We were approached earlier in the year by independent documentary company True Vision who’d found us via our website. They were looking for a young* volunteer who’d survived a cardiac arrest and would be willing to relive it in a film. We put a shout out to the group and got a great response. After a vetting process they selected 17 year old Ben who had his arrest whilst at work and was saved by colleague. His mum Lisa, a keen group member also features in the 7 minute production.
It is part of a series entitled “How not to die…” and mixes stand out medical advice with compelling stories of survival. They feature a range of life threatening situations: Electrocution, Car Vs Bike, Cardiac Arrest, Acid Attack, Dog Attack and Drugs. Would you know what to do to save someone’s life?
*BBC Three is an online TV channel and targets content towards the 16 to 34 age range.
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 kit bag 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 anesthetic, 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”…
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.
On 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.