I exist, yet do not exist, in nothing.


I am awake, I can see reality in faded colour, a fuzzy TV picture.
I am lying down.
I am outside.
I am talking, conversing.
I am asking why the road is so quiet.
This is London, in place of the rumble of traffic there is only silence.
This is not normal.
The police have closed the road.
Reality is proving to be unreal for me. I want sleep again.

A solitary vehicle moves, twists, turns, then lurches forward.
A destination beckons.
A blue light flashes.
A siren sounds its signature.
I fall into a deep sleep.

My slumber, if it could be described as such, recedes and a reality returned to me. I am warm and comfortable, lying in a bed. I open my eyes and the ceiling comes into view. A cannula protrudes from my right hand, another in my forearm, the latter being attached to a thin plastic tube, a bag of colourless liquid is feeding its content into my arm. My chest is littered with small electrodes, each attached to a coloured cable, the monitor above my head absorbing their signals. Below my right collar bone sits a large white rectangular pad, another identical pad covered my lower left ribs, their significance not apparent to me.

As if from nowhere a man appears, he is dressed in light green cotton, a mask is around his neck, then a second similarly attired person joins him.

“Hello. How are you feeling ?”.

Yet again I am confused. Someone replies, it sounds like my voice, the words are coming from me, but I am not conscious of having decided to speak. I want the voice to stop so that I can reply.

“Err. I feel….err.…”

The voice sounds in synchronicity with my desire then stops. I start to speak. The same voice appears and I realise that it is mine, that I am in control of it, that I am providing the words

“Where am I ? What am I doing here ?”

The first man dressed in green speaks, his terminology medical.

“Well, you are a very lucky man. You had cardiac arrest after your swim. We checked you over, one of the arteries on your heart was narrowed, not occluded, so we put a stent in it as a precaution. Unlikely to cause and arrest, but then you presented as such. How are you feeling?”

My humour returns

“Well, I have felt better. My ribs hurt. It feels like I have been hit with a sledge hammer”

“That would have been the CPR, often ribs are cracked during chest compressions. A small price to pay, wouldn’t you agree”.

My reality has just expanded. Cardiac-arrest and now CPR.

“It’s hard to tell if you had a heart-attack or not but you certainly suffered cardiac arrest and it looks like they did two rounds of CPR on you and then one shock from a defibrillator. You were extremely lucky as it looks like the gym staff were well trained and had a defibrillator and knew how to use it”

My comprehension of the events of the previous hours are clouded by morphine and Medazalam. His words seem unreal to me, they drift around my mind until finding refuge from the medication and I can understand their meaning. As the morphine induced warmth returns to my mind I smile as I reflect on the medic’s words.

I question myself, the internal dialogue within demanding answers. I nearly died, my heart stopped beating, someone resuscitated me, someone revived me.

Where did this all happen ? Who saved me ? How did I get here ?
Medication applies its benefit once again and I slip into a warm and delicious
sleep.

I didn’t make it home that day

The day had started just like any other ordinary day via the shrill tones of mybedside alarm clock at 05:35. I slipped into my standard routine of exiting my
bed and occupying the shower for some all-too-brief minutes. Showered and shaved I descended the stairs to my home office, where in a built-in cupboard resided my shirts and suits. I selected a white shirt, double-cuffed, gleaming resplendently on its hanger and I slipped into it. Alongside the shirts sat my suits, depending on which one was worn the previous day would determine my choice for that day, I selected my favourite navy Ede and Ravenscroft two-piece, and lowered myself into the trousers. With my tie affixed and shoes placed on my feet I pulled on my jacket and exited the house. I was expecting an ordinary day at work (although I was still excited from the previous evening event’s where I had played on stage in a band for the first time ever, my skill on guitar and vocals exceeding everyone’s expectations).

The morning was fresh, long shadows of the low sun greeted my train on its journey to London. The spires of city came into site as my carriage slid through the southern suburbs, my destination of Waterloo station approached. After a brief subterranean transit I was deposited in the heart of the City of London, within minutes I was sitting at my desk on the 7th floor of a stone office building. Bag and jacket deposited I descended in the building’s lift to the basement.

Breakfast had beckoned since the first tone of my alarm clock and I wanted to diminish my hunger pangs. Satiated I began my tasks for the day. It was 07:45.

Work was intense that morning, a deadline was approaching and it required concentration and the minimisation of office distractions. Caffeine fuelled me as my hands and mind crafted solutions to the problems that presented themselves.

Without acknowledging the passage of time midday arrived, then bypassed me.

At 12:30 my concentration departed as I was presented with a dilemma: should I get some food or leave the office for a lunch-time swim. After briefly pondering the options I grabbed my rucksack and exited the building, moving in the direction of the swimming pool.

Exercise was important to me, I am not a naturally gifted athlete, built for power not speed, but through hard work and determination I had mastered a number of sports. Two marathons had been completed, a tattered belt of black was slung around my waist in my weekly karate sessions, three times a week I would plough through 500m with a combination of breast, front-crawl and butterfly strokes. I felt in good shape, my physiology outstanding.

Sliding behind the Royal Exchange I passed the Bank of England and descended the steps to the basement of a building which contained my gym and swimming pool. At reception I joked with one of the receptionists then entered the changing room where I removed my attire, placing my suit carefully in a wooden locker. I slid into my black trunks, placed my goggles on my arm and extracted my padlock from my rucksack, using it to secure the locker with a resounding click.

The key to the lock sat on a small carabiner, I threaded the waist cord of the trunks through it and secured both with a loop and a bow. From a pile of freshly laundered white towels I selected one and descended some steps and entered a corridor leading towards the pool. Mid way in my journey I entered a small tiled enclave and let the deliciously warm water of a shower cleanse my body. Shower completed I skipped up three long steps and walked alongside the pool to the end, nodding to the life-guard.

The pool was calm, two lanes were occupied, and, unusually for lunchtime, the fast lane was empty. My breast-stroke swimming style is strong not elegant and could not be described as quick, however, this lane was free, I would use it. I dropped from the end of the pool into the warm water, affixed my goggles and began my 500m. The swimming was tough, some days I glide, some days I struggle, that day in it was the latter.

500m approached and I switched to my least favourite stroke of front-crawl. Finishing with a flurry I rested at the end of the pool then pulled myself out. The air above the pool area was hot, it was a sweltering day outside. I moved to a recliner at the side of the pool, I wished to calm my breathing, to cool down, to relax before taking a shower and the return to work in my suit.
I lay on the recliner for some minutes relaxing, my eyes were half closed and my pulse and breathing slowed towards normal.

And then it happens.

Nothing outwardly dramatic, nothing painful, nothing noticeable to others. I open my eyes and tilt my head to look at my chest, it feels as if something has broken inside, like a rubber-band snapping. A ripple of panic overcomes me, I know I am in trouble, that mortal danger is close, that desperate measures are required.

I am dying.

In one last act, one last final push, the last thing I do, the last thing I am capable of doing, I pull myself up from the recliner, hands clasped to my chest and attempt a scream. The world fades. Reality disappears. I fall backwards across two recliners, my body motionless.

My heart has stopped beating. I am unconscious. I am close to death.

Panic ensued.

People ran to me, help was summoned. Gym staff appeared, one takes charge.
I was lifted to the floor and rolled into the recovery position, a sensible move.

Yet I was not breathing. My heart was not beating.

The gym staff member in charge sensing this then rolled me onto my back, pushed his hands together over my breastbone and began compressions, squeezing my chest, forcing my blood to circulate, keeping me alive.

One round of CPR complete he rolled me back to the recovery position, I appeared to be breathing. I wasn’t. This was agonal breathing, a brain-stem reflex. A pre-cursor to death. I began to turn blue. The cyanosis of oxygen starvation. I was rolled onto my back and CPR commenced for a second time, my chest bending in response to the compression, my ribs cracking under the pressure. I was being kept alive.

A defibrillator appeared. Its rectangular white pads were unpacked and attached to me; one on my upper right chest, the other to my lower left rib-cage. A button was pressed and the automated device took over. People moved clear.

A shock is delivered.
My body jolts.
My attendants hold their breath.
Watching.
Hoping.
Willing the shock to work.
My chest moves.
My heart beats.

I am alive.

I would not have survived the events of the 7th July 2016 without the
intervention and tenacity of a number of people to whom I am eternally grateful.

The first on the scene was a member of the gym staff and he took charge of the situation, performing CPR and using a defibrillator on me – I would not be alive without him or his swift actions. I owe him a debt I can never repay.
The other members of the gym played their part in saving me, I cannot underestimate their contribution nor thank them adequately.
The paramedics who attended, their outstanding care, their expert diagnosis and transportation of me to the best heart-centre in London meant I suffered few after effects. I cannot thank them enough.

The doctors, nurses, hospital staff, cleaners, cooks, receptionists. I owe them so much.

The London Ambulance call handler who took the 999 call, who saw through the panic, who realised something was seriously wrong. Thank you is too trivial a phrase.

There are other people who played their part that day, people I was not aware of, am not aware of now.

To all of you I owe a debt of gratitude.

To all of you I owe my life.