Very much still here

Bright spring mornings are an ideal opportunity to ride away on a bike and get some exercise, and on that particular day it was mild and warm.  My regular Thursday route is a ride that goes uphill for a couple of miles but the effort is usually worth it, and it means it’s downhill all the way home again.  The last 200 yards to the community centre is the steepest part of the ride and a rough and ready assessment of my fitness is whether I can stay in a higher gear going up that last hill than I had the previous week.  At my destination I parked my clunky commuting bike next to the sleek aluminium racer that was always there by the time I arrived.  I’ve got a fancy lightweight road bike of my own for special occasions, but the ride on a Thursday is more of a bread-and-butter training ride so the heavier bike and uphill route is intended to improve my performance.  On that particular day I was feeling pretty good as I walked into the building, perhaps a bit lightheaded, but then – wham! – cardiac arrest.

Actually, none of that is true.  

It might be.  It’s what would have happened on a typical Thursday morning (apart from the last five words), but that particular day – 26 April 2018 – is lost to me.  I can’t remember the day before either, even though I went to the theatre.  I remember the Tuesday night – having a drink with a couple of friends in a pub in central London – but otherwise everything concerning that time is a complete blank until I woke up in hospital a week later.  

I realise now that my good fortune extends beyond actually waking up.  Having lost only 36 hours of sentient memory is in itself a bonus in comparison to what others have experienced, and there are so many ways in which things could have gone wrong that I’d been unaware of how precarious our lives are.  If this?  If that?  The possibilities seem almost infinite.

The first bit of luck was that it didn’t happen while I was still on my bike – I could have gone under a truck or a car or something.  A further bit was being in a place where people knew me, and in addition were concerned enough to intervene.  But probably the key factor was having a ‘saviour’ with the knowledge and confidence to start CPR promptly.  A bonus bit of luck was getting a speedy transfer to a specialist hospital: although the two local air ambulances were on other missions they arranged for me to be picked up by a neighbouring air ambulance that was free at that particular moment.  I reckon that makes 5 lucky chances before I even got to hospital, more than half a cat’s-worth.

I don’t know how long I was ‘out’ – the people at the community centre were too freaked out by my sudden collapse to start clock watching.  They realised afterwards that I was on the floor underneath a defibrillator box, but the road ambulance had arrived before anyone noticed it.  (There’s a lesson to be learned there, I think.)

Those people saved my life and I wouldn’t say anything against any of them but in the ‘micro-stories’ I’ve been told by different people afterwards it seems that when I first collapsed I was put into the ‘recovery position’ to ensure I didn’t choke – as our old half-remembered first aid courses would have demanded.  It was only when the ‘news’ of my collapse spread though the community centre that someone with ‘proper’ first aid at work training made their way over to check me out and discovered I wasn’t breathing, that CPR started and the emergency services were called.

I later discovered from the emergency services that the 999 call was received at 09.38 and an ambulance arrived at 09.44, so with the slight delay before the call was made I guess I was out for about 10 or 12 minutes before an oxygen cylinder arrived to complement the CPR.  The helicopter arrived at 10.11, my condition was stable enough for take-off by 10.36, and I was at Harefield by 10.55.  I’d been to Harefield many times before, but arriving by air was a first, so it’s a pity I wasn’t in any state to enjoy the journey

In this hectic scenario, the CPR definitely had a significant effect because my brain functioning doesn’t seem to have been impaired too severely by this incident.  Or, at least it’s only been impaired it to the extent that I’m no longer aware of how well my mind might have functioned beforehand.  I was in an induced and chilled coma for several days which was to aid the brain’s recovery, or maybe my 25 year-old hospital number worked like a loyalty card and secured preferential treatment.  Either way I was only in hospital for a couple of weeks and left with an extra stent and an ICD.

Bushey Community Centre

I returned to the community centre a few weeks after it had happened to the surprise of everyone I met and, among people I’d previously only known by sight, I now have new friends.  The reason for the visit was to return to my Slimming World group so; on this occasion they really had saved my life, and I’d lost an extra 11 pounds while in hospital too.  Win-win!  I’ve been back nearly every Thursday morning since and occasionally overhear some people talking in hushed tones about “that poor man who died” at which point I interrupt (to their embarrassment) and put them right.  Just to clarify – no, I wasn’t on a bike until several weeks after that, the heavy old steel bike is being rested in favour of a lighter mountain bike, that hill is now treated as a hazard rather than a challenge, and I’m coming round to the idea of an electric bike too.

You probably think that I’ve also been lucky to be able to have come to terms with these events so easily and lightly, but I can assure you that it’s more complicated than that.  What you’re reading is partly an indication of the tendency to minimise or trivialise significant issues that many men have.  (If you didn’t laugh, you’d have to cry.)  However, a big part of my apparent insouciance is the result of a previous serious health scare from over 25 years ago when I started getting angina twinges while exercising hard (yep, on a bike again).  After a series of extensive tests and investigations, I had a bypass.  I was only in my mid-40s at the time, with a young family, the usual commitments, and good career prospects, so it was quite scary and set me back a bit.  However, I was lucky to be treated at Harefield which was one of the pioneering centres for coronary care (and transplants) at that time, and with regular outpatient care I’ve come to know the place like an old friend.  

In retrospect my bypass alerted me to the fragility of health and when, five years ago, I started to experience some symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AF) I had complete faith in Harefield’s ability to fix that too.  It took a bit of time and a couple of different treatments but it seemed to have been remedied, and I was still having outpatient appointments when the cardiac arrest happened.  There’s speculation that it might have been a recurrence of the AF which triggered the VF (ventricular fibrillation) but there’s no evidence and no-one really knows for certain why it happened when it did, and there are more tests in the pipeline to investigate my condition further.  I can’t remember what I might or might not have been feeling before the event.  When I checked my bike it wasn’t in a particularly low gear so maybe I’d flown up that last hill, or maybe the effort and strain of crawling up it in too high a gear was what brought it on.  People who saw me before I keeled over said I looked fine and in no obvious distress before I suddenly collapsed.  If it should happen again then at least I have an ICD to record what’s going on.

I’d been through all the metaphysical doubting, worrying, and questioning stuff 25 years previously when I agreed to Harefield cutting open my chest, stopping my heart, doing some plumbing, re-starting my heart, and sewing me up again as they did my bypass.  This time there was no conscious consent on my part to any of the procedures and no heroic surgery, but I’m not complaining.  I suppose I’ve become a bit blasé about the idea of a heart stopping, and then being started again.  It’s happened to me twice now, so I assume it can happen again.  I’ve come to understand the physiology or mechanics of the heart and what’s happening inside my chest, and this doesn’t cause me any undue anxiety.  At this moment, knowing what I’ve been through leads me to celebrate the fact that I’ve survived, rather than being overwhelmed by the shock that something extreme had happened in the first place.

I realised the significance of this just before Christmas when I arranged to meet up again with a chap I’d met in cardio-rehab at Harefield.  He was in his early 40s with a young family (as I’d been when I had my bypass) and had had a heart attack at about the same time as my cardiac arrest.  In my message to him I suggested a drink to ‘celebrate our survival’ and he admitted when we met that he hadn’t been looking at in that way – he’d been so traumatised by the unexpected and brutal nature of his collapse that, until then, he hadn’t realised there were any positives – that he was still alive, he was recovering, and taking his four-year old daughter into a Christmas he didn’t think he was going to see.  I think I changed his perspective and provided a more optimistic outlook for the future, and I hope we’ll meet up again to compare recovery notes.

Sure, I do have darker moments.  On a regular basis I’m aware of what’s happening inside my head, and it isn’t the same as it used to be.  Maybe it would be the same if I hadn’t experienced my SCA because we all think we start to lose our marbles as we get older, forgetting things, not remembering things, not noticing things.  But I’ve had an SCA, and I’m aware of a black hole where there are no memories; I’m aware of things that I know have been told but have forgotten, and things which I will swear blind I’ve never been told despite the assertions of others; at times I’m pleased to have remembered to do the thing that needed to be done, but then discover that I’ve already done it and forgotten that I’d done so.  

And I definitely can’t multi-task now, and not just because men generally can’t multi-task; I mean multi-task to the extent of doing something and watching the clock to make sure I can complete it on time, or remembering off the top of my head what I need to do once I’ve done it.  I remember standing in a shop trying to chose between two shirts when my wife suddenly showed me two others she’d found in another aisle to consider too; I had to leave the shop because of information overload.  And if there’s no overload, there’s ‘underload’ – those occasions when I lose track of time and suddenly find myself engrossed in the ‘wrong’ thing, or discovering that somehow it’s taken me nearly ten minutes to lace up a pair of shoes and put on a coat.

Reading is a problem.  I used to read a lot but now it’s hard to pick up a book.  I forget what’s happened and have to go back to re-read sections (a headache when it’s on a Kindle) – then discover whole sections that I don’t remember reading at all.  Watching films or plays is OK – two hours concentration is just about manageable, but a TV series?  I’m sure there are huge swathes of plot and sub-plot that pass me by, and I pre-record them so I can fast-forward through the adverts and not lose the drift of the story.  Music is fine, in fact, I think I can recognise an old tune now faster than before, so I’m not sure what’s happening there.  Typing is a lot slower than it used to be: apart for more frequent typos that need correcting, I find it hard to organise my thoughts into a coherent order.  I get easily distracted and forget what the task in hand is supposed to be.  You wouldn’t believe how long it’s taken to compose this.  All in all, not very satisfactory for someone who’s supposed to be a writer.  My writing friends don’t really understand why my book is no nearer completion than it was 12 months ago.

Motivation is a problem.  And inspiration.  And concentration.  I have to force myself to do things and then don’t really enjoy it because I’ve had to force myself.  Energy is another problem – not just fatigue but listlessness too.  Some days are fine, and I can stride along the pavement, other days my legs are heavy and every step is an effort.  And there’s no evidence that the sluggish days come after the energetic days through tiredness because often the energetic days immediately follow the really sluggish ones.

Some days I can feel evangelical and want to go out and change the world.  Other days, what’s the point.  But doesn’t everyone feel like that?  How do I know this isn’t just normal for everyone.  And increasingly the real question lies in What Now?  

I’m part of a privileged group that has had a second chance, but a second chance for what?  To do more of the same, carrying on as before, or to do something new?  I’ve got my first re-birthday coming up and I’m not sure what I might or should do about it.  Indeed, is there a ‘should’ at all?

Is there an obligation to do something, or pay something back to someone or something in some way?  Should I just be happy that I’m still able to waste time worrying about such things?

I know my saviour, but I don’t know how to manage that relationship.  Is our shared history an embarrassment best not spoken of and to be forgotten?  Or is it something to be championed in the hope that others are encouraged to step up to the plate should the need arise on another occasion?  Do I owe her anything?  Do I owe myself anything?

I’m not aware that there’s an alternative to where we are now.  For me, there was no brilliant light, no glimmering to be seen at the end of a dark tunnel, no choir invisible, no warm cosy glow, no hellfire and eternal damnation.  There wasn’t even nothing.  I wasn’t anywhere until I opened my eyes, and I can’t even remember exactly when that happened and I started to remember again – when that re-birth occurred.  Was it when I responded to the de-fib shock, or when I woke up in ITU several days later?  

I know there are others who can’t share my experiences or my outlook.  I can’t imagine what my family must have experienced or how they perceive me today.  Like me, they have no frame of reference and don’t know anyone else who has experienced something similar.  Collectively we must have many different sorts of post-trauma experiences and we’re all having to work out our feelings about them.  And the easiest way for many of us work out our confused feelings is not to talk about them at all to avoid the risk of upsetting the person we’re talking to.

I don’t look any different.  I’m not in a wheelchair, don’t have a speech impediment, haven’t lost all my hair or turned green.  There’s no reason for me to mention what’s happened to people who don’t know, so some of my friends are aware and others aren’t.  And of those who know, I’m not sure what they’re aware of because (as we know) not many people can appreciate the difference between heart attacks and SCAs, even among health care professionals.

The Facebook Group that Paul established has become an important forum by which I discover what other survivors and their families are experiencing.  Sometimes I’m on the brink of tears in frustration with reading how poorly others have been served by the health professionals responsible for their recovery.  Sometimes it’s a source of inspiration and affirmation.  But it’s only a virtual community and there are times in the day, in the week, when you do feel a bit on your own, and you are.  Maybe we need a discreet lapel badge by which we might recognise each other and signify our presence on the streets.

I’ve written before about my SCA event on my blog at southofwatford.org and had some positive feedback from that.  Since then I’ve reflected more upon those events and their consequences, which is why I wanted to write this additional account in more detail.  I’d welcome any comments, thoughts or answers if you find anything useful in this.  Maybe you could message me through the Facebook page, or make contact through the South of Watford website or Paul could pass on your comments to me.

Thanks for reading

Brian Harrison

SCA Survivor & Very Much Still Here (most of the time)

20 March 2019

5 years a Cyborg

Five years ago today I got my ICD and I became a cyborg and so I thought I’d record my experience of being one of the new generation of super-humans. 

Having been a technology professional for the previous couple of decades I was always interested in new gadgets and bits of tech. However, I have to admit that when the implantation consent form was put in front of me I wasn’t aware of what exactly an ICD was, what it all meant and what I was signing up for. 

I had been given an idiopathic diagnosis i.e. no reason for my cardiac arrest could be found, and it was strongly suggested that there was a chance of it happening again and so it would be a good insurance policy to have an on-board defibrillator. There were associated risks with having an implant including the possibility that during the procedure I might die (again). So it was a choice of don’t have it and have a high risk of dying or have it and have a lower risk of dying. Either way, not a great choice to have to make when your head feels like it is full of cotton wool balls.

As far as I was concerned the actual implantation wasn’t too much of an issue, probably because I was out cold for most of it. Usually the procedure is done under a local anaesthetic and I think mine started out like that, but when I mentioned that I felt the first incision, a quick adjustment of the sedative level must of been made as the next thing I knew I was back on the ward with my wife. 

I spent the last night of my 2 week surreal holiday on the ward. The next day was Good Friday and when I was discharged I felt anything but good. Not because of the implant, which seemed fairly minor in comparison to how the rest of me felt.

The first couple of months passed slowly, fatigue and a constant headache taking their toll. The inconvenience of not being able to use my left (ICD side) arm much being a pain. A couple of things stick in my head about this time, firstly the inability to get comfortable when trying to go to sleep and secondly not being able to shower until the wound had healed (you do not want to get an infection in your ICD site!). The alternative of showering meant that I had more baths than usual. This I found a little disconcerting as for quite some time I had a worry that my ICD would shock me and cause me to go unconscious and subsequently drown in the bath. I therefore only filled the bath with just enough water to wash a toddler and would wrap the chain of the plug around my big toe so that if I felt the shock coming I could try and pull the plug out. Looking back it seems a bit ridiculous but being in drown-able levels of water it is a real life danger to anyone who might have a similar vulnerability. 

It was just about 3 months after my SCA that I had an “interesting” few days. It was a Saturday at the beginning of July and the garden hedges needed some cutting back. As i generally lacked the energy to do things like this my father-in-law came round to help out. He did most of the trimming that needed to be done but had to go before the last 2 small bushes could be tackled. I thought i could do them and so using my hedge trimmer I quickly got them into a reasonable shape. All pleased with myself, I had my first alcoholic drink since that dreaded day – a weak shandy.

I awoke the next day as normal, but noticed that my left arm didn’t feel quite right. Tracy got out of bed and flicked the light on to illuminate my arm better.  There was a bit of a shock as my arm was a kind of a purple colour and rather stiffer and colder than it should have been. We both realised something was seriously not right and so we dressed quickly and dashed to A&E. 

At A&E they took my recent history and we were expedited through to an examination room. I felt ok, but they wanted to do a number of tests including running an ECG. By now I’d had numerous ECG’s and was pretty familiar with the routine. Leads in, stickers on, lay back and relax for a minute. I did as I was told and closed my eyes and then WHAM! Something took hold of me like nothing else I’d experienced before. My senses set to overload, my adrenalin levels to max and a cacophony of panic enveloped me. I don’t know how long this lasted, it could of been minutes or seconds but it felt like a lifetime. Soothing voices calmed me out of my first and so far only panic attack. When I could see clearly again the small room was packed with doctors and nurses probably wondering why someone should freak out about having an ECG, probably the least painful of cardiac tests ever!

I spent the next few nights in hospital as they tried to establish what had caused the problem with my arm. I pointed out that I’d had a recent ICD implant on the same side, but this was dismissed as the cause. I then again had quite a few scans and tests but with no conclusive outcome. I was pumped with medications to help with the swelling and was finally discharged non the wiser. I left the hospital with a promise of appointments with various ‘ology doctors and a bug which sapped me even more leaving me totally exhausted.

The rest of the summer passed and autumn came without any more incidents. The main swelling seemed to dissipate from my arm and it only returned when I tried to use my arm in excess. Doctors appointments came and went and with one even exclaiming I was probably the healthiest person he’d seen that week! Whether that was a compliment or comment on the state on the rest of his patients I’m not sure.

A week before Christmas I was in my gym with my wife, Tracy, who’s a qualified personal trainer. She was helping try and put some strength back in my muscles when she said to me “is your arm ok, it looks a funny colour.” Unfortunately, she was right and a quick dash to A&E ensued.

We decided to try another local hospital as my suspicion of it being caused by my ICD was previously dismissed. After again being rushed through A&E I got to see a specialist and after some very basic checks he said it’s almost certainly to do with my ICD. I don’t recall exactly what else occurred there but the outcome was that I decided to go a private route and have some more tests done. This I did and after quite a while a very diligent physician found that the ICD lead had occluded the vein out of my arm. Blood was able to flow in, but was greatly restricted hence the reason why my arm was swelling up. 

After meetings with several consultants it was concluded that the best way forward would be to leave it as it was and hope that my body would adapt. I must admit I was pretty sceptical at the time, but now 4 years later my body has done just that. The human body is an amazing thing and the consultants know their stuff.

As time progressed life with my titanium buddy got easier to live with and I began to notice it less and less. I had picked up a habit of feeling and touching it but that had dissipated. I’ve since found out that some ICD/Pacemaker owners can cause “twiddlers syndrome” by messing with the device too much which means the leads can malfunction and may need replacing.

A potentially hazardous kettle on hob

Apart from the regular ICD checks either in the pacing clinic or at home via the home monitor things seemed to be going fine. It was a shock then that at just over 2 years since the initial implant that I heard from my buddy. We were on the way home from a holiday in France and we had stopped in a town to get a bite to eat. We had just about finished our meal when I went to the bathroom. The toilets were in a compact room under some stairs and had various gadgets in them to keep clean and fresh. Whilst I was there I noticed a beeping noise, I initially dismissed it as being one of the gadgets on the wall. Then the sound echoed around the room again and I couldn’t locate where it came from. I went back to our table and told my wife that I could hear a strange beeping noise in the toilets but couldn’t understand where it was coming from.   

Unsettled, we left the restaurant and went to a quieter spot. We had been in their a few minutes and then I heard the beeping again, it was me! I don’t think I even realised that my device could make a sound but why was it making a sound now? I felt fine and nothing untoward had happened that day.

I was in the middle of France so there wasn’t much that I could do apart from head home and get it check out ASAP. The first thing I did when I got home was to go up to my home monitor and press the upload button. This was the first time I’d done a manual upload and wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but all seemed well with the box and the green light continued to shine.

The next day was a Monday and so I called up the pacing clinic. They confirmed that they had got my upload and needed me to come in. Slightly worried, I went straight in and got to speak to a consultant. He confirmed that my device had picked something up and was beeping because it hadn’t been able to relay it back to base (as per standard instructions I hadn’t taken the home monitor away with me). It transpired that almost 2 weeks previously when I’d had “a bit of a turn”, I had actually gone into VF for 2 short spells, each time not long enough for the ICD to shock me, but long enough for me to almost collapse. It was scary thinking back to that episode as it had occurred in the kitchen of where I was staying and I had jokingly done a post saying that I was dicing with death every day making a cup of tea as they had an induction hob (which is not recommended for ICD owners as it may interfere with it functioning correctly!).

The affect of taking 5mg bisoprolol for 10 days. Reduced my resting bpm by roughly 1 bpm a day

My ICD had not only recorded the VF episodes but also some suspect ectopic beats, and with both of these in mind my doctor thought it be very wise to go on a beta-blocker. Up til then I hadn’t been on any medications and I knew that beta-blockers would add an extra layer of tiredness to my current fatigue. It was not something I relished but the consultant (and later a colleague of his) confirmed that it was what i needed to do. I started on them and within a very short space of time I recorded a drop in 10 bpm for my average resting heart rate and a noticeable slow down in me.

My final little escapade involving my ICD has been purely of my own making. A couples of year ago I was cycling through my local woods and some how I managed to clip a tree which sent me careering into another one head on. Unfortunately i was travelling at 20mph at the time and I impacted the tree on my head and shoulder. Fortunately I was wearing a helmet which protected my head but my shoulder didn’t fair so well. I lay in a ditch next to the tree waiting for my ICD to fire, but fortunately it didn’t.

Another trip to A&E, this time in an ambulance and at least I was awake this time! X-rays showed no broken bones, but it transpired I had damaged the ligaments which were notoriously hard to fix. It was my right shoulder that took the impact so unfortunately I didn’t get to have an X-ray of my ICD, which would have been a nice souvenir! Anyway, the less invasive solution was to put my arm in a sling for a few weeks and then do lots of physio. 

As the weeks passed I started to notice my ICD moving a little. A few months passed and one day I was convinced that something was up with my device as I was getting pains around it. Feeling very nervous, we went to A&E. I got to see a Spanish doctor who gave me a thorough checking over and found nothing wrong. I was confused, but she said it could be muscular. I dismissed this as my shoulder injury was the opposite side. However, this occurred again some time later and it was only once I’d got back into going to the gym did it disappear. A physio later explained that it was likely due to atrophy of the muscles due to inactivity and that the device had a bit more room to move around in. Once I’d bulked the muscles back up to the previous level the pains went away.  So, if you ever get pains around your ICD and you’ve had reason for your muscles or body structure to change in any way don’t panic immediately.

At my recent pacing check everything was looking good and I had plenty of battery life left, which is encouraging not only because it means the replacement will hopefully still some time off but also because it’s not actually doing very much. So, although there’s been a few ups and downs along the way, my tenure with an ICD has certainly not been too bad and it is always reassuring to have a backup with me all the time.

Atherton, almost out

By Elaine Spector

My alarm went off at 5am on 8 July 2018 and I got up and had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast in preparation for a 60 mile charity bike ride from Manchester to Blackpool. My cycling partner, Beverley, arrived at my house in Lytham St Annes at 6am and we set off shortly after for Manchester with me driving. I remember none of this.

Here is my story as recounted to me by those involved as my last memories are of watching the England v Sweden football match the day before with about ten of my daughters’ friends.

On the way to the start

At 9am, approximately an hour into the cycle, I suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest as I was cycling through Atherton. I swayed onto the opposite side of the road into the path of an oncoming vehicle. The driver braked, I fell! There was no impact with the oncoming vehicle. The loud noise heard by others was not due to impact but that of the driver’s equipment in the back of his van catapulting forward when he braked so hard and suddenly.

Beverley heard the loud noise and turned around to speak to me and realised that I was not there. She saw the commotion and upon arriving at the scene realised it was me on the ground. Someone had called the emergency services but said I was breathing so I was classified as a non urgent category 4 with an approximate 45 minute wait for an ambulance. I was actually a category 1 emergency when a response team should arrive within 6-7 minutes.

Graham Jones, one of the race marshals on motorbike and a retired paramedic, came upon the incident and immediately realised that I was in fact agonal breathing (the heart is no longer circulating oxygenated blood) and that death was imminent. Unbelievably, Graham had an automated external defribillator in his pannier and immediately began defribillation and CPR.

Meanwhile, it’s mayhem with hundreds of cyclists being diverted and vehicles unable to pass. Sitting in the traffic jam is Wigan and Leigh Fire Brigade on their way to the Rivington Pike fires (which had been burning for about three weeks) to relieve other fire crews. Stuart, one of the firecrew, took over from Graham.

Chloe Hall, 24 years old, a cyclist who is a nurse on the CCU at Liverpool’s Walton Neurological Hospital ignored the diversion and arrived on the scene and realised that I needed oxygen immediately as I was blue (cyanosed) and the reading on the sats probe on my finger was 38%. Chloe asked the fire brigade if they would possibly have a Guedel (oral airway device) and miraculously they did! Chloe took control of this and shouted instructions. CPR and defibrillation were given to me for 30-40 minutes by three people until the ambulance arrived. Miraculously, I had no broken ribs.

I was taken by ambulance to Royal Bolton Hospital and placed in the Resuscitation Area in A&E for a few hours before being taken for a Cat Scan. On the way to having the Cat Scan I had a seizure so I was put in a medically induced coma and given the scan. At approximately 3.30pm I was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital, still in a coma, for a heart scan. I was at Wythenshawe for about two hours then taken back to Bolton Hospital and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. The following day I was given a brain scan as neurological damage was possible due to lack of oxygen when I collapsed.

Awake

I was slowly brought out of my coma and by the third day I was aware of my surroundings but with no re-collection of events. Thankfully there was no brain damage. However, no obvious cause was found for my SCA and it needed further investigation.

Within a few days, to everyone’s amazement, I was transferred to the Critical Care Unit. After a week I was given the authorisation to transfer to Lancashire Cardiac Centre which is nearer to where I live, to undergo more tests. I had about three procedures at Blackpool Victoria Hospital all of which left the specialists baffled. They could find nothing wrong with my heart. Everything appeared healthy and was functioning normally. I was idiopathic.

As no heart defect could be found it was decided that I would be fitted with a Subcutaneous Implanted Cardio Device – a defribillator as a preventative measure. A day after my implant, I was discharged from hospital, three weeks after my SCA.

I was being called The Miracle Woman and one cardiologist said “not only were the stars aligned for you but the planets were as well” and looking back this is so true. I had been clinically dead and was very lucky to now be alive. The sequence of events that unfolded that morning were serendipitious.

Thank You

I have so many people to thank for my being here today.

Graham Jones who upon arriving at the scene realised my breathing was agonal and miraculously had a defribillator and kept on giving me CPR until more help arrived. I would not be here had you not passed the incident. (I’ve since met Graham three times).

Chloe Hall for her quick actions, knowledge and professionalism. Chloe was ahead of me on the cycle and luckily for me, she and her fiancé had stopped for 10 minutes to chat with a friend who lived along the route. I obviously had my accident just after I had passed her. (I’ve since met Chloe when she came to visit me at my home in September).

Wigan & Leigh Fire Brigade who were stuck in the traffic jam my accident had created and came to help. Thank you for having the oral airway on your fire truck and hank you for assisting in my resuscitation.

The Paramedics who arrived at the scene and kept me alive on the way to Royal Bolton Hospital. The highlight for me was learning that you referred to me as “female, approximately 40 years of age”!

Royal Bolton Hospital and everyone there involved in my care to keep me alive especially in those first three crucial days. Thank you to the ICU and CCU team. Every one of you were kind and caring as well as professional. I’m not sure I should say this but you all made my stay with you an absolute pleasure.

Lancashire Cardiac Centre, Blackpool one of the best cardiology centres in the UK at the forefront of new technology and new procedures (and only 6 Miles from where I live). Everyone here was brilliant and I was happy to place myself in their care. Thank you to the team on Ward 37 and everyone else I came in contact with on a daily basis. I kind of miss Ray the janitor (he cycles to work every morning at 5.30am) who chatted with me very early every morning! And thanks to the anaesthetist in that state of the art operating theatre who let me listen to Einaudi (I bet you turned it off as soon as I went under)!

The NHS for which I have great respect, admiration and gratitude.

Beverley Esposito my cycling partner and friend who had to watch as everything took place meanwhile giving as much information as she could about me. This would not have been easy to remember in such a situation. She also had the responsibility of calling my daughters and meeting them at the hospital as well as trying to keep them calm throughout the day whilst she herself remained calm. Beverley also got names and numbers of people who helped at the scene to keep them updated on events.

Keleigh 24, Courtney 22 and Camryn 19, my three wonderful daughters. Sorry for scaring the daylights out of you. What a tumultuous three years you’ve been through and you’ve been so strong, mature, brave and courageous throughout.

Llewellyn Boyer-Cartwright my brother who was travelling home from Heathrow to Nassau at the very same time as my accident was happening. Twenty four hours later he was back in the UK so that my three girls would have a close and senior family member to stay with them and support them. He Also attended my daughter Courtney’s university graduation in my place.

Donna Maura my sister who relieved Llewellyn two weeks later and took on the maternal roll.

James (I’m sorry but I don’t know your surname), who helped at the scene.
I vaguely remember that you visited me in Royal Bolton Hospital and that you looked like the actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

The Van Driver for his quick reaction to avoid a head on collision into me. I’m very sorry to have frightened and upset you.

Janette Dorricot who was behind the van and transported me and Beverley’s bikes to her home and kept them safe for a few days.

Family & Friends – thank you to so many of you that visited me whilst I was in hospital and to everyone who sent me messages, cards, flowers and prayers. Lastly, thank you for all your offers of help especially now that I’ve been disqualified from driving – subject to review in six months!

I can never express enough gratitude.

9 Months Later

I left the hospital on 28 July 2018 and August was quite surreal. My daughters kept checking on me if I was sleeping too long due to extreme fatigue, the effects of anaesthetic, the pain and soreness of the implant, visitors and generally getting our heads around what had happened.

During the following months I had numerous appointments at Lancashire Cardiac Centre and I can only commend everyone that I came in contact with during my various tests for their professionalism, kindness and care.

After being on Bisoprolol for 6 weeks (the leaflet states a possible side effect is hair loss after 6-8weeks) my hair began falling out in handfuls which really upset me. I had already been through so much so losing so much hair was devastatingly out of all proportion. After my SCA my thyroid levels were very low and I was told that after a SCA a patient’s nutrition levels are usually severely low and muscles very weak. These were all possible contributing factors. My cardiologist Dr. Chris Cassidy has been very supportive and as all my tests showed nothing wrong with my heart, he agreed that I should gradually reduce my dosage and eventually discontinue Bisoprolol. The Bisoprolol was also making me very tired, sluggish, gave my blurry vision and cold hands and feet.

Assessment

In November I was contacted by Bolton Hospital, where I was first taken after my SCA, to have a psychological assessment and to see their cardiologist so that they could complete my discharge. Everything went smoothly and both the cardiologist and psychologist were pleased with my progress. Once again, I must commend the NHS in my treatment.

Another physical and psychological hurdle was exercise. At the end of September, two months after my SCA I got on my bike (with my friend Bev who was cycling with me when I had my SCA) and cycled 10 miles very slowly indeed. Before my SCA I was cycling between 40-60 miles two or three times a week. I have since accomplished a 30 mile cycle (November) and I’m looking forward to getting back on my bicycle in the Spring. Slow and steady.

Beat Night

On 7 November myself and a few dear friends organised a Charity “Beat Night” to teach 80 people CPR and how to use a defibrillator. Training was given by safety experts REAX of Blackpool. The money raised was donated to the Blood Bikers for which Graham Jones (the marshal who had a defibrillator) volunteers. We are now in the process of raising funds to hopefully purchase two defibrillators to be placed in popular areas of my hometown.

Another hurdle was travelling abroad in December. My cardiologist, Dr. Cassidy, felt that I was fit enough to do so and gave his blessing. On the 14 December 2018 with travel insurance in place, and no problems at airport security when I produced my medical ID card, I very nervously set off on a ten hour flight. After my initial nervousness I eventually relaxed and tried to enjoy the flight but I did feel much better when my feet were safely on the ground.

On my holiday I tried Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the ocean which I was apprehensive about since it involved raising your arms up and over alternately. I was able to do so without feeling uncomfortable or as if my S-ICD was being stretched and pulled. Of course I wore a life vest and was always accompanied by someone. I also went on a speedboat with three powerful engines and I took the precaution of sitting at the front of the boat as far away from the engines as possible. I thought, better safe than sorry.

In January I attended a Snow Patrol concert in Manchester and again I was a bit nervous in case the loud speakers and noise set off my defibrillator but everything was fine.

New Normal

Life has changed dramatically and certain things I took for granted or instinctively did is now thought about in great detail

  • What if my S-ICD shocks me while I’m taking a bath?
  • Can I drown before the defibrillator kicks in?
  • What if I’m shocked while I’m in the shower and fall, hit my head and become unconscious and freeze to death because the water is still running.

I accept this is now my new normal and I know that I have been very lucky to have survived a SCA because I was surrounded by people who recognised what was happening and knew what to do.

It is now almost 9 months since my SCA. My body has odd aches and pains, I have myoclonic jerks which have improved, my body temperature has gone haywire, my gums and teeth hurt, I still lose words in sentences and I’m sensitive to lots of noise and chatter around me but according to my daughters my memory has definitely improved. I am getting stronger physically. I have started cycling outdoors and I go to spinning classes.

The good news is that I re-applied for my driving license on the 1st March and received it on the 18th March. I can’t thank my family and friends enough for all their help. They not only provided me with transportation but have supported me on my health journey and basically kept me positive, upbeat and socially active.