Episode 1, part 2: But what happened?

Post by Stuart Menzies

This is part 2, you can read part 1 here

The consultant joined us shortly after, just as my son and sister in law had arrived, He asked to speak with me alone. He explained that Susan had suffered a cardiac arrest She was not displaying natural signs and it may be the case that she had suffered brain damage. I cannot explain how I felt hearing this. A short time before this I was elated, she was alive and now I’m told that she is alive but she may have brain damage. I blamed myself for this and this will be a common thread as you will read. My CPR was not good enough, I should have carried out compressions harder, faster, I forced her to go shopping when she was unwell.

In any case , he advised that he would like to sedate her for 72 hours, lower her temperature and give her body the best chance of recovery. I chatted with her mum ( a retired Sister) who insisted on seeing her. We went through into A and E to see her at this point. She was lying flat in a bed with wires appearing from everywhere, I spoke with her however she could not reply but was making light groaning noises. Her mum then spoke with her and she started to come around, saying “Mummy, what happened?”

The consultant encouraged us to keep speaking with her and she clearly became more lucid albeit extremely confused. Her speech was clear, head movement was good however she remained extremely confused. “But what happened” she said. We received a thumbs up from the consultant who was standing at the bottom of the bed. That’s what I expect to see he said. No need for sedation. I have never experienced such a sense of relief I truly cannot explain this sensation at this point. He took us to one side and explained that we would be moving to ICU shortly.

At this point I should offer out the importance of having understanding and caring work colleagues and bosses. Within 40 minutes of this incident occurring I had received a text from my senior boss offering his support and telling me to forget about work. I cannot emphasise how important this support was in the long road to recovery.

Anyway, we moved to ICU. The acute care provided by the medical staff was nothing short of exceptional. They looked after Susan way beyond my expectations and also looked after me. I was given a side room with a sofa bed. I could sit with Susan as often as I wanted…. And I did. When I first went through she was semi awake. She had the most beautiful smile when she saw me, despite having wires protruding from everywhere. The consultant explained that they were keeping her stable and were starting to look at eliminating causes and that should bring them to a conclusion of why this occurred and what should be done about it. I sat with Susan for hours. It was very peaceful in ICU, soft music playing and dimmed lighting.

“What happened?” Susan asked, I explained briefly to her as I didn’t want to frighten her. “Oh that’s scary” she replied. “Did I die?”, “Did I have a heart attack?”,  “You saved my life?” The same questions continued on for hours . The nurse explained to me that this was normal to suffer short term memory loss however it may be the case that longer memory will be lost too. We would have to wait and see. The “What happened?” question went on and on… and I answered the same each time. I had a few hours sleep once Susan was sleeping .

I spent some time with her in the morning and then headed home for a shower, change of clothes, gather myself together and a return . I returned 3 or 4 hours later. I recall clearly the clothes I was wearing that day . I still have them but can’t wear them anymore. Strange, its maybe just me. On my return Susan was sitting up , still in ICU . She had been for an echo and was to go for an MRI. VF was explained to me at this stage by the consultant. That’s when I started my PHD in heart conditions and SCA, lol.

We were still going round in circles with the conversation, “What happened?” I didn’t mind, Susan was alive. I could assess Susan’s mental condition when the consultant asked her some simple questions . “Who is the Prime Minister ?“ “That idiot Cameron” she replied. She was able to answer all questions easily. This was good news. She asked me to get her a writing pad and pen as she had many questions but kept forgetting them. She also wanted to take notes as she was becoming frustrated that she kept forgetting what was happening and what people were saying to her.

I also brought her iPad. It was a amazing for her morale. She chatted with her friends on Facebook and has since used this as a memory jogger and virtual diary as she remembers very little of her time in the hospital. The next big move was from ICU to cardiology. This occurred later on Day 2. We transferred floors. 3 Nurses came and the consultant with a full kitbag on his back . She is not out of the woods yet I thought on seeing this.

Anyway, into the ward where she remained for 5 days . During this time her memory improved. She still to this day has no recollection of the incident occurring. I stayed with her for the next 2 nights, sleeping on a bed-chair beside her. I headed home for a short time each day to change clothes and get some needed rest, for some off reason I slept with our curtains open at home . I’ve no idea why.

We sensed Susan was improving when she was moved from a constant static heart monitor to her little mobile box attachment which many of you will be familiar with. By this stage she was desperate to shower and get moving about, she was extremely weak and had difficulty moving as I had damaged several ribs during CPR …. I’m so glad I did … in the nicest way.

So after 4 days she was moved into a ward, we knew she was improving however still no diagnosis of why this had occurred. The Dr’s could offer no explanation other that they would continue to eliminate. At this stage I start thinking to the future …… How am I ever going to be able to leave her alone , how will she cope alone, when will this happen again, I need to by a defib for the house and the car, I need to find out where they all are.

I priced up a defib one night at home, I even knew where it would be placed in the house. In any case, not required, Susan was to be transferred to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, 25 miles away, where she would have an angiogram, the results of this would dictate what happened next however it was highly likely she would have an ICD fitted.

Now remember earlier, what was I doing with my spare time in the hospital , like many of you I was commencing my PHD in cardiology so I knew ( roughly) what both these procedures meant. Susan and I were both relieved that she may have her very own defib. Over to Edinburgh she was transferred, late at night in a bumpy ambulance . She remained in hospital for a further 5 days during which time she received an angiogram (her heart was healthier than the consultant present he stated) and finally confirmed that she would be fitted with an ICD.

Back to more reading. Whilst the care we received was outstanding, the detailed explanation of an ICD, its functions etc was not fully explained to us, we have only found out by reading and asking questions. Remember…. Ask ask ask. Your questions will be answered. ICD fitted, local anaesthetic, I was so proud of Susan, she was and is so brave. We started chatting, we had a holiday booked to Lanzarote, early April, We both thought we could make it (wishful thinking).

Anyhow, that was never going to happen, during the fitting of her ICD Susan (Chronic asthmatic) had suffered a punctured lung as one of the wires had caught her whilst being inserted. A 5% chance we were advised. She was to stay in at least a further 24 hours. Any way… home time the following day. 12 days later we were on our way home after a life changing experience . “This feels like a dream” Susan said to me, “Like it never happened to me, I don’t remember a thing”…

Our journey was only beginning…

…To be continued

Episode 1, part 1: But what happened?

Post by Stuart Menzies

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 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 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.

Image result for asdaOn 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 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 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.

My EMDR conclusion

Post by Lisa Snopek

Having recently opened up about my PTSD diagnosis and my journey into the world of EMDR therapy, I decided a conclusion was needed.

I needed to let others know that you can come out of the condition, successfully on the other side. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) does not have to take control of you and your life forever.

I needed twelve sessions of  Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)  and I was given it on the NHS.

I finished my therapy feeling much more educated and mentally aware of how my brain and my body works. They work in tune, and if the tuning is out, then the effects can be detrimental. I am amazed at how clever and effective this treatment is.

It can be the alternative to taking psychiatric medication for years.

I am PTSD free now and I have been discharged from the wellness clinic.

I can calmly think about my three episodes of cardiac arrest that were caused by ventricular fibrillation whereas in my previous article, I described what a physical and emotional wreck I could become in seconds.  I am now able to recall my memories unemotionally and they no longer fill me with fear or panic.

I can think back to my most horrifying flashback of standing in my father in law’s doorway and feel absolutely nothing about it, other than it happened!

I was unable to speak, and my vision was blurry. I was desperately trying to communicate that there was something wrong with me but having lost control of my functions it was not possible to do so. I can recall it now without any stress.

List, Note, Office, Business, Suit

All traces of the event have been expelled from my body’s memory too. They have been released so I no longer react physically when I watch scenes on tv that act as reminders. I can watch people gasp for breath on telly programmes now without joining in.

In my first article I shared how I relived my whole event during my first EMDR session.  I relived physically the pain I had felt, I re-enacted every time I died, I felt the temperatures my body experienced during my trauma and my body would physically jump and jerk when it remembered being defibrillated each time, both out of hospital and in it. I could feel the pain in my ribs and the pain and hissing in the left side of my head and ear whilst I was being worked on in resuscitation.

I also had horrendous pain in my lower stomach. My EMDR therapist put this down to my bowel starting to shut down. My organs were starting to fail. The body takes a while to completely shut down and so it can remember physical sensations, even when a person’s brain can’t -either because a person has lost consciousness or has died.

Since that previous article I have experienced other memories during EMDR that I think are worth sharing if anyone is considering having this therapy.

I was sitting following my therapist’s finger wagging movements with nothing but my eyes during a recent session when I started to feel really cold. I noticed blue flashes of colour and white floating specks ahead of me. They would come and go and sometimes grew nearer to me before disappearing. I could feel myself getting colder and colder and I started to shiver. Holly, my therapist, told me at the end of the session that I had looked very cold throughout. I was jerking and jumping a little bit, nothing like the amount that I experienced during my first session, but I was aware of a feeling of pressure in my left ribs. I jumped up in the chair, with a sudden sharp pain in my left groin. I felt very tired and heavy and was aware of tingling and pain down my left leg.

I was remembering the lights and flashes that I could see when I had been semi-conscious. Also, it seems that I had been aware during my treatment that my ribs were hurting. The pain in my groin we suspect was me feeling when the medical team inserted cooling tubes into me to put me in to therapeutic hypothermia.  I was in an induced coma at the time, but I had felt it and my body remembered. That totally explained why I was experiencing the extreme feelings of cold. I could remember my body temperature being brought down.

It may be worth mentioning that after an active EMDR therapy session you feel absolutely exhausted. It’s not distressing as you work your way through the memories but moving nothing except your eyes is physically tiring; as is moving memories around in your brain. I would often leave in a feeling of fog. After that particular session, I had to sit in the car telling my husband to crank the heating up as I was shivering.

Pay, Digit, Number, Fill, Count, Mass

The session the following Monday took off from that last point. I was still seeing blue flashes and white floating specks that would fly at me and then vanish. I would jump in the chair as they flew at me. There were also a lot of green lights. Again, these were all memories from a state of unconsciousness. Flickers of lights glimpsed, noted but not processed.

I could feel my jaw, face and neck were all aching too. My mouth felt difficult to move. No surprise really, as I had breathing apparatus in my mouth and my jaw had been forced into an open position.

I started counting in my head – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 and then I started again 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14. I didn’t know why or what I was counting but it obviously meant something.

I was very much aware again of there being pain in my left leg and the tingling sensation.

This was an informative part of the EMDR process as no cause has been found for my episodes of V Fib, though there had been a few suggestions. One possibility was that a blood clot had hit my heart. The pain in my leg during my EMDR sessions fits in with this theory.

I had been bitten on my left leg by a dog four months before my event happened. Though it had seemed to heal well, I had had a lot of leg pain inside and had been to see a GP who increased my dose of a nerve drug.

The EMDR reminded me that I had felt a lot of pain and tingling in my leg in hospital.  My daughter also confirmed this, as she told me that when I came round in intensive care, I was complaining about my leg hurting. Needless to say, my doctors are now very vigilant with me and my children concerning clotting.

It was about a week later that I remembered why I had been counting. All of sudden it just came to me. When the medical staff were bringing me round from the induced coma and removing all the tubes and equipment, I had been sat up in the bed as they pulled and tugged, and it was really painful. So, I counted in my head as a way of distracting myself to see how long it would take.  The memory had been processed finally by the EMDR, moved along to the correct part of my brain and I could then remember.

Number, Pay, House Number

I had discussed with my therapist that I felt the EMDR had worked towards the end of my treatment, but I mentioned I was finding myself thinking a lot about the time that I could not remember and trying to fill it in. I had lost 48 hours’ worth of memory before my cardiac arrest and that bothered me. I was constantly trying to remember.

My therapist explained that as I’m the sort of person who always knows where they are and what they are doing, I was now finding it difficult to deal with the lapse in memory and the lack of control I had had during that period of time.

I answered the questionnaire again that I had taken when I first got my diagnosis. My score when I referred myself back in August 2017 was 60 percent. My final result was 19.5 percent, the normal anxiety range for people not suffering from PTSD.

To help me try to come to terms with the fact that there is a period of time I can’t remember, I had an EMDR session with the aim of installing information instead of removing it. It’s not the normal strategy of EMDR therapy but it has been known to work with cardiac arrest survivors, who have memory gaps.

So, I started with the phrase “I don’t remember, but that’s ok, it doesn’t matter.”

I then followed the finger wagging by moving nothing but my eyes and I started to recall memories from when I was younger. It worked, and I have hardly given it a moments thought since.

This therapy can’t repair the physical damage that has been made to my brain, but it has helped me deal with what I knew, but had forgotten about, and moved it into the correct storage areas of my brain.

Making the decision to have this therapy has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.