Dying Is The Easy Bit

18th September 2016 was a pretty normal day. It was Sunday, we had the grandson over, I cooked a roast. In the evening I complained about a bit of a weird feeling in my chest, kind of indigestion but not. I shrugged it off, went to bed and thought if it continued I’d call the Doc after work the next day. I woke up around 1.00 am with a sense of foreboding, still a bit of a funny feeling in my chest, it had moved a bit, into my throat, nothing painful. I was actually having a heart attack which at approximately 1.30 am on 19th Sept lead to five Cardiac Arrests.

I still have no idea what prompted me, but I got out of bed and somehow found the phone in my hand calling 111 for advice, whilst arguing with myself that I had important stuff to deal with at work the next day! I was making a fuss over nothing. I had no classic heart attack symptoms, wasn’t in any pain, but just felt something wasn’t right. That sixth sense,  a feeling of impending doom maybe. Despite apologising that I was wasting peoples time, and saying I was sure I was worrying over nothing there was no hesitation on their part in sending a paramedic.

About 20 minutes later, after following their advice to open the front door and turn on lights, I’d got my somewhat bemused partner out of bed and got myself dressed. Whilst being examined – ECG, BP, all the usual questions – I felt no urgency or panic and was even joking about the whole situation, apologising for wasting his time. Anthony, my lifesaving paramedic, said ‘Doesn’t look like it’s your heart, but we’ll get you to Basildon Hospital just in case.’ I was still arguing that I’d go to the doctor in the morning and felt stupid for making a fuss. Suddenly I remember saying “That really hurts now’” and felt what I can only describe as the most enormous bear hug –  I went into cardiac arrest. My ‘memory’ of it is of peaceful, black, calm nothing although this isn’t a true memory, more my brain’s way of trying to make sense of that time.

That amazing paramedic with support from my neighbour, an anaesthetist who just happened to be not on a night shift but up reading when my partner went running for her, saved my life by doing CPR & delivering shocks from an AED. I’ve since found out from Anthony that I actually had two arrests at home before coming round on the floor surrounded by people – a sea of green with concerned faces. As they lifted me out to the ambulance I remember telling my partner to make sure my daughter and grandson knew how much I loved them.

The ambulance crew with family

The ambulance crew then saved me a third time when another CA happened on the way to Basildon Hospital. I have a particular memory of a very reassuring lady, Teresa, on board and just remember that crushing feeling, and saying ‘It’s happening again’ before the blackness took over. I arrested twice more that night in hospital but remember the first and third times only. There’s a vague memory of coming to in the cath lab, of seeing my heart on a screen as they were inserting a stent, and having a conversation with a nurse about my nail varnish!

My poor partner is the unlucky one who witnessed the whole thing. Apparently after that first stent was fitted, I had a further arrest, was resuscitated, and was taken back for another stent to reopen the first.  Talk about a ‘chain of survival’ – right place, right time, and all because of a phone call that I still don’t know why I made.

The Immediate Aftermath

I was in hospital for two weeks and had three stents in total. I’m told I came round two days later thinking it was still Monday morning and demanding someone call work to say I’d be late. Those first days are a bit of a blur but I do remember them. The fantastic doctors and nurses, visitors coming and going, beeping machines, oxygen masks, being referred to by hospital staff as ‘the little miracle’, other patients leaving CCU and wishing me luck, telling me how pleased they were to see me doing so well, and an elderly gentleman who told me he’d been praying for me although I hadn’t even spoken to him. But mostly an absolute under appreciation of what had happened to me! I wanted home, I was fine, I wanted ‘normality’! Little did I know….

I wasn’t fine.

Normal wasn’t normal.

Dying is the easy bit – surviving is infinitely harder. 

For the first few weeks I was in an almost euphoric haze of ‘Wow, I survived death’. Then overnight, reality and, with it, an emotional upheaval like I’ve never known. I never understood the meaning of the word ‘sadness’ until that moment. Bam, the tears started and felt like they’d never stop. Would I ever feel like ‘me’ again, when would life return to ‘normal’? 

I’ve been left with a number of physical medical problems: emotionally & psychologically the fallout from surviving death is hard to cope with, and fear, anxiety, depression & PTSD is, I now know, common in cardiac arrest survivors. 

And now … ?

Life changes! My memory is shot! I never did make my meeting or even make it back to work. I don’t have the independence I’d worked so hard for. You lose some of yourself somehow. I felt like I’d come back, but had left something behind. My personality has changed; I suffer fools less gladly, I’m calmer in some ways, but so much angrier in others. I don’t want to ‘sweat the small stuff’ and I want to really live.

I realised that we all imagine that dying is the end, your belief system is completely shattered when you survive dying! I was so blessed to, one night while sitting in tears, stumble across an amazing Facebook group, Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK. I posted how I was feeling and the response was incredible. People out there understood, I wasn’t alone, and  I wasn’t going completely insane!  This group has helped make some sense of my new ‘normal’.

Despite all that, I know statistics show that only 8% of people suffering a cardiac arrest at home survive! Thanks to EEAST and Essex Cardiothoracic Centre, I consider myself immensely lucky and couldn’t be more grateful to those that saved me that night. 

Charlie with daughter and grandchildren

I am now 48 years old, and thanks to these amazing people I am still here to see my 5 yr old grandson, and newly born granddaughter grow up. I’m here to continue living & loving my family and my life. 

On the 9th June 2018, I was privileged to become a Guinness World Record Holder along with 126 others from across the UK, for the largest gathering of cardiac arrest survivors in one place, at Basildon Hospital. This was a true celebration of life.  And I’m currently the Chair of a local group in my village, working to provide public defibrillators in our community.

I’ve been involved in instigating a Hospital Heroes award for my Cardiologist, who supports SCA UK. He won! On my 2nd anniversary, 19th September 2018, I finally got to put names and faces to my lifesavers! One of the most emotional experiences of my life! How do you thank people for the gift of your life?

Charlie and the ambulance crew (close up)

I truly cannot say ‘Thank You’ enough, or find ways to express my gratitude to all those who made living possible! It was an overwhelming day, for the four paramedics and ambulance crew, as well as for my family and me. I got some questions answered too, which helped with some of my ‘lost’ moments. They got to see the results of their work, and seemed very happy at the outcome. There’s no describing the emotions running through me when I finally met them.

Yes life is different, but time, my family and friends, SCA UK (& the ongoing support of a very good psychologist!) continue to help me make some sense of it all. It’s been a good excuse never to cook a Sunday Roast since….

The cardiac arrests may have tried to take my life, but I’m a survivor.

I’m taking ‘ME’ back!

I’m not a poet, but I wrote this a while back about my experiences:

Funny feeling in my chest
Time to lay down, time to rest
Awake, foreboding, don’t feel right
Don’t yet know I will die tonight

Paramedic checks my heart
Massive bear hug, just the start
Peaceful, black, time stops still
My body gives in, it has no will

Ceiling, faces, shining bright
Hurts my eyes, this isn’t right
Ambulance, sirens, wailing, shrill
My life will end four more times still

Watch my heart upon a screen
Chance of surviving is pretty lean
See the arteries, talk of clots
Alarms go off, my heart just stops

Hospital, doctors, they didn’t shirk
I think I might be late for work
Worried faces, a loving look
Five cardiac arrests, my life they took

Life goes on, but not the same
Something missing, no one to blame
Sadness, panic, emotions raw
No one knows the things I saw

Pain, confusion, numerous meds
Days I can’t get out of bed
The aftermath of death is hard
The odds all changed on the turn of a card

I died that night but yet I’m here
What’s the reason? It’s not clear
My grandson’s smile, a hug, a kiss
The things I’m grateful not to miss

Life’s upside down, it’s round & round
Sense no longer can be found
Normality, for that I strive
I died that night – but I’m alive.

Charlie Dickens

EMDR, one year on

Last year we had a couple of posts by Lisa Snopek on some treatment she was having for post SCA PTSD. Some time has passed and I was interested to know how she had been getting on since her last session. You can read her original posts at EMDR experience and EMDR conclusion.

Post by Lisa Snopek

It’s been a year since my last EMDR blog.

 I am doing absolutely fine. 

I am back to “normal” if anyone could actually ever describe me as normal.

I have been keeping busy.

I am 21 months down the line and things are very much plodding ahead like it [Lisas SCA] never even happened. 

I am still working as a Hotel Receptionist, doing lots of hours. Though recently after the madness of Christmas and New Year, I had to take a week and a bit off.  I found myself physically exhausted with muscle pain in my lower back and in my left shoulder and suffering from excessive amounts of indigestion.

Reporting to the Dr. that I had been suffering from pain in my left arm all day caused a hive of activity. A&E were phoned and warned I was coming in. The surgery nurses had to come in so the Dr. wasn’t all alone with me, just in case and the Defibrillator was brought straight into the room. The nurse switched it on, apparently, it was a “good idea to test the batteries.”

“There will come a time when we won’t be so worried” the GP said to me and “did I know that he had a Heart Attack in 2017?”

“No, I hadn’t known that” and that’s why he explained to me “he also tended to panic.” It struck me  that a GP also gets that, I am not certain, is it or is it not, do I get it checked or not feeling.

Six hours spent in A&E put everyone’s minds at rest that my heart was behaving itself, showing up nothing other than my Ectopic Beats which for me are a normal abnormality.

I needed physio and will need a camera putting down to see what is going on to cause all this indigestion was the final outcome. I’m still waiting on the camera but I booked myself in for private Physio sessions as I was not willing to wait weeks and weeks for an appointment.

Acupuncture, Massage and strengthening exercises on my Yoga mat have been practised over and over again in my dining room.

Exercising, at an hour long class each week and running on the running machine was my normal routine to keep happy and healthy before I started needing to wear the muscle tape.

Meditating as many times a week that I can helps me to destress and zone out, as well as meeting up with friends and having a good laugh.

The PTSD is now a tiny part of my life. I cant say that I don’t think about the Sudden Cardiac Arrests I had every single day because I do, but I don’t feel upset at them happening or ever think why did it have to be me. In fact, some good things have happened to me since they occurred.

Such as discovering family I didn’t even know that I had, all through trying to check if there was anything underlying with my genetic DNA.

Also, I started writing again, all Paul Swindell’s fault. He put out a message requesting articles for the website. I was struggling with the Hypoxic injury to my brain and the PTSD and was finding pulling words forward difficult. I would get confused, I would be close but not quite on the spot.

The funniest one I can recall is when my son asked me “what was wrong with his eyes again, as he had forgotten.” There was me, telling him he had eye drops because he had chlamydia. What I had been trying to say was that he had conjunctivitis.  I was close!

Writing the articles, helped me build new pathways in my brain. We only have a window of time to build them as the holes that are made by the lack of oxygen cannot heal over. I was noticing improvements from week to week the more I used my head, and carried on doing so until a year and a half later. I then realised that was it, what I had achieved had to last.   The good thing was though at the start of my journey, the online Thesaurus was always needed but now, I can pull the word forward. I may have to think about it, but there’s no rush.

I haven’t got upset for a very long time now. It rarely happens. The last time I did was when I went to see Miss Saigon last year. I had finished having the EMDR sessions and was sat watching.

 I knew the story and I knew what was going to happen at the end.

When Kim did shoot herself and fell dramatically to the floor, pretending to be dead, I instantly broke down in tears. Tears that would not stop falling. The way that she fell, It was fast, it was dramatic, it really could have been me!

I’m glad to say that has been the only instance since the EMDR therapy that I have become upset.

I always look out for posts on the Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK Facebook group, and look out for anyone who puts a post up about PTSD, because I am more than willing to make contact with people and share my experience with them.

What I have learned from having the condition is that our minds help to create our actual reality, so what we think about day to day is very important.

All in all, everything has been going on ok.