Before I begin my story, a little bit of background about myself. I’m 58 yrs. old and live in Mytchett. My career was spent working mainly on scientific R&D for almost 30 years within the MoD as a civilian at what was once called the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough (it was subsequently privatised and has since become QinetiQ).
I’ve always been into keep fit, whether that be running or cycling. I’m a member of Cove Joggers running club which before the pandemic would meet up for runs every Tuesday and Thursday evenings. For the last ten plus years I’ve also been a core volunteer at Frimley Lodge parkrun. I’ve also undertaken a lot of voluntary work by regularly supporting local running events including Frimley Park Hospital 10k and Jingle Jog. So, onto my story…
Saturday the 22nd Feb 2020 was meant to be like every other Saturday morning over the last 10 years being a regular volunteer at Frimley Lodge parkrun. However things didn’t quite turn out as I planned on that particular day….
Every Saturday usually starts about 6:30 am with 2 cups of coffee, then getting dressed and loading the car with all the parkrun kit needed for parkrun. But on this particular Saturday I was feeling a bit ropey, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it felt just like heartburn/acid reflux below my ribs and in my lower oesophagus.
I took a few antacid tablets hoping this would ease the acid feeling and then drove the short distance to Frimley Lodge parkrun. It was now about 7:25 am and as I started unloading the car, I was really starting to feel quite unwell. I thought I was going to faint and had to sit on the ground for a moment.
At this point I said to my colleague Cliff who also helps out with parkrun setup, that I was feeling unwell and needed to go home and take a stronger antacid. I told him I would try to return soon if I felt better. When I got home I took a few more antacid tablets and a glass of water with antacid powder, the pain was really making me feel quite bad now.
I was struggling to settle, and couldn’t relax and I was struggling to get my breath (I didn’t realise the seriousness of those symptoms at the time). I tried lying in bed to rest and let the antacid have time to work but just couldn’t settle and was starting to feel worse; my girlfriend Karin was getting very concerned too and insisted I see a doctor. I knew my local GP surgery would likely be closed so told Karin to come with me to A&E at Frimley Park Hospital.
A bit grey
At approximately 9:15 am we got in my car and I drove us directly to the hospital, arriving about 9:25 am. After parking I made my way to the A&E reception desk, noting how busy it was in the waiting area and that a long wait was probably in store. The lady in reception said I looked a bit grey and got the triage nurse to do a quick assessment in a small room nearby.
The triage nurse placed two leads on my chest, while I was telling him it’s only heartburn/acid reflux. Very quickly the triage nurse told me to follow him into majors. I could barely walk at this stage, and thought I was going to collapse but somehow managed to walk the short distance into majors.
I was told to lie down on a bed, within a few seconds a doctor arrived (Andy?) and he placed quite a lot of leads on my chest, I told him not to worry as I only had bad acid pains and just needed a stronger antacid.
At this point he told me very calmly that I was in fact having a heart attack!
I was shocked, how could I be having a heart attack, I’m a regular runner and always trying to maintain a good level of fitness!
I think at this point another doctor appeared who gave me a spray under my tongue and someone else gave me some tablets to swallow. I was lying down with my upper half semi-upright, so I could swallow the tablets. I remember swallowing the tablets and looking at the small paper cup in my hand…
Then I had a weird experience (see end of page)
…The next thing I remember, was coming round, looking up at the ceiling with an oxygen mask on my face with numerous doctors & nurses around the bed. One of the doctors (Andy?) said I had had a cardiac arrest – they had saved my life with a defibrillator shock and CPR.
I think at this point I was definitely in shock as I knew less than 10% of people survive a cardiac arrest. I could now feel an immense pain across my whole chest and left shoulder and it was getting worse, a lot worse – so much so that I asked for pain relief.
Weirdly, I also had an overwhelming feeling of calmness, I was not worried about my situation and felt total acceptance of my fate – as at this point I was convinced I was going to die and told the doctors to tell my sister I love her. If I was going to die it no longer worried me (as I was now convinced there was something else beyond the physical world ref ‘weird experience’ bit below).
After the cardiac arrest I had an overwhelming feeling of tranquillity, and felt no more concern, apart for those who would be left behind and the grief they would suffer should I die.
I then recall overhearing a doctor next to me on a mobile phone calling the consultant (who was at home I think), I was told he would be there in 10 or 15 minutes.
I really didn’t think I would stay alive for that long, the pain was even more intense and I thought it was very likely I would have another cardiac arrest at any moment. The doctors around me were being fairly quiet and not really talking much, which in my mind added gravity to the seriousness of my situation – I recall telling the doctors that I was probably going to die and again to please tell my sister I love her (my only surviving direct family left, we are always there for each other).
Within minutes I was being rushed down various corridors, with several doctors and nurses pushing the bed at speed! I remember seeing the ceiling with all the ceiling lights flying past, it was surreal just like a replay from an episode of Casualty or Holby City.
I was totally expecting my heart to stop again at any moment.
I was taken to the state of the art ‘Cath Lab’. In the Cath Lab they transferred me onto another bed where I remember seeing two overhead machines moving around my chest area and neck. I recall thinking how hi-tech this all looked.
The consultant told me what would happen and that the whole procedure would take about 40 minutes – I couldn’t actually see the doctors, I think they were behind a screen, although they did talk to me a few times during the procedure like hold breath, don’t move etc.
I just remember seeing a big screen on my left side, showing my heart and arteries around it. At this point I was now giving myself a 50:50 chance of survival, and I was really trying to make an effort to keep breathing and stay conscious (if willpower makes a difference?).
Very soon one of the doctors told me he had found the problem, a blocked artery and he was going to clear it. At this point I was feeling so much better and was also thinking the medication I took in A&E must also be working by expanding my arteries as the pain was now beginning to ease.
The consultant then said he was going to place a stent in the blocked artery, I was feeling very positive now.
Very quickly all the pain stopped completely, the stent was in place and I was feeling elated beyond words.
This doctor had literally just SAVED MY LIFE!
He showed me on the monitor the before and after pictures of the offending artery, all my other arteries looked good and clear he said.
Next I was taken to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU), where I had my own room and a nurse monitoring me almost continually at first. I was wired up to a heart monitor and had a drip to flush out salts and chemicals from my blood.
I felt well, but overwhelmed by what had just happened.
Very soon Karin arrived then my sister and her husband arrived after driving up from Romsey (they were visiting my niece at the time).
I spent three days and two nights in CCU, leaving in the late afternoon two days later.
The doctors and nurses in the CCU ward were amazing, ensuring I was recovering, and closely monitoring my stats. I was soon walking around the ward, and started chatting to other patients who had their own intriguing stories to tell.
There are no words that can express my deep gratitude for the whole team at Frimley Park Hospital. From the lady in reception, the triage nurse, doctors & nurses in A&E, the consultant and his colleague and all the amazing staff in CCU. I’m so incredibly grateful to everyone that day, who helped to save my life – a massive THANK YOU!
For several months afterwards I was feeling much better physically but very delicate emotionally.
I wasn’t prepared for the emotional turmoil coming.
I was 57 and into running, I’m told it was probably my underlying fitness that helped me survive along with the prompt stent operation in the Cath Lab.
Prior to my heart attack & SCA I had no warning signs, in fact I did a hard interval training session on the Thursday evening (2 days earlier), with no pains or warning signs whatsoever.
It was only on the Saturday morning I felt unwell and took myself to A&E, thank goodness I did, I dread to think what would have happened if I didn’t make that decision (with strong persuasion from Karin) I had so many ‘what ifs’ going around my head –
What if I stayed at home and called an ambulance instead?
What if Karin wasn’t there to insist I get help?
What if I delayed leaving home by just another 30mins?
What if I had a SCA driving and crashed killing myself and Karin?
What if the consultant couldn’t have got to hospital in 15 minutes?
I had so many thoughts going around my head!
It was all emotionally overwhelming.
Thus it was one day at a time for several months afterwards.
But now I’m in a much better place, accepting of what happened that day with some good advice from folks on the Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK Facebook forum and Angela my friend.
They told me I had to quickly drop the ‘what ifs’ and replace them with the ‘what nows’ – great advice that afterwards really helped me emotionally deal with what I had been through.
I also bought a book from Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK via Amazon ‘Life after Cardiac Arrest Volume 1: Writings from Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK’ – I had no idea there were so many others with incredible similar stories to my own.
Now I get two birthdays a year with my first ‘Re-Birthday’ being on 22 Feb 2021.
The Weird Experience
So, if you’ve read this far, you’ll be wandering what the ‘weird experience’ bit is all about!
Well, there is in fact another part to this story.
The part between losing consciousness and coming round – I recall very vividly flying high up and seeing the side of a very light coloured, almost white building with windows and a large glass panel and people standing nearby, I was very confused why I was suddenly seeing this, and why was it so vivid and real!
As I was looking at the building and noticing this large glass panel, my body flew quickly right up close to the glass panel within a few feet of it. No sooner had I seen this than I felt a very strong pulling force on my back, followed by flying at immense speed back into my body with a huge jolt as I entered my body. It was as if a huge bungee rope was attached to the middle of my back pulling me backwards!
The only way I can best describe this experience – it was as if my physical body was unconscious but my mind was still completely conscious, but in a different place.
I then opened my eyes and saw the doctors standing around me.
All of this out of body experience occurred very quickly, probably less than a minute, I’m personally convinced this was a real experience, it was so vivid, along with the strong force pulling me back at huge speed back into my physical body. It was as if I could feel my ‘soul’ aligning back into my physical body.
When I quickly regained consciousness a few moments later a doctor told me my heart had stopped for a short while, less than a minute!
In retrospect I’m now convinced what I was seeing was the entrance to the hospital with its large glass panels in front of the main doors.
The next day in the CCU ward, one of the cardiac consultants doing the rounds, asked me if I had experienced anything while in cardiac arrest. I told him this weird part of the story (I think he was the first person I told this to), and he didn’t appear surprised! He said he had been involved in a study of out of body experiences with another doctor in London, and that about 10% of people who have a cardiac arrest also experience some kind of out of body experience.
Thank you so so much to all the amazing team at Frimley Park Hospital, you are truly angels in my mind. I will always be immensely grateful for what you did for me that day, saving & giving me back my life. I’m in awe at the amazing people who make our NHS such an incredible service and everything they do…
This whole experience has since changed my life in positive ways that I still cannot explain fully, I definitely see the world somewhat differently – I’m eternally grateful for every day I’m given….