I write this as a husband of a cardiac arrest survivor and a lifesaver. I make no apologies for trying to focus on myself and how my wife’s SCA had an effect on me. There have been many stories shared from survivors but very few from husbands, wife’s, relatives or friends of SCA survivors who were actually present during the event and carried out lifesaving actions. I hope that by writing this I can assist those people with their recovery. This is episode 2, part 1. If you have not done so, it may be better to read episode 1 part 1 and episode 2 part 2 to provide a background.
Thank you, these don’t get any easier to write, nearly 3 years on.
Home we came
24th February 2016 – I had been off work for nearly 3 weeks, but attending now and then, when I could, to update my line management, try and keep on top of what was happening there and to escape. This was my choice, a definite escape from what was going on around me and an effort to find normality, little did I know that normality no longer existed in or world.
The support network around my work continued and was so helpful. Not having that extra burden to worry about. I cannot emphasise the importance of having support from your employers. They understood, and that was one less thing to worry about. There was no pressure on me to return to work, in particular in to what could be a very stressful role.
I did find it initially surprising as to how upset I was becoming when telling people our story. I was constantly meeting people and when they asked, having to tell them our story, what had happened, what the outcome had been, the fact that only 8% of people in the UK survive an out of hospital sudden cardiac arrest. Whilst it was draining, I did find some degree of respite from this and continue to do so to this day, maybe this is one of the reasons I am doing this.
On hindsight I was, and still am to a degree suffering PTSD. I knew that at the time and took steps to rectify the situation, as I will explain, but I did not fully recognise the extent of my suffering, I probably still don’t.
So Susan came home
24th February 2016. I liken it to what I remember when we got our children home for the first time. It was an amazing feeling but felt so different, like nothing I had felt before. I was on the alert all the time, every noise , bump, sneeze, are you ok? I would ask. This became a common theme, its only just getting better now, nearly 3 years on. I’m sure many of you reading this will recognise what I am explaining.
25th February 2016 – first full day at home. The first few nights / weeks were very hard I have to say, surreal. I struggled to sleep as I was constantly checking that Susan was still alive. Was she still breathing? Had her ICD gone off? How would I know? I was constantly checking, on alert. Silly as it may seem but that’s how paranoid I had become, and still am to an extent.
One mission I had to complete was to revisit the scene. I knew I had to do this as part of my own recovery. I headed with trepidation to the location, Asda, knowing that I had to do this. I still struggle to go there to this day, it is like a magnet when I go in. I am drawn to the aisle where it occurred and I replay it in my head. I have tried not to do this but I find it very difficult. Susan has not been back, despite her being okay with it I have a fear that it will jog her memory… we get our shopping delivered now in any case!!!!!!!
Grocery stores are not a good place for us. I asked to speak to the manager in Asda. On meeting him I explained who I was and gave him my heartfelt thanks to his staff who had helped so much during the incident. I also pointed out that Susan had survived, against all odds. He told me that two of his staff had to go home that day as they were in shock. I felt quite bad about this I have to say, but he would be bringing them good news with my update.
My next conversation was regarding the defib that was in the store, I explained the importance of it and also explained that his staff were not assertive enough to open it and set it up. There is no point having staff trained if they are not confident about using the equipment. Even if they were being instructed by a husband/lifesaver and off duty police officer. I offered to come along to training days and tell our story and was thanked for this kind gesture. I am still waiting for them to take up my offer!!!!
Fatigued, but determined
Over the first few days we decided that we should take baby steps. Susan was suffering massively from fatigue and also had several broken ribs so was having trouble sleeping. On 26th February 2016 one of our daughters was to receive an award at High school. she was top of the School in English. Susan was determined that she would attend. And she did.
Her first time out was to be driven to the High School, to walk from the car park to the school, sit amongst a lot of people and see one of our daughters receive her award. Where she got the energy or the courage from to do this I do not know, but she did and it was amazing. Superwoman was out with Superman. It felt terrifying but equally amazing.
The next, and one of the most distressing things was the surrender of Susan’s driving licence. Many people do not understand the hurt that it can cause, giving up your driving licence. We completed the paperwork and Susan was so upset as we sealed her licence up in the envelope. Giving her independence away for 6 months. A very difficult day but something we knew that was required to be done.
The requirement to surrender your licence remains a huge issue to so many people. If you get the procedure wrong in any way (see Driving and the DVLA), your licence will be revoked and this will delay a survivors return to driving. Maybe the NHS who complete paperwork and make the recommendation not to drive should play a bigger part in this.
I knew when things were improving when Susan made an appointment the following week to have her hair done. She was feeling more confident and ready to meet the world.
An early visit was made to our GP. We were determined to head off on our holiday to Lanzarote in April. A place we had been many times before and treated as a second home. Whilst the Dr didn’t tell us, she was quite clear, not just about the physical trauma , specifically Susan’s punctured lung, but also the mental toll this had taken on us both. We returned home and sensibly cancelled the holiday. The travel company were very kind and refunded the full cost.
Next I was to return to work. What was my first shift? Annual First Aid and self defence refresher. I am a Police Officer, we retrain annually.
First Aid included a CPR refresher. This took place on 1st March 2016 and I had to face doing CPR on a resuss Annie . The memories came flooding back. However I managed this by telling the group our story. I have never seen such concentrated CPR training after this.
To this day, I always tell our story at my annual refresher training, it spreads the word and makes the training real.
We received many visits from friends and family and I returned to work. Susan remained at home but started heading out with friends and family. She felt not too bad but suffered badly from fatigue, and very sore ribs, which continued on for a good few months. Life was returning to some form of normality. Our new normal we referred to it as. We still do, there is no such thing as normal for us anymore.
Episode 2, part 2 will be published next week
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.