About 2 years after it happened I decided to write about my experience, from collapsing at the leisure centre to getting back to some sort of normality again. I found it really cathartic, writing about things that had happened on that eventful day, and in hospital, and fortunately or maybe, unfortunately, I remember everything about the whole situation (except the really serious bit in between!)
Tuesday, 17 December 2013
I remember it as though it was yesterday as the saying goes…
…Alarm clock wakes me up, I jump out of bed, open the bedroom curtains and am greeted by a crisp clear blue sky hanging above crunchy white frosty lawns.
It’s the day of our “Nifty Fifties”, a five-a-side session at the local leisure centre and then off for our Christmas lunch. Can’t wait. Warm-up, kick about for half an hour, and then off to the pub for some traditional nosh (maybe I’ll have a curry or a spag bol?).
Out to the car at 9.30am, bowl of hottish water over the windscreen – none of those fancy de-icer sprays for me – and ready to go. Next door neighbour comes out, sees me in my football shirt and tracky bottoms and asks “going on one of your walks?”
“No,” I reply. “Going playing 5-a-side at the local leisure centre. It nearly kills me”.
Little did I know what was in store…
Driving towards Horwich it was such a beautiful morning. Rivington Pike stood out clearly, the grey stumpy profile set against a cloudless powder blue backdrop, bright winter sun slowly climbing the sky. I bobbled along in the car listening to the radio and fantasising how many times I was going to bulge the onion bag that morning.
Spent thirty minutes doing warm ups, practising ball skills and exercises under the guidance of our coach Glenn, a former professional footballer. Surprised to find out that morning, after almost 60 years of playing football, that I had not understood the difference between a volley and a half volley. Maybe this shocked me into what happened later?
Played two or three games and our team kept winning so we stayed on continuously. Our coach Glenn asked me if I wanted to take a break so I walked around the perimeter of the sports hall, picked up my water bottle and walked back round standing next to the coach.
Took a swig of water, looked across the sports hall, eyes focussed on brickwork on the opposite wall, and then a low frequency buzzing noise in my head for a few seconds.
No pain, no panic, a feeling of calm, but looking downwards, the floor appeared as though looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Falling sensation…
Tony! Tony! Tony! a voice shouted at me. Opening my eyes I was aware of a ceiling maybe 25 or 30 feet above me. I was flat out on my back. In front of me, standing, was the silhouette of a stocky shaven headed figure (it was Steve, the leisure centre manager, who had just brought me back to life) and to my right, knelt down, was a paramedic, insisting I chew on a tablet the size of what seemed like a large Domino’s pizza.
A team mate, Roy, who fortunately happened to be a retired GP, was also kneeling down just to the right of my head. He had applied CPR without success but nevertheless his support was critical at the time in keeping my blood circulating and providing oxygen to my brain.
Above me stood the coach, a tall man, who looked like a giant from the position I was in and, who as I clearly remember, had a mixture of disbelief and horror on his face, if both at the same time were possible.
Not knowing what had happened, or the critical state I was in, I looked up at the coach and said, “it must have been your aftershave Glenn”, guessing I must have fainted or something. He didn’t reply, either because he didn’t hear me, or maybe he just didn’t consider it very funny at the time under the circumstances.
Lying prostrate on my back I twisted my head to my left and saw a female leisure centre member of staff hugging a colleague and sobbing.
“What the hell’s that about?” I thought.
Looking again slightly to the left of me I saw two men dressed in orange hi-vis type boiler suits similar to the ones road maintenance gangs wear. I thought it strange that road workers were in the sports hall.
“We don’t need you,” pipes up the ambulance man.
It turns out later they were helicopter pilots from the air ambulance. A trip in a helicopter would have seen me off good and proper. It was only a couple of weeks since the horrific helicopter crash on a pub in Glasgow.
“Contact number, contact number,” shouts Roy, holding my mobile phone which they had found in my sports bag. Still able to think clearly I gave him my home number. He returns saying the number is unobtainable – he had been using an incorrect STD code.
Presence of mind saved the day for me. I could have given him my wife’s mobile number but I was too embarrassed, even in the state I was in, as she was listed on my mobile as ‘Chorley Rock Chick’.
Thinking quickly, I remembered the good old ICE 1 and contact was made (phew, that was a close thing).
Before very long I was strapped down in the back of an ambulance (I now know why they strap you down) and then began the high speed trip to Royal Bolton Hospital. Couple of quick tests, ultrasound and electrocardiogram and then onwards to Manchester Royal Infirmary, again blue lights flashing, sirens blasting. I had always wondered what it would be like to travel in the back of an ambulance – very fast and a bit like being in a tumble dryer.
And so this was how my three week “Turkey and Tinsel” break at Manchester Royal Infirmary started.
On arrival straight into theatre, no mucking about with Accident and Emergency. Into theatre and an angiogram that identified a blocked artery. Onto a high dependency ward and then back the next morning for a procedure to unblock the artery. In the early hours of that morning I rather conveniently decided to have a two-hour nosebleed (probably the result of medication I had been prescribed) that almost resulted in the procedure being cancelled.
Fortunately I managed to stem the blood flow and I was in surgery by eight o’clock that morning. After three hours attempting to unblock the artery however, the surgeon informed me that it wasn’t possible as it had calcified, blocked solid, making the introduction of a stent impossible and the need for a double heart by-pass critical. I then was to spend almost two weeks on the high dependency ward being stabilised and monitored before I was to encounter the surgeon’s knife on New Year’s Eve morning.
It was the morphine working little tricks on me, well, the skirting and sills weren’t really moving, but the little figure was. It was the ward cleaner who just seemed to go slowly up and down, non-stop, quietly pushing his soft brush as he crept by, almost like mowing the lawn in one continuous motion.
Much later that day (with the ward clock creeping up to midnight, lights dimmed on the ward, and the murmuring of machines and medical equipment) the quiet and calm was suddenly broken by a large bearded scouse surgeon who, as he walked past my bed, realised that I was awake and engaged in conversation.
Hearing a strong Liverpool accent in a hospital bang in the middle of Manchester seemed so unusual. He inquired how I was (I was still a bit groggy from the morphine) and then told me how lucky I had been, something that had been said many times to me by ambulance staff, nurses and doctors during my stay so far in hospital.
Yes, I knew how lucky I’d been, because after all, I had survived a cardiac arrest hadn’t I? But what really shocked me was when he told me over ninety per cent of people who suffer an out of hospital cardiac arrest don’t survive.
Four days later I was out of intensive care and back onto the high dependency ward, back with my recently acquired ward mates Jack and Peter. Both, in beds either side of me, couldn’t have been more different. Jack was the younger of the two, was early seventies with Peter possibly mid-eighties and sadly he was unable to get out of bed during his time there.
Jack lived up to his name alright, he was a real Jack the Lad. He looked a bit like the actor Tony Curtis towards the end of his career and had a really strong Manchester accent. His face had the look of one of those World of Leisure leather settees, creased, crinkled and a light tan colour. He would often disappear from the ward during the night and meet his wife down in the car park. She would drive him home, he only lived a mile from the Infirmary, where he would then have a few fags and cans of beer before returning at all hours during the night.
I found this a bit peculiar as he had been an emergency admittance only a couple of days before me having suffered a heart attack.
In fact, one night he was found smoking in the hospital toilet by a nurse and was reported to the ward manager. He received a strong warning as to his behaviour and threatened with eviction from the hospital. He was very apologetic and after that incident, he became a lot more responsible and reluctantly accepted the hospital rules and regulations.
Jack’s working life had been spent on the docks in Manchester and on various construction sites in the northwest. He was the rough and ready type but with, as they say, a heart of gold.
Peter was well spoken, smooth red cheeked face, distinguished looking, kindly, he spent most of his time asleep – unless he was reading the daily paper I gave him. We chatted from time to time (when he wasn’t asleep) and his past was very interesting. He used to have strong connections with Manchester United in the sixties, he said it was through Louis Edwards and Matt Busby.
He told me about the time he looked after George Best and how he stayed with Peter and his family at his home in Cheshire for a few weeks after one of his notorious “going off the rails” escapades.
He also told me that he was responsible for introducing hula hoops into this country. His father had an import/export business just off Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester and Peter, working for the family business, made a decision to import the first ones over from the USA to the United Kingdom in the early 1960s.
The most interesting information Peter shared with me was his involvement in negotiating the rescue of more than 13,000 dark-skinned Jews from Ethiopia who were being discriminated against.
A civil war was imminent and they were in danger from the Muslim and Christian majority. Acting on behalf of the President of the United States at that time, George H Bush, Peter was involved in negotiating a 17million dollar cash inducement to enable them to be airlifted to Israel in 1991. This was achieved in little more than a day.
Oh yes, I thought to myself, I bet he did, but sure enough, when I was discharged from hospital I Googled the information and it was there in black and white – Operation Solomon.
It is a great example of the NHS in that people of such different social backgrounds can be treated so equally and professionally by the doctors, nurses, health assistants, caterers and cleaners irrespective of their wealth, influence, or class.
A few days after my New Year’s Eve bypass surgery I was advised by the heart surgeons to have an implanted cardiac defibrillator fitted “just in case” I suffered a cardiac arrest again at some time in the future. After my consultation, I was chatting with the doctor who would carry out the procedure about other mundane things, such as football, and told him I was a Manchester United fan.
He was quite a character and started to get a bit animated and then revealed to me that he and his family were big Manchester City fans and season ticket holders. Oh dear, I think I may have made a mistake in revealing my allegiance to him.
Seven days after my operation the cardiac nurse arrived on the high dependency ward to run through with me information on the defibrillator.
She pulled the curtains round and plonked a box on the bed which I took to be her new mobile phone. Now I had imagined an implanted one being the size and thickness of a fifty pence piece. Don’t ask me why, I just did.
She then proceeded to unpack the box and pull out a gadget about two thirds the size of a mobile phone, this was to be my new guardian angel, my very own implanted cardiac defibrillator.
I began to have second thoughts about it, and then third and fourth thoughts, after nurse kindly informed me that it could accidentally administer shocks that were likened to being kicked in the chest by a mule!
This started me thinking that it wasn’t a particularly good idea but I couldn’t discuss this again with my family because I hadn’t time as I was due to go in for surgery the next morning, and the consent form needed signing right there and then.
That very same morning, however, something happened that convinced me it was the right thing to do. A man in a suit turned up on the same ward carrying a briefcase, pulled the curtains around his bed and later opened them wearing a hospital dressing gown.
This seemed a bit strange and being a nosey bugger I later struck up a conversation with him and asked him what he was in for. It turned out that he’d had an implanted cardiac defibrillator for almost 10 years.
He explained to me that the day before he had been working at his desk in a Manchester office when his heart stopped. He collapsed to the floor smashing his face on the edge of the desk (this accounted for the cuts and bruises to his face).
He hit the deck and then his implanted cardiac defibrillator kicked into action, restarting his ticker. He was in for the morning to have it checked out. This little story absolutely convinced me that having one fitted was very sensible and the end of any second thoughts (and third or fourth thoughts come to think of it).
The big day arrived and mid-morning I was wheeled in for the implantation process. Remembering the mistake I had made in letting the surgeon carrying out the procedure (who was a big Manchester City fan) know I was a “Red” I wrote in black biro on both sets of knuckles the initials MCFC and hoped that this action, together with my operating room surgical cap would prevent him from identifying me and go crazy with the scalpel.
The hospital was an absolute hot bed of Manchester City supporters being slap bang in the middle of the city. I still chuckle to myself when I think back to the time I was in there and all the nurses were wearing Father Christmas hats – pale blue in colour!
It’s now over 2 years since my “arrest” and I still think a lot about how lucky I was. The cardiologist said it was a ticking time bomb and the calcification of my artery had probably commenced around 4 years earlier gradually deteriorating over time.
The day before it happened I was walking in Rivington with absolutely no access to any medical facilities and no chance of survival. My heart had stopped for approximately 5 minutes and without the aid of the leisure centre’s defibrillator I would not be alive today – a sobering thought indeed.
So, eternal and very special thanks for the prompt action from Roy my team mate who gave me CPR, together with the defibrillator resuscitation from Steve the leisure centre manager – and the paramedics, helicopter pilots (thankfully not required) the ambulance drivers, the nurses, the doctors, the auxiliaries and all hospital facilities staff who looked after me during my very short stop at Royal Bolton Hospital and during the three week stay at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Also, to the cardiologists and staff in physiotherapy, rehab and psychology at both Chorley Hospital and Horwich Leisure Centre who got me back on the road to fitness once again.
In my teens, probably like a lot of other young people in the 1960’s I used to listen to the Beatles, and whenever I heard the tune When I’m Sixty Four I often wondered what I would be doing, or where I would be when I reached that age.
I never for a moment envisaged a cardiac arrest, and that three weeks in hospital over Christmas having a double heart bypass and implanted cardiac defibrillator would be on the agenda. I think even Paul McCartney would have struggled to incorporate these words into the lyrics of his song.
Two years on I’m playing 5-a-side again, and a bit of short tennis, plus doing a lot more walking, and recently returned from a month away in New Zealand where I received eight separate body frisking at airports. I must have had my inner thighs stroked and patted more times than a dirty old man in a back street massage parlour.
I also want to say a big thank you to my sons’ Lee and Mark for all they did during my stay in the hospital, with amongst other things the visiting and chauffeuring responsibilities. My biggest thank you goes to my wife Sue who must have gone through hell with all the other issues facing the family at that time and who also put up with me, a difficult patient to say the least when I first came out of the hospital.
I have found it very cathartic to write about my experience and know only a few are fortunate enough to be able to do so.
I did need some psychological treatment during my rehabilitation because of my emotional state. The psychologist’s diagnosis seemed to be that I was probably “experiencing a kind of bereavement for myself”.
I’ve since been on a training course in the use of a defibrillator and know from first-hand experience that you cannot cause any harm, so I’m not fazed at all at the thought of having to use the device on someone.
I had a couple of skin burns where the pads had been applied but they cleared up in a week or so with the application of some antiseptic cream.
As a footnote, some two months earlier, before my cardiac arrest, my dear brother Stephen who had a medical history of heart problems died suddenly at the age of 66. In the United Reformed Church Newsletter a week or two later it reported the death, but my name was printed in error, not Stephen’s. The church was very apologetic and issued a correction, but I often wonder if they knew something I didn’t.
Anyway, it’s onwards and upwards from now on, fingers crossed that upwards is the direction I will be going in next time!
Seven years (and two more wonderful grandsons) on, there has been plenty of time for reflection:
In the early days, after reading all the warnings about electromagnetic fields and ICDs, I was entering and leaving shops like Billy Whizz, whereas previously I used to loiter around the doorways while my wife did some serious shopping.
Similarly, mastering a technique for using the electric lawnmower and drill, holding them as though both my arms had locked at the elbows – like having two large strong dogs on separate leads.
The dog tags I bought from Timpson’s engraved with the letters ICD, which I wore hung around my neck as soon as I was able to get out and about – just in case I collapsed when out alone on a country walk.
The scariest moment of my time in the hospital, and it wasn’t the bypass operation, was when I was transported to another part of the hospital for a stress test on my heart. I was taken there by wheelchair and the cardiologist explained to me that I would be placed in an MRI scanner (or tunnel of love as I like to call them) and undergo a series of tests. He explained that there would be some unusual sensations/discomfort etc which wouldn’t be anything to unduly worry about, then as he left the consulting room he called out to the nurse “bring the defib”. On hearing this I felt I was going to faint, as by that time I was certainly aware of the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest! I needed some time to recover before the procedure went ahead.
I often wish I had been completely unaware of events surrounding it, say rendered unconscious at the time, or it had happened during an operation. The memories of it are still so vivid even though it was so many years ago.
I also owe Chris Sutton, the former Premier League footballer a big thank you. A week or so ago he was on television talking about dementia and I heard him refer to a Facebook page about it. It seems silly now, so long after my experience, but it made me think about the possibility of there being a Facebook page involved with cardiac arrest.
Surprisingly, I found that there was; SCA UK, and it’s been so good to be able to relate to actual people who have suffered and overcome some of the same problems and issues. I have been amazed at some of the stories and the difficulties people have encountered. No longer looking at the possible side effects of medication on my prescription, I can actually read about real survivors and say I understand that situation.
I am still playing football with the Nifty Fifties, although by now I think we should be renamed the Shuffling Sixties and Seventies.
I often chuckle to myself when I look around at our twenty or so squad of players. There is enough plastic and metal amongst us, what with replacement hips, knees, toes, defibs, pacemakers, stents etc to set up our own materials recycling plant.
I must admit I still look forward to Tuesdays coming along for the exercise and fitness the game provides, the camaraderie and the banter – but most of all to keep enjoying life.
Merry Christmas to all SCA UK members!