Out of survivor mode

Okay, so my heart stopped beating for several minutes last

But I’m still here.

And this week has been a bit special.

  • Eight months to the day since I was admitted to Southend
    Resus, just a few minutes before my heart temporarily retired.
  • Six months to the day since I had my CRT-D implant at Essex
    CTC. The pacemaker/defibrillator is working wonders for me.
  • And has won me back my car driving licence, also this week.
  • And my younger son has gifted me his new(ish) BMW as a treat
    for recovering and to help me start my new job, again all in this
    one week! 

How kind everyone has been.

How important family and friends have been to me through my recovery to date.

I am a lucky man.

But yesterday was perhaps the most important day since January

It started off as a miserable, grey, wet, windy day by the seaside where we live. Like many survivors, I don’t have a great night sleeps, so I was up with the cats just after 05:00. I pottered around, tidied the kitchen, unloaded the dishwasher, fed the cats, opened the cat flap, made myself some toast covered with the best strawberry jam known to man or woman (made by an amazingly talented neighbour).

My wife wandered down to a steaming mug of coffee. The Lady has been my saviour through all the awful days and nights earlier this year. She has been the guiding light, keeping me going in the worst of times. Calm, collected, loving, caring – no wonder her great grandmother was a nurse who served with Florence Nightingale. Mrs. D has definitely inherited the strong, caring genes. The Lady even has a remarkable semblance to the uniformed nurse who is photographed and framed and hangs in pride of place in our hallway. A family treasure passed down the generations.

But here I go again, wandering off on another tangent.

Yesterday became really special when my brilliant brother-in-law popped in. We sat in the kitchen, safely distanced, and chatted.

And I realised he was smiling at me.

Anyone who knows him also knows what a decent man he is.

He leaned forward and just said:

“Freddie, you are back, mate.”

At that moment my brain changed gear. Out of survivor mode, out of holding back just in case mode, out of what the hell is going to happen to me next mode.

I am now officially in positive, forward, excited for every day of my life mode.

I just needed confirmation and my brother-in-law gave it to me in spades.

By way of celebration, Mrs D and I went out for Sunday lunch today. First meal out since 29 February, when I was sent home for my birthday, between resus/critical care, recuperation and actual implant.

So, what can I say to my fellow survivors here, members of Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK? 

It’s simple.

You are the best group of people it has been my privilege to meet.

You have been amazing in all the support, advice, metaphorical hugs and lifts you have freely given me, a complete online stranger who bumped into your world back in April.

Thank you all.

From Resus to Smiling Again – The Journey Back

Friday 19 June 2020

It’s 12 weeks to the day since receiving my Medtronic CRT-D implant. My initial arrest was back on the evening of 29 January. So I’ve been fairly isolated for much of the time, brilliantly supported by my wife and two cats. What a time to be ill – in the midst of a global pandemic!

Like many others before me, I’ll say it’s been a rollercoaster – for me, my wife, my family. Hardly seen anyone face-to-face. Thank goodness for video conferencing.

I’m normally a very positive person. I’ve had a charmed life. Worked and lived across Europe for the European Commission for 14 years (Helsinki, Brussels, Madrid, Rome, Munich…).

I started in Fleet Street as a tea boy at 17 and took 4 years to get my National Union of Journalists card. After that, I was away! Being an editor of several international magazines (still am for a global business quarterly), so I have everything to live for as I approach 70.

Yet the night of 29 January turned out to be a real game-changer.

The amazing NHS brought me back to life. Dozens of people were involved. I can remember some of their names and have been able to thank one or two personally. They are all heroes. I am so lucky.

But I have contemplated the dark side more than once on my journey so far. I do remember feeling totally at peace in Resus, just before I was shocked. I could quite happily have just closed my eyes and drifted off – but the amazing senior nurse next to me kept quietly repeating: “Keep your eyes open, Freddie. Come on, keep your eyes open for me.”

I did for a little while. Later, having had a peaceful dream, I awoke to a team of about a dozen around me, wires, machines, monitors, all sorts of machinery attached to me. Felt like a robot! And there, having come back into the room, standing by my feet, was my wife. Looking very pale and worried. I gave her a double thumbs up. I knew I was going to survive.

So, how is it that I have had such terrible dark thoughts in the middle of the long winter nights? Sometimes during the dark times after the implant, when I was bruised and battered and hardly able to sleep?

I was recommended to Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK by a good friend who happens to be a senior A&E nurse in Southend Hospital. Kate, I owe you a real debt of gratitude for recommending SCA UK. 

This group has been a safe haven for me. Even when I’ve been at my lowest, a message of fear or concern posted to the group has always brought back positive, helpful, personal messages. I thank each and every member who has supported me along the recovery path.

I’m not okay yet.

I’m gradually getting my mobility back after parts of my body just seized up through lack of sleep, lack of exercise, depression…

But I feel I’ve turned another corner this week, am getting my sense of humour back and the bond of love between me and my wife, Linda, is stronger than ever.

I feel a bit like a fraud, to be honest. Others here have suffered much worse and been fighting back for a lot longer. Yet here I am writing a blog. Can I find some words of encouragement to anyone who might suffer an SCA and survive? Some sage advice?

Don’t be on your own.

Talk to those nearest to you.

Don’t feel guilty about explaining how you feel and what you have gone through.

Communication is so important.

Use the knowledge units in SCA UK. I am still dipping in every few days and learning and understanding more.

Through the forum I have accessed an experienced counsellor and I begin with her next week, by video consultation. I’ll check back and let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, stay positive, smile and get on with your new life.

You deserve it.

Four Not Out

It seems only last week I was writing a piece on the 3rd anniversary of my “minor” cardiac incident and referring to Paul Swindell’s doorstop post. And now, I am at the fourth anniversary, slightly older, slightly thinner, slightly greyer, and, possibly, slightly wiser.

I am not sure that another year has given me any more insight into surviving cardiac-arrest or dealing with the aftermath. I view my life now as pretty much back to normal interspersed with the odd hospital visit and check-up (not arrest related but definitely cardiac related).

It wasn’t always so, the first year post-resuscitation was a struggle psychologically, as I think, it is, pretty much for everyone. So if I were to offer any advice I would say that things can improve and recovery can be made, although this comes from the perspective of someone who didn’t really suffer very much because of his arrest and I do appreciate that, for some people, some families, the “recovery” can be slow or non-existent.

I have questioned, over and over, what happened to me and why and how I survived and I can only rationalise it as the result of randomness: the chain of random events that lead to my arrest, the chain of random events that lead to me surviving. My faith in a god or supernatural being has not been shaken or diminished, as I never had any faith in the first place, nor do I now. So I feel intellectually satisfied that my world-view has remained intact. I have a sanguine and very comforting view of my life: I didn’t exist for the first 14 billion years of the universe, and, pretty soon, I won’t exist again (although I almost “ducked out” early) so I feel a joy, every day, of simply being here and being alive. And, if there is anyone to praise for being alive, it is not some non-existent deity, it is those people who worked so hard in July 2016 to ensure that I remained here.

I had a brush with Corona in March, not something I would recommend as I did face the irony of actually considering the fact that, although I may have dodged the bullet of cardiac-arrest, I was going to succumb to Covid-19!

My life has definitely changed from pre-arrest, in fact, I do actually feel as if the “old David” died and a “new David” replaced him, even though this appears to be contradictory. My life has changed direction slightly, I am marginally more “famous” than before as my arrest was captured on CCTV (looking very fat in a pair of swimming trunks) which has proved useful for training and raising awareness (of cardiac-arrest and CPR, not obesity), I have given talks about my experience and I have become an ambulance service Community First Responder (CFR) and have paid back the compliment of surviving by helping to resuscitate more than one person in cardiac-arrest. I also feel I have made a contribution to society by serving people as a CFR during the current pandemic (via several layers of PPE).

Beyond this, I am not sure I can offer any great insight or sage-words, especially during this rather weird time of Corona semi-lockdown.

So, in cricket parlance….I’m four, not out.