A fridge too far – Part 1

Post by Bob Reville

Sunday 8th September 2013

There was nothing unusual that happened beforehand. No warnings. I hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary prior to the event. In fact, I had had a pretty quiet weekend. I had stayed home Friday night. Saturday, I had done a bit of cleaning and food shopping and stayed home alone Saturday night. Sunday morning, I woke as normal and felt fine. I had one thing to do; a friend of mine had ordered a fridge from Argos in Meadowhall shopping centre and I had agreed to go and collect it.

I showered and set off for Meadowhall. On arrival at Meadowhall, I found a car park space very close to Argos and I remember thinking it was my lucky day. I had had nothing to eat so I decided to go to the food court for food.

Then I woke up, or rather I was woken up. I was in a strange room which I couldn’t see very well. There was a man’s’ voice talking to me. I remember the voice but I remember very little of what was being said. I was being told not to panic. There was a woman there too. The voice said something about it being Tuesday. Nothing made sense and I knew it wasn’t Tuesday, it was Sunday. I tried to remember where I had been last night. How had I got this drunk? I tried to move and then I felt people around me trying to stop me. They didn’t need to because that’s when I felt the pain. What the hell had happened to my chest and why couldn’t I move without being in so much pain? Why did my head hurt?

As the weeks went on, I started to remember a bit more. I remember walking past Argos. I remember going into the food hall. I remember ordering roast chicken dinner and a large Yorkshire pudding. The food court had recently been refurbished by the company I work for. I remember looking around as I hadn’t seen it before and I remember going to sit down and I remember where I sat. That’s it. At no point do I remember feeling unwell at all. Everything from this point onwards until waking up in the hospital two days later, I have been told by the people involved.

I had been sitting on a high stool and I just dropped to the floor. I banged my head quite badly and someone near me thought I had been knocked unconscious by the bang to the head, but luckily for me there was a nurse sat nearby who had seen I was out cold before I hit the floor and had realised straight away. I had suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). I had got some food lodged in my throat and even though I had fallen into a coma, I was choking. There was some confusion as to whether or not I was choking before I had the SCA. Again, luckily for me, the food court is next to the management offices and a well-rehearsed plan of action was implemented. The security staff got to me very quickly, the area was cleared and I was brought back from the dead in five and a half minutes with a shock from an AED, and a team of 7 security guards, 2 police officers and the nurse who had been sat nearby.

Another team of security guards were quickly dispatched to every entrance by road to the shopping centre so that the ambulance could be directed to the correct place as quickly as possible. Also, because of the seriousness of the event and the location, multiple ambulances were dispatched in case the first one was held up. In the ambulance, I had to be shocked again as I suffered a further arrest. I have since met the paramedic who shocked me and he was delighted to see me as apparently, I am the third person he had shocked but the first to survive.

At this point I feel I should explain a little about my personal circumstances at the time. I come from a very small family, and I have no brothers, sisters or cousins. My mum passed away in 1989 and my only living relatives at the time were my dad who was then 84, and an uncle aged 78.

I had been separated from my wife for 3 years and she had moved to Malaysia. I was living alone, and working for a joinery and metalwork manufacturer where I had been for 18 years. I also owned a Thai massage shop which was originally my wife’s when we split up.

The police and security at Meadowhall were in shock. They had brought me back, but I didn’t look good. I had turned blue and my eyes had rolled, and they didn’t expect me to pull through. A police car was sent to my dad and as he lived quite a distance from the hospital, he was sped across the city. He was taken straight to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where I had been placed. Before he was allowed to see me, he was taken into a room by a doctor and told that they believed that I had 50% chance of surviving; and that there was a good chance that if I did survive then I would have suffered some form of brain damage, and he should prepare himself that I could be a very different person if I woke up. By this time, they had put me in an induced coma so that I didn’t wake up too soon.

I had a few visitors while I was in a coma and later the nurse told me who had been but as with a few other things, I have forgotten who they were. One though, I will never forget. Thailand is a Buddhist country and Thai people are very loyal to their religion, and through the shop I have made many friends in the Thai communities so after I had woken up, it came as no surprise to me that a mystery woman had turned up at the hospital and stayed late in the night, holding my hand and praying. I had got a good idea who it was and I was right.It was a woman who I had been good friends with for a good few years but what made this particularly special was that she suffered with a fear of hospitals to the point that when she needed treatment herself, she wouldn’t go to the hospital. To know that she has overcome this fear and sat with me was very special.

The days I spent in ICU are, to say the least, a bit of a blur and I can remember very little. The first visitor I had after I woke up was my friend and neighbour, Margaret. The police, not knowing I lived alone had gone to my flat as well as my dad’s on the day of the cardiac arrest and as they were knocking on my door, she explained who she was and they told her what had happened. From that moment on, Margaret was a star. She did everything that needed to be done; she let the shop know, she went and got my things back that I had on me although my clothes had to be thrown away as they had been cut to get to me quickly and I had been sick all over them (and one of the security guards as I learned later!)

Until this point, I didn’t even know you could be sick while unconscious but it seems you can so hey! I’ve learnt something. She let my workplace know where I was. I’d just put my flat on the market and she even contacted the estate agents and dealt with viewings for me. I hadn’t been out of the coma very long when Margaret had come and apparently my first words were “How’s the shop?” The shop was fine because Margaret had made sure of that too. Phones weren’t allowed in there but they made an exception so that Margaret could bring my phone to me and show me all the messages of support on my Facebook wall. I counted them later; there were 148. Facebook was later to play various parts in my recovery but for now I was still very dazed and weak, but it was nice to read them all and I managed to type a little post of my own. It simply said “I’m awake now. Thank you”. I think I must have slept quite a lot for the following couple of days. I remember a guy I knew, but not well coming to see me and I found out he had blagged his way in by saying he was close family. I also remember that the nurse from Meadowhall came to see me but I don’t know who he was, and I fell asleep while he was there, and sadly, I have never seen him since. Hopefully, one day I might get to meet him to thank him properly.

After a couple of days, I was taken off the machines I was hooked up to and put in another room, but still with constant observation. I remember little about this other than I was in a lot of discomfort and none of it was actually my heart. I now know I had 4 broken ribs from the initial CPR, I still had my head wound, I had contracted pneumonia whilst in a coma and I had suffered 2 allergic reactions to medicines I was given when I was first admitted which had caused my neck and throat to swell up. I had developed a cough which isn’t ideal with 4 broken ribs and I think I was probably asleep quite a lot of the time.

By now, word had spread around. I already explained I have very little family, but this makes me appreciate my friends more and I have always considered myself lucky to have such a large and varied circle of good friends. Although I didn’t know it yet, many of them would play a part in my recovery. The nurses told me they were amazed by how many calls they had taken asking how I was while I was in ICU and by how many different people had come to see me. This could , however, have become a problem until Margaret stepped in again. She used Facebook to keep people updated so as to reduce the hospital calls and she organised the visiting so that I didn’t have too many people there at once or periods with no visitors. This was no easy task as I have many friends from different stages of my past who don’t know each other and not all of them were on Facebook.

By Saturday I was starting to come round more. My head wound had healed, my neck and throat were fine and my cough was a lot better, although I was coughing a little still and my ribs were still very painful. I still had no understanding of what had happened or how serious it had been. After all, in my mind nothing had happened. I’d slept through all the bad bits. One minute I was fine, the next I was waking up with what felt like the hangover from hell and the feeling I might also have taken a bit of a beating. I was starting to feel better, I was also becoming grumpy and irritable. This was partly due to my apprehension about being in a hospital due to a previous stay there 3 years ago. In 2010, I had a double hip replacement and my pelvis was reshaped. An operation which involved grinding part of the bone from my hip onto a powder to make a type of cement which was used to reshape my pelvis. During the operation, my sciatic nerve was damaged which resulted in a lot of pain, particularly in my right leg and foot, and the aftercare I received on the ward afterwards was, to put it bluntly, horrendous. I was on a ward used for people who had knee replacements and were only in for a day or so before they went home. I had no movement in my legs for 10 days and I was in a lot of pain. The ward clearly wasn’t used to dealing with someone in this condition. This was compounded by the fact that the ward was quite obviously very short -staffed, the staff they did have were run off their feet and stressed out ,and the ward sister in charge of the whole ward had no people skills whatsoever. She  reminded me of Hattie Jacques, Matron in the Carry On films rather than an employee in a modern hospital, and I was now dreading my stay in hospital after my 3 weeks of hell.

My fears turned out to be unfounded . This was to be another 3 week stay but it was the complete opposite experience. The care I received was exemplary without exception, and all the nurse’s and ward sisters, the girls who brought food and drinks, were all lovely and I can’t praise them highly enough for all the care I received this time round.

The main cause of my grumpiness though wasn’t the fact that I was in hospital; it wasn’t even the fact I had dropped dead a few days earlier, or the pain I was in from my broken ribs. I wanted my phone. I had been parted from my phone and I was not happy. Margaret had got it but I didn’t know when she would be coming again. After everything I had been through, all I wanted was my phone. Nothing else in world mattered right now. Fortunately, help was at hand. My boss at work came to see me. He asked if I needed anything “Yes Nigel, I need my phone,” I replied. “That’s okay, I’ll get it for you. Is it in the cupboard?” he asked as he moved towards the cupboard, “No” I said, “It’s in a flat on the other side of the city”. I have a very understanding boss and he agreed to drive right through the city in Saturday afternoon traffic to get my phone for me.

Once he returned I was a happy man. I was feeling better, I had my phone back and then, as I was improving I was moved onto a ward where I spent the next 2 weeks.

Switching on my phone was when I first got a realisation of just how serious this had been. There were 116 messages plus a whole new set of posts on Facebook on top of the 148 that I had quickly brushed through last time and bizarrely there were several WhatsApp messages from my separated wife in Malaysia wishing me a full recovery. It turned out that the hospital had her down as my next of kin from my previous stay, the police found her number in my phone. It was actually her old Thai number from before we were married, which she was using in Malaysia. Later, when I got my mobile bill, I found it cost me £34 for the call, but hey that will teach me not to keep my details up to date.

Reading the messages and Facebook posts in particular was a very uplifting experience, particularly the ones from when I was still in a coma. Realising how much people cared about you, seeing how much love they are showing you. In many of the posts, I could see and feel the shock and anguish that people were going through while I was lying there, having what, by now, I had starting referring to as a little nap. People often say they would love to be at their own funeral so they could hear what is being said about them. Well believe me, waking up from a coma after suffering an SCA and reading everyone’s Facebook post on your own wall is probably about as close as you can ever get to that and it brought more than one or two tears to my eyes, let me tell you.

Now this may seem a strange thing I say, but I actually enjoyed my 2 weeks on the ward. The support and love I had received from friends was overwhelming and had really cheered me up. The staff were lovely, the food was nice. Margaret had brought me my own clothes from home and some of my friends were taking it in turns to wash them. Much to the bemusement of the staff, I had a constant stream of different visitors, both English and Thai. I had 3 friends who worked at the hospital and they came to see me regularly. I had books to read, and I was slowly replying to all my messages and chatting to people on Facebook. My boss had told me not to worry about work and confirmed that I would get paid for at least 6 weeks. The girls from the shop had been and told me not to worry about the shop, everything was fine. The landlord and his wife came to see me and told me not to worry about the rent. I was in a health scheme called Westfield, which would pay me £55 per day for each day I was in hospital up to 21 days. I had the rib pain and I got tired very quickly but other than that, I was fine.

I felt quite safe where I was. I was on the heart monitor so if anything else did happen, the nurses would sort it. The doctors did all sorts of tests to try and find a cause for my SCA, but found nothing at all wrong. At the time, this actually made me quite happy, because I had been checked over and everything was fine. I felt a bit like when I took my car for an MOT and it passed without needing any work doing to it.

The doctors were interested to know if anything had happened in the hours, days, months, prior to the SCA which may give them some clues. They were aware of the report from Meadowhall that I may have been choking on my food, but no one seems to know for definite whether this happened or not. I had been under quite a bit of stress for the few years prior, but they didn’t seem to think it was stress related, so in the end it was recorded as cause unknown [Idiopathic].

I was showing signs of minor brain damage. My speech was a bit slower, I could feel myself that I was not as quick as I used to be. My brain seemed to think more slowly and my reactions were not the same. I could tell the signs myself as I had been left with minor brain damage as a child, after a swimming accident in which I nearly drowned, and I was in a coma for a short while then too.

I was also forgetting things. One of my friends, when he came to visit me was aware my car was still parked in Meadowhall car park and he offered to go and collect it and take it home for me.  Next time he came to see me, I asked him if he got my car home okay to which he replied, “Well, yes eventually,  but it would have been helpful if you had given me the correct make, model, colour and registration number”. It turned out I’d given him the number of my current car, but got 2 digits wrong and I had told him the make, model, and colour of my previous car from 3 years ago.

My heart had been quite stable while I was in hospital so my medication had not needed to be altered; so, once the decision was made to record it as “cause unknown” there were only two things left to do before I could go home. Fit an S-ICD and put me on a treadmill test. I became quite anxious as I was being taken to theatre and even more so, while I was waiting outside. It was quite a busy area and people seemed to be getting wheeled in and out all over the place. By the time I was actually taken into the theatre room I had managed to convince myself I was going to have another cardiac arrest and die. I hadn’t been told much about the procedure and I hadn’t asked, which was probably a good thing, as I found out afterwards it involved stopping my heart and letting the S-ICD do its job. Heaven knows what I would have felt like had I known this beforehand. As I was taken into the operating room, I was surprised at how many people there were there. At least 6 or 7, but the fact there was so many helped me feel a bit more reassured.

Later that day when I had come round, a nurse came to see me to talk to me about what was available afterwards. She gave me a number that I could call anytime for advice, a booklet containing details of local support groups but these turned out to be geared up more for heart attacks than cardiac arrests; and the meetings were during working hours so I never bothered with them. The next morning I was taken for a treadmill test which was fine and that was it. I was free to go home.

I was told I should take things easy and rest as much as possible for the next 1-2 months and I was signed off work for another month and that I should see how I felt after that. It was office based rather than manual work which made a return to work easier. I asked if there was anything else I need to be aware of or avoid, and was told that once I had fully recovered, I should be able to pretty much lead the same life I had done before. I had to avoid contact sports, but I had to anyway due to the hip replacement. The only real change I had to make was my mountain bike, I used to put it in the back of the car and take it out onto the country bike trails; and although this was still possible, I was advised not to go alone and to always have someone ride close by; I was also advised not to ride on the road anymore; I was also told I would not be able to drive for 6 months from the date of the S-ICD being fitted, and I should contact DVLA as soon as possible.

This is part 1 of a two part post, part 2 is here

3 Replies to “A fridge too far – Part 1”

  1. Reading this was like reliving my SCA. Like you I had fantastic treatment and care at the hospital I was flown to, and also I don’t remember anything of the incident! Good luck with your life 👍👍

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