Background. I write this as an Out Of hospital Sudden Cardiac Arrest (OOHSCA) survivors husband and someone who she describes as her Superman ☺ . I make no apologies for concentrating on this occurrence and experience from my perspective. This is intentional, to hopefully assist other survivors partners in my position and to assist survivors understand the impact on their partners. Granted, I never died and was revived, however, I lived through it every minute and continue to do so and will do for the rest of my life.
In 2016 I was 48 years old, My wife was 47 . We have been together as a couple since we were 16 years old. We have a family of three, all grown up and at University. Whilst we are not athletes, we live a healthy life, we love socialising, walking, reading and music. We enjoy a few drinks but in moderation and try to eat good but healthy food. Susan has had ailments over the years but in general, keeps good health.
We both work. I am a Police officer with 27 years of Police service. Susan is an admin assistant in a local school. As with all Police officers, we are trained in basic first aid. I have a higher level of training and am qualified to train Police officers in basic First Aid and life-saving skills. I worked at the Scottish Police College in the early 2000’s training new recruits. At the start of the first aid module, I would always emphasise to students that this, in my opinion, was the single most important lesson they would receive as a Police Officer as it could save a family members life. Little did I know how true or close to home this statement would be.
In December 2015 Susan was hospitalised with undiagnosed abdominal pain and provided with IV antibiotics. This was after a series of other antibiotics as it was suspected she was fighting an infection of sorts. This has happened before and it was put down to potentially kidney stones. So it would be fair to say the start of 2016 was not too good for her. She was in and out of the hospital on two occasions but eventually began to feel a little better, indeed on 6th February 2016 we went to Murrayfield to watch the Rugby and even went out for a few drinks. Susan wasn’t feeling great but went for it.
On 11th February 2016 I encouraged Susan to come out and visit friends, which we did. We then decided to go to the local Asda and carry out the shopping. Susan wasn’t feeling to good but went with it. Into Asda we went and began our shopping.
I recall looking at her at one point and thinking she did not look to good. ¾ the way round the store we stopped at the soft drinks aisle. Susan was fair pleased that the tonic water for her Gin was on offer and she lifted a good few (we joke to this day that this was what turned her), indeed, a full tray!!!!!
I walked on up the aisle. As I was doing so she called out my name. I looked round to see her collapsing to the side of the trolley, into a display, I managed to get across and support as she fell to the ground. I put her in the recovery position and attempted to speak with her. As I said I am an experienced Police officer and my work ethic immediately kicked in.
I attempted to communicate with her however it was clear she was unconscious. I thought initially she was having a seizure as she had a slight foam around her mouth, her breathing was extremely laboured, gasping and when I noticed she had wet herself I knew this was serious. I shouted out for someone to call an ambulance.
I was handed a mobile phone and spoke with ambulance control. Again, with my work head on I went through my DR ABC and provided age and gender of my wife. The operator immediately asked about Susan’s breathing and asked me to say yes when she took a breath and to describe it. It was every 25 seconds and a gasp. After the first breath I was told to put her on her back and commence CPR.
I had delivered CPR (Unsuccessfully!!!) on several previous occasions at work . Of I went, singing Nellie the Elephant in my head and in a state of disbelief that this was actually happening. I was tapped on the back by an off duty colleague who had seen me and suspected that I was assisting a member a member of the public. “It’s my wife” I said… “Do breaths”. I stayed on compressions (still singing Nellie the Elephant) and Rachael – Bless her, she is our saviour, was doing breaths.
I remember on a few occasions shouting out for an ETA on the ambulance… front door was what I heard. I have no idea how long we were going for. I just knew I wasn’t going to stop until someone pulled me away. I do recall seeing a defib sitting adjacent to my wife’s head. I can to this day describe is to the minute detail. A member of staff had brought it . A member of staff had also said to me they would do the CPR… I was rather rude/assertive to them. If this was going wrong I was taking the blame.
Anyway, that defib was never opened, I knew it needed to be opened but it never was and I wasn’t in a position to ask someone to open it (I dealt with this matter later) I eventually received a tap on the back from two paramedics, keep going they said, great job… then a third arrived .
A screen was put round my wife my Asda staff. A paramedic pushed me out of the way and commenced compressions. Another cut open my wife’s top (She loved that top) and the last thing I remember was being offended that my wife was topless in Asda… the mind is a strange thing.
I moved away to the top of the aisle with Rachael, I didn’t look round at all. I didn’t want to see. It began to hit home to me. One moment I was out shopping, the next my wife was lying apparently dead on the floor of the local Asda, but she is only 47, this cant be happening.
I then heard the defib charging up, one charge. Then a second time. Reality was setting in. This was actually happening and Susan had collapsed and died. We had only gone out shopping. Silly things in my head, how would I tell the children… she cant be dead.
Rachael left me, came back shortly after saying that Susan had a feint pulse and they would be taking her to the hospital shortly. I decided that I would drive (Police head again, Planning ahead, I would need a car). I left straight away, to start a 14-mile journey in rush hour. I contacted Susan parents, advised them she had collapsed and was going to the hospital, nothing further, and could they get our daughters as well. I then contacted my son, asked him to contact Susan’s sister and he should come to the hospital. I just said mum had collapsed.
Quite a long journey that, 14 miles. I was constantly looking in my rear mirrors to see blue lights but none… I feared the worst. I arrived at A and E and spoke to the receptionist. She advised that my wife had just arrived and she guided me to THAT room. I had been in this room on many occasions whilst working. Not good… again I prepared myself for the worst. I had a little moment to myself at this point but quickly gathered it together.
This was all very surreal. Indeed, it is very surreal writing this down… These memories are firmly packed away in my head in a locked box with other nasty things and that box rarely if ever gets opened. A young, very young Dr came in after maybe 10 – 15 minutes. Before he could speak I asked if Susan was alive. “Yes,” he replied. Good news. In fact, I cried with relief. He said they were working on her, she was alive and it was suspected that she had suffered a cardiac arrest. He advised the consultant would be through to speak with me shortly.
In the next half hour Susan’s parents arrived with our daughters. I recall seeing Susan’s mum with an overnight bag packed and thinking “you’re optimistic” I then explained what had occurred. There was a sustained period of disbelief… this only happens to old people.
This is part 1, part 2 is here.
I joined SCA UK in 2016, shortly after my wife suffered an out-of-hospital Sudden Cardiac arrest while we were shopping. Luckily, I was able to step in as I knew CPR. She was diagnosed as idiopathic and has an ICD, and she has since made a good recovery. The support we have both received through SCA UK is immeasurable and encouraged me to participate more and more with the group, whereby I eventually was invited to be a moderator of the group. In 2021 I retired from Police Scotland, where I had served for 30 years, and I am now Resilience Coordinator with a local authority in Scotland. I hope the skills I have developed through my working career and the experience of being a lifesaver and husband to a cardiac arrest survivor will allow me to give something back to SCA UK as a Trustee.