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Sunday 8th September 2013
There was nothing unusual that happened beforehand. No warnings. I hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary prior to the event. In fact, I had had a pretty quiet weekend. I had stayed home Friday night. Saturday I had done a bit of cleaning and food shopping and stayed home alone Saturday night. Sunday morning I woke as normal and felt fine. I had one thing to do; a friend of mine had ordered a fridge from Argos in Meadowhall shopping Centre and I had agreed to go and collect it.
I showered and set off for Meadowhall. On arrival at Meadowhall, I found a car park space very close to Argos and I remember thinking it was my lucky day. I had had nothing to eat so I decided to go to the food court for food.
Then I woke up, or rather I was woken up. I was in a strange room which I couldn’t see very well. There was a man’s’ voice talking to me. I remember the voice but I remember very little of what was being said. I was being told not to panic. There was a woman there too. The voice said something about it being Tuesday. Nothing made sense and I knew it wasn’t Tuesday, it was Sunday. I tried to remember where I had been last night. How had I got this drunk? I tried to move and then I felt people around me trying to stop me. They didn’t need to because that’s when I felt the pain. What the hell had happened to my chest and why couldn’t I move without being in so much pain? Why did my head hurt?
As the weeks went on, I started to remember a bit more. I remember walking past Argos. I remember going into the food hall. I remember ordering roast chicken dinner and a large Yorkshire pudding. The food court had recently been refurbished by the company I work for. I remember looking around as I hadn’t seen it before and I remember going to sit down and I remember where I sat. That’s it. At no point do I remember feeling unwell at all. Everything from this point onwards until waking up in the hospital 2 days later, I have been told by the people involved.
I was sat on a high stool and I just dropped to the floor. I banged my head quite badly and someone near me thought I had been knocked unconscious by the bang to the head, but luckily for me there was a nurse sat nearby who had seen I was out cold before I hit the floor and had realised straight away. I had suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). I had got some food lodged in my throat and even though I had fallen into a coma, I was choking. There was some confusion as to whether or not I was choking before I had the SCA. Again, luckily for me, the food court is next to the management offices and a well-rehearsed plan of action was implemented. The security staff got to me very quickly, the area was cleared and I was brought back from the dead in five and a half minutes with a shock from an AED, and a team of 7 security guards, 2 police officers and the nurse who had been sat nearby.
Another team of security guards were quickly dispatched to every entrance by road to the shopping centre so that the ambulance could be directed to the correct place as quickly as possible. Also, because of the seriousness of the event and the location, multiple ambulances were dispatched in case the first one was held up. In the ambulance, I had to be shocked again as I suffered a further arrest. I have since met the paramedic who shocked me and he was delighted to see me as apparently I am the third person he had shocked but the first to survive. At this point I feel I should explain a little about my personal circumstances at the time. I come from a very small family, and I have no brothers, sisters, and no cousins. My mum passed away in 1989 and my only living relatives at the time were my dad who was then 84, and an uncle aged 78. I had been separated from my wife for 3 years and she had moved to Malaysia. I was living alone, and working for a Joinery and Metalwork manufacturer where I had been for 18 years. I also owned a Thai massage shop which was original my wife’s when we split up.
The police and security at Meadowhall were in shock. They had brought me back but I didn’t look good. I had turned blue and my eyes had rolled, and they didn’t expect me to pull through. A police car was sent to my dad and as he lived quite a distance from the hospital, he was sped across the city. He was taken straight to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where I had been placed. Before he was allowed to see me, he was taken into a room by a doctor and told that they believed that I had 50% chance of surviving; and that there was a good chance that if I did survive then I would have suffered some form of brain damage, and he should prepare himself that I could be a very different person if I woke up. By this time they had put me in an induced coma so that I didn’t wake up too soon.
I had a few visitors while I was in a coma and later the nurse told me who had been but as with a few other things, I have forgotten who they were. One though, I will never forget. Thailand is a Buddhist country and Thai people are very loyal to their religion, and through the shop I have made many friends in the Thai communities so after I had woken up, it came as no surprise to me that a mystery woman had turned up at the hospital and stayed late in the night, holding my hand and praying. I had got a good idea who it was and I was right, it was a woman who I had been good friends with for a good few years but what made this particularly special was that she suffered with a fear of hospitals to the point that when she needed treatment herself, she wouldn’t go to do it; so to know that she has overcome this fear and sat with me was very special.
The days I spent in ICU are to say the least a bit of a blur and I can remember very little. The first visitor I had after I woke up was my friend and neighbour Margaret. The police, not knowing I lived alone had gone to my flat as well as my dad’s on the day of the cardiac arrest and as they were knocking on my door, she explained who she was and they told her what had happened. From that moment on, Margaret was a star. She did everything that needed to be done; she let the shop know, she went and got my things back that I had on me although my clothes had to be thrown away as they had been cut to get to me quickly and I had been sick all over them (and one of the security guards as I learned later!)
Until this point, I didn’t even know you could be sick while unconscious but it seems you can so hey! I’ve learnt something. She let my workplace know where I was. I’d just put my flat on the market and she even contacted the estate agents and dealt with viewings for me. I hadn’t been out of the coma very long when Margaret had come and apparently my first words were “how’s the shop?” The shop was fine because Margaret had made sure of that too. Phones weren’t allowed in there but they made an exception so that Margaret could bring my phone to me and show me all the messages of support on my Facebook wall. I counted them later, there were 148. Facebook was later to play various parts in my recovery but for now I was still very dazed and weak, but it was nice to read them all and I managed to type a little post of my own. It simply said “I’m awake now. Thank you”. I think I must have slept quite a lot for the following couple of days. I remember a guy I knew, but not well coming to see me and I found out he had blagged his way in by saying he was close family. I also remember that the nurse from Meadowhall came to see me but I don’t know who he was, and I fell asleep while he was there, and sadly I have never seen him since. Hopefully one day I might set to meet him to thank him properly. After a couple of days I was taken off the machines I was hooked up to, and put in another room, but still with constant observation. I remember little about this other than I was in a lot of discomfort and none if it was actually my heart. I now know I had 4 broken ribs from the initial CPR, I still had my head wound, I had contracted pneumonia whilst in a coma and I had suffered 2 allergic reactions to medicines I was given when I was first admitted which had caused my neck and throat to swell up. I had developed a cough which isn’t ideal with 4 broken ribs and I think I was probably asleep quite a lot of the time.
By now, word had spread around. I already explained, I have very little family but this makes me appreciate my friends more and I have always considered myself lucky to have such a large and varied circle of good friends, and although I didn’t know it yet, many of them would play a part in my recovery. The nurses told me they were amazed by how many calls they had taken asking how I was while I was in ICU and by how many different people had come to see me. This could however have become a problem however Margaret stepped in again. She used Facebook to keep people updated so as to reduce the hospital calls and she organised the visiting so that I didn’t have too many people there at once or periods with no visitors. This was no easy task as I have many friends from different stages of my past, who don’t know each other, and not all of them were on Facebook.
By Saturday, I was starting to come round more. My head wound had healed, my neck and throat were fine and my cough was a lot better, although I was coughing a little still and my ribs were still very painful. I still had no understanding of what had happened or how serious it had been. After all, in my mind nothing had happened. I’d slept through all the bad bits. One minute I was fine, the next I was waking up with what felt like the hangover from hell and the feeling I might also have taken a bit of a beating. I was starting to feel better, I was also becoming grumpy and irritable. This was partly due to my apprehension about being in a hospital due to a previous stay there 3 years ago. In 2010, I had a double hip replacement and my pelvis was reshaped. An operation which involved grinding part of the bone from my hip onto a powder to make a type of cement which was used to reshape my pelvis. During the operation, my sciatic nerve was damaged which resulted in a lot of pain, particularly in my right leg and foot, and the aftercare I received on the ward afterwards was, to put it bluntly, horrendous. I was on a ward used for people who had knee replacements and were only in for a day or so before they went home. I had no movement in my legs for 10 days and I was in a lot of pain. The ward clearly wasn’t used to dealing with someone in this condition. This was compounded with the fact that the ward was quite obviously very short staffed, the staff they did have were run off their feet and stressed out and the ward sister in charge of the whole ward had no people skills whatsoever, and reminded me of Hattie Jacques, Matron in the Carry on films rather than an employee in a modern hospital, and I was now dreading my stay in hospital after my 3 weeks of hell.
My fears turned out to be unfounded however. This was to be another 3 week stay but it was the complete opposite experience. The care I received was exemplary without exception, and all the nurse’s and ward sisters, the girls who brought food and drinks, were all lovely and I can’t praise them high enough for all the care I received this time round.
The main cause of my grumpiness though wasn’t the fact that I was in hospital; it wasn’t even the fact I had dropped dead a few days earlier, or the pain I was in from my broken ribs. I wanted my phone, I had been parted from my phone and I was not happy. Margaret had got it but I didn’t know when she would be coming again. After everything I had been through, all I wanted was my phone. Nothing else in world mattered right now. Fortunately, help was at hand. My boss at work came to see me. He asked if I needed anything “Yes Nigel, I need my phone” I replied. “That’s okay, I’ll get it for you. Is it in the cupboard?” he asked as he moved towards the cupboard, “No” I said, “It’s in a flat on the other side of the city”. I have a very understanding boss and he agreed to drive right through the city in Saturday afternoon traffic to get my phone for me.
Once he returned I was a happy man. I was feeling better, I had my phone back and then, as I was improving I was moved onto a ward where I spent the next 2 weeks.
Switching on my phone was when I first got a realisation of just how serious this had been. There were 116 messages plus a whole new set of posts on Facebook on top of the 148 that I had quickly brushed through last time and bizarrely there were several WhatsApp messages from my separated wife in Malaysia wishing me a full recovery. It turned out that the hospital had her down as my next of kin from my previous stay, the police found her number in my phone. It was actually her old Thai number from before we were married, which she was using in Malaysia. Later, when I got my mobile bill, I found it cost me £34 for the call, but hey that will teach me not to keep my details up to date.
Reading the messages and Facebook posts in particular was a very uplifting experience, particularly the ones from when I was still in a coma. Realising how much people cared about you, seeing how much love they are showing you. In many of the posts, I could see and feel the shock and anguish that people were going through while I was lying there, having what by now, I had starting referring to as a little nap. People often say they would love to be at their own funeral so they could hear what is being said about them. Well believe me, waking up from a coma after suffering an SCA and reading everyone’s Facebook post on your own wall is probably about as close as you can ever get to that and it brought more than one or two tears to my eyes let me tell you.
Now this may seem a strange thing I say but I actually enjoyed my 2 weeks on the ward. The support and love I had received from friends was overwhelming and had really cheered me up. The staff were lovely, the food was nice. Margaret had brought me my own clothes from home and some of my friends were taking it in turns to wash them. Much to the bemusement of the staff, I had a constant stream of different visitors, both English and Thai. I had 3 friends who worked at the hospital and they came to see me regularly. I had books to read, and I was slowly replying to all my messages and chatting to people on Facebook. My boss had told me not to worry about work and comfirmed that I would get paid for at least 6 weeks. The girls from the shop had been and told me not to worry about the shop, everything was fine. The landlord and his wife came to see me and told me not to worry about the rent. I was in a health scheme called Westfield, which would pay me £55 per day for each day I was in hospital up to 21 days. I had the rib pain and I got tired very quickly but other than that, I was fine.
I felt quite safe where I was. I was on the heart monitor so if anything else did happen, the nurses would sort it. The doctors did all sorts of tests to try and find a cause for my SCA but found nothing at all wrong. At the time this actually made me quite happy, because I had been checked over and everything was fine. I felt a bit like when I took my car for an MOT and it passed without needing any work doing to it.
The doctors were interested to know if anything had happened in the hours, days, months, prior to the SCA which may give them some clues. They were aware of the report from Meadowhall that I may have been choking on my food but no one seems to know for definite whether this happened or not. I had been under quite a bit of stress for the few years prior but they didn’t seem to think it was stress related, so in the end, it was recorded as cause unknown.
I was showing signs of minor brain damage. My speech was a bit slower, I could feel myself that I was not as quick as I used to be. My brain seemed to think slower and my reactions were not the same. I could tell the signs myself as I had been left with minor brain damage as a child, after a swimming accident in which I nearly drowned, and I was in a coma for a short while then too.
I was also forgetting things. One of my friends, when he came to visit me was aware my car was still parked in Meadowhall car park and he offered to go and collect it and take it home for me. Next time he came to see me, I asked him if he got my car home okay to which he replied, “Well yes eventually, but it would have been helpful if you had given me the correct make, model, colour and registration number”. It turned out I’d given him the number of my current car but got 2 digits wrong and I had told him the make, model, and colour previous car from 3 years ago.
My heart had been quite stable while I was in hospital so my medication had not needed to be altered; so once the decision was made to record it as “cause unknown” there were only two things left to do before I could go home. Fit an S’ICD and put me on a treadmill test. I became quite anxious as I was being taken to theatre and even more so, while I was waiting outside. It was quite a busy area and people seemed to be getting wheeled in and out all over the place. By the time I was actually taken into the theatre room I had managed to convince myself I was going to have another cardiac arrest and die. I hadn’t been told much about the procedure and I hadn’t asked, which was probably a good thing, as I found out afterwards it involved stopping my heart and letting the S’ICD do its job. Heaven knows what I would have felt like had I known this beforehand. As I was taken into the operating room, I was surprised at how many people there were there. At least 6 or 7 but the fact there was so many helped me feel a bit more reassured.
Later that day when I had come round, a nurse came to see me to talk to me about what was available afterwards. She gave me a number that I could call anytime for advice, a booklet containing details of local support groups but these turned out to be geared up more for heart attacks than cardiac arrests; and the meetings were during working hours so I never bothered with them. The next morning I was taken for a treadmill test which was fine and that was it. I was free to go home.
I was told I should take things easy and rest as much as possible for the next 1-2 months and I was signed off work for another month and that I should see how I felt after that. It was office based rather than manual work which made a return to work easier. I asked if there was anything else I need to be aware of or avoid, and was told that once I had fully recovered, I should be able to pretty much lead the same life I had done before. I had to avoid contact sports, but I had to anyway due to the hip replacement. The only real change I had to make was my mountain bike, I used to put it in the back of the car and take it out onto the country bike trails; and although this was still possible, I was advised not to go alone and to always have someone ride close by; I was also advised not to ride on the road anymore; I was also told I would not be able to drive for 6 months from the date of the S’ICD being fitted, and I should contact DVLA as soon as possible.
My friend Liam came to pick me up from the hospital. It was a strange feeling I had. A bit like the feeling at the end of a holiday when part of you doesn’t want to leave, and part of you is looking forward to getting back home. We didn’t go straight home, I wanted to call in at the shop first which we did. This is where I found out how weak I still was. I stayed there less than half an hour and then Liam took me home. I was absolutely shattered by the time I got home. I’d felt fine in the hospital but Hey! I’d been lying in bed all day or sitting in a chair and the most tiring thing I had been doing was walking to the toilet and back. Liam stayed a while and we sat talking but I really needed to sleep so he left me to go to bed for a bit. Margaret had cleaned my flat for me so it was really nice to come back to, so I texted her to thank her and let her know I was home, but that I was going to sleep for a bit.
When I woke up, it had gone dark and that’s when it really hit me. The hospital hadn’t been real. I woke up remembering nothing about what had happened. I had left my flat 3 weeks previously to fetch a fridge. (My friend did get her fridge in the end in case you were wondering) and nothing in those 3 weeks had felt real. But now I was looking into reality. I was back in my flat on my own with sore ribs and wounds where the S’ICD had been fitted. I got up, put the light on, looked around and I cried, I kept on crying. I cried for over an hour. Then I went back to sleep.
I was up early the next morning. There was something very important I had to do. A friend was picking me up at 10am. We got held up in traffic due to road closures which was frustrating as I didn’t want to be out too long as I knew I would get tired before long but this had to be done.
Eventually, we got to Meadowhall; the first place we went was to the food court. I got shivers when I went to the spot where I had been sat, and even to this day, I still feel a little uncomfortable if I go to the food hall. To me, Meadowhall will always be the place I was brought back from the dead. Next, we went to find a security guard. We chose well as the guy I went up to introduce myself to, was head of security. He said 3 of the guys who had worked on me were working that day so he phoned them and asked them to come to the area where we were standing but he didn’t tell them why. They all came but not one of them recognised me. I can understand why. The last time they had seen me was 3 weeks ago, to the day, and I was laid on the floor with my clothes torn off, in a coma, having turned blue and being lifted onto a stretcher. My memory may not be quite what it was but the look on their faces when I told them who I was is something I will never forget. Nobody had told them I had survived, and the way I was when they put me in the ambulance, they hadn’t expected me to. It was quite an emotional meeting. Under these circumstances, the words “thank you” just seemed so inadequate and I really didn’t know what to say as I casually asked “Right, which one of you 3 broke my ribs?”, 2 of them laughed and the other 1 looked at me sheepishly and said “sorry about that”. I said “don’t worry, I’m glad you did”; joking aside though, there were really no words to express how grateful I am to these guys. I later arranged a more official visit to go out and thank as many of them as I could. One of them was a professional boxer and I later went to see him fight. He won the fight but sadly broke his hand during the fight and hasn’t fought since. We chatted for about 20 minutes or so and then they had to get back to work after posing for a few photos (for Facebook of course).
The next few weeks were a roller coaster of emotions. I tried to stay positive about things but it wasn’t always easy. I was limited to what I could do as I was getting tired very easily. I had to accept that I needed to leave the shop to look after itself for a while. I stayed home most days; Margaret popped in regularly for a chat and to make sure I was okay, and some of the neighbours would pop round. My friends would come round and someone would usually take me to the supermarket if I needed it.
I started thinking about why it had happened. I didn’t want to accept there was no reason for my SCA. I remembered a few things I hadn’t remembered in the hospital. I remembered that on a couple of occasions over the past year or so I had felt a bit dizzy; once when I was walking down the street and I felt like was going to pass out, to the point where I fell into a shop window, but I didn’t actually pass out. They were quite rare. I had remembered the palpitations and fast heartbeat I used to get occasionally, again quite rare. Previously, I had put these things down to being just something everyone gets from time to time but now I started wondering if they were all connected to my cardiac arrest. I started thinking about how likely I was to have another one and if I did, would the S’ICD do its job or not? Some days I could be quite happy and not worry about anything, others I would make myself more depressed purely by thinking too much. In the end, I convinced myself that the most likely possibility was the choking theory. I guess deep down I wanted to believe, this because to my way of thinking, if it had been brought on by choking, then it meant it was less likely to happen again and that was easier to live with, so I convinced myself this was the reason.
I sorted out some more practical things too. I contacted the DVLA and was told to send my license back. I sold the car and cancelled the insurance. They were quite helpful and told me my no claims bonus would be held for a period of 2 years and also, when I was able to drive again, having a previous SCA doesn’t affect the cost. Sadly the AA weren’t so helpful, I still had 7 months of my membership to go and as it was going to be at least 6 months, I asked if I could either get the 7 months refunded or if they were willing to put my membership on hold until I got my license back, but the answer was a very strict no, and considering I had been with the AA all my driving life, I was very disappointed with them.
I got a call from the doctors asking me to make an appointment to see someone about my medication. I needed to anyway before my sick note ran out so I made the appointment. On arrival in the doctor’s room, she made a mistake I have come to get used to. She referred to my cardiac arrest as a heart attack. Now I have to admit that before I had my SCA, I didn’t really fully understand the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack, so I can’t really expect anyone else to, but I have been surprised that more than one doctor at my surgery has now referred to it as a heart attack and I am also very surprised at the lack of knowledge in general the GP’s have about cardiac arrest. Not just GP’s either. One thing that does annoy me a little is the way cardiac arrests are often reported in the media. I’ve known the top papers and the BBC, ITV, and Sky to refer to cardiac arrest as a heart attack at some point or another. She asked if I felt I was ready to return to work. I got the feeling that the decision was entirely down to me. In truth, I did want to go back to work. There are only so many episodes of Bargain Hunt that a man can take. In reality, though I was still getting tired quite easily and I think it would have been too much for me, especially as now I have to catch 2 buses, so I signed off for another 2 weeks.
Around this time I received a text “Hi Bby, how are ya doing. I’m working in Sheffield this week” I’m not going to say much about this person as she is a very private person so, I will only talk about things relevant to the topic I am about to discuss, but basically she was someone I had met a few years earlier. We got on well and liked each other but she lived quite a way away from Sheffield so we didn’t see much of each other. She had her life and I had mine, but she still came to Sheffield now and then; and when she did, she would sometimes stay with me on the Sunday before heading back home. This suddenly gave me another subject to worry about. Sex. It was something I had worried about when I first came out of hospital. Was it safe? Would it bring on another SCA? What if I overdid things? And the one I worried about the most, would an orgasm cause me to go into cardiac arrest? Then one night I came to the conclusion that if there was anything to worry about then surely the doctors at the hospital would have told me, so I decided to take the bull by the horn so to speak, and find out for myself. To my relief everything was fine. It still didn’t stop me worrying though. She knew all about my SCA, I had contacted her whilst I was in the hospital and we talked a few times on the phone. Sunday came and she arrived at my flat mid-afternoon. We never went anywhere when she came, she would just come to my flat, I would cook something and we would just relax, eat and watch a film. This time we didn’t bother with the film. We talked a lot; this was the first time I had seen her since and she was obviously quite concerned and was asking a lot of questions, and I was telling her about everything that had happened. It was quite a while before either of us brought up the subject of sex and in the end, it was her who made the first move by asking “will you be okay for later?” I said yes but I could tell she wasn’t convinced. Anyway, the time came for bed and we took ourselves off to the bedroom. We started kissing but something just didn’t feel right. I was a little nervous but I think she was a little scared too. I should also say at this point, there were a few instances prior to my SCA where I had lost my erection, and she had already suggested I went to the doctors and ask for some Viagra, but I hadn’t got round to doing it. Tonight though, it was obviously not going to happen at all, so we just lay in each other’s arms talking. The next morning I made another appointment at the doctors. It can be pot luck at my doctors, which doctors you can see but fortunately on this occasion, it was a man. He couldn’t prescribe anything there as he didn’t know if it was safe for me or not. He would need to contact my heart specialist at the hospital. I did get them prescribed before her next visit though. Again, I went through various thoughts in my head so I decided it was best to take one first on my own so I would feel better about them when my friend was there. They seemed to work fine so I was quite happy when she visited again. The tablet did the job but something still didn’t feel right. It was quite a while before I saw her again. I didn’t know it, but this would be the last time I saw her. We still texted each other for a while but she never came up again and then we gradually lost touch. It’s been over 3 years now since I last saw her. I came to realise what went wrong later, all the fears I had about sex were all perfectly natural after what I had been through, but somehow I had confronted them and overcome them but I had done it on my own. She had exactly the same fears as me and she was scared for me, and what might happen to me. I’ll never know if I had been more open and talked about this, whether it would have made a difference or not but I had learnt a very valuable lesson, that if I was I was to have any sort of intimate relationship with anyone in the future, I would need to be more understanding of how they were feeling and learn to be able to talk about these feelings with them.
I decided that I was ready to return to work after the current 2 weeks had ended. By this time it would be 9 weeks since my SCA. My ribs had just about healed, I still got tired a lot but I was certainly a lot better than I had been. Bargain Hunt hadn’t got any better. I’d tried changing channels but Jeremy Kyle just wasn’t an option. So another doctor’s appointment was made. They weren’t able to let me go back to work until they had discussed it with my heart specialist, which they did and they agreed I could go back to work, but I had to start on reduced hours and gradually increase them each week, which my employers were happy to do. So it was agreed, I would work like this until the end of the year and then back to full time in January; I was also given a less stressful role on a temporary basis to help me get back into the swing of things. I did find it extremely tiring at first, especially as I still had 2 buses to catch each way. One thing I noticed straight away, when I went back to work, the company had got photos of many of the jobs we had done on site and described to make the best ones into larger photos that could be hung on walls in the office. Now when you walked into the main office, there is not only a huge photo of the Food Hall in Meadowhall, but it’s the actual area I was sat in when I had my SCA. In 2014, things started getting back to normal. I still had minor memory problems and I would still get tired a lot easier than before. I sometimes got panic attacks, sometimes palpitations and I could sometimes get dizzy. Often when any of these things happened, I would suddenly start to feel weak and tired for a while afterwards. On one occasion while I was walking through the local market, I started to feel dizzy and light headed, and my heart was beating quite fast and I went to customer services and asked if they could let me sit down for a bit. They said I didn’t look good and called an ambulance for me. The paramedics did an ECG and my heart was okay but still beating fast so they took me into hospital as a precaution. The staff in A&E were really good. They monitored me for a few hours and my heart had returned to normal. They were very understanding and told me if anything like this happened again, I should always go to A&E to get it checked out if I was worried. I was to do this once more in the year and again, the staff were really good and everything was fine. Generally though, life was good. I had settled back in at work, I changed the way the shop was run, so it was entirely run by the staff and didn’t need me there much. I sold my flat. The plan was to move into the flat above the shop at the end of the year, so I went to live in a friends house for a few months which was a lovely place on the edge of Sheffield, backing onto the country side. I still went out drinking and socialising, although I was careful not to drink too much, unlike my life prior to the SCA, and I was living a virtually normal life. If anything, I had become a bit too complacent and wasn’t taking care of myself as well as I should have been doing. I was also forgetting to take my medication on various occasions and not worrying too much about it. I’d got my driving license back and I had bought myself a new car.
On New Years Eve 2014, I moved into the flat above the shop. Then I went out to celebrate the New Year. I stayed out quite late into the morning but I was careful not to overdo it with the alcohol. I woke up about 11am on New Years day. I was feeling quite tired and lethargic but I’d had a very long day the day before, so I decided today was going to be a rest day and I stayed in bed watching TV and reading. The next day I still wasn’t feeling up to much. I got up and unpacked a few things and did a bit of cleaning but generally I had another lazy day. My friend who lived across the road from my new home texted me and asked if I wanted to go out for a drink that evening and I said yes. We had a few drinks in the pub and then we went over to a place across the road that is basically a place with pool tables, table football and TV’s above a shop that stays open until 6am. I was feeling a bit tired and wasn’t even feeling like having a drink and in the end I left my drink and went home. When I got home, I realised that I hadn’t had anything to eat for 2 days. No wonder I wasn’t feeling so good, so I made myself a large bacon sandwich before going to bed. Probably not a good idea as it gave me indigestion. Something else I hadn’t done, although I hadn’t realised it yet was I hadn’t taken any tablets in the last 2 days.
I woke up with a start about 8am and 3 things were all happening. I had the most horrendous indigestion (It definitely was indigestion and I knew it was as I suffer with it quite frequently due to the medication). My heart was racing very fast. In fact, it felt like it was a lot faster than it usually is when it goes fast. I was very tired and I wanted to go back to sleep but I couldn’t because of the other things happening. I tried to go back to sleep but it was hopeless. My new room has an en suite, I got up to go the bathroom and BANG! Like lightening. Literally. I can’t be 100% sure but I think I even saw a blue spark in my chest because the room was in darkness. If you can imagine taking a very severe blow to chest, but the pain and the force from the blow were on the inside, and it lasted just a split second. The force had knocked me into the wall. My S’ICD had fired! Sheer panic set in. I screamed. I found the light switch and looked for my phone. My heart was racing more than ever now. I went into the kitchen. BANG! This time there was no wall so I fell onto a chair. There was no one else in the flat. This was it. I was going to die. I was still screaming. I found the keys to the back door. The door opened onto a metal staircase which led onto a small backyard. There was a door at the back which was the entrance to a house and at the other side was a bakery which was part of the Chinese cake shop next to my shop. I stood at the top of the steps shouting. I got the attention of the Chinese bakers who came out. To this day, I don’t know if they have recovered from the shock of watching me standing at the top of the stairs in just my underpants, screaming and jumping about at them and making jerking movements when I was shocked for a third time. They certainly didn’t understand I was trying to get them to call an ambulance because I was about to die. I went back inside and I got a fourth shock. I found my phone and dialled 999. I had my fifth shock which turned out to be the final one, just as the guy who lived in the house at the back came running in after hearing my scream, I was told by the 999 operator to sit down and try to stay as calm as possible until the ambulance arrived. It was there in minutes. I felt a bit better as soon as they arrived and my heartbeat was going slowly back down again. I was taken into hospital where I was diagnosed as having gone into Arterial Fibrillation (AF). It’s not life threatening, but my S’ICD didn’t know that and more to the point at the time, neither did I. I am not going to talk about my experiences with AF here as this story is about my SCA and I don’t believe it’s relevant here, maybe one for another story, and I had pretty much recovered from my SCA when it happened. It did however lead to an increase in the number of occasions I got palpitations, fast heart beats, and panic attacks and I also started getting ectopic heartbeats which combined with my previous SCD, I found very difficult to deal with emotionally at times. Over time, I learnt to cope with these better. I learnt to take care of myself. I take my tablets at the correct times every day without fail. I make sure I get enough sleep, I make sure I eat properly and I try to eat plenty of healthy food although I do eat plenty of rubbish as well at times, and I always make sure I drink plenty of fluids although I now avoid alcohol completely and try to limit caffeine by only drinking decaf coffee. This has gone a long way to helping me live a normal life that I now lead.
My final subject is Facebook groups and one group in particular Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK who are the reason I am writing my story. Not long after my SCA, I was talking to a friend about the lack of help and support there seemed to be for people in the aftermath of an SCA and she suggested looking for a Facebook group. I did a search and found 2 or 3 which I joined. I didn’t find these to be much help however, and in fact, on occasions, I think they actually made things worse. For a start, they were predominately American and the American Health system is completely different to that in the UK. They also tended to be about heart conditions in general rather than just SCA’s, which meant I was reading posts that weren’t really relevant to mine, which combined, with the American way of dramatizing everything, some of the posts were actually scaring me rather than helping me. Then I was invited to join a group called British Hearties. I was a lot more comfortable with this. It was British so hopefully I would get to know people closer to home who had suffered an SCA in similar circumstances to me. In some ways, this was a good group, the guy who ran it was nice, there were loads of people on it but it was a very general group; it covered all aspects of heart health and there seemed to be very few people who had suffered an SCA. There were a few helpful posts but it was more for people with heart related issues to get together and talk about anything and wasn’t really what I was looking for. Then I came across a group called Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK; this group ticked all the boxes. It was started by a man named Paul Swindells, who had suffered an SCA himself. It was a fairly small group which suited me and which was to be expected as the chances of actually surviving an SCA are very slim, especially if you are not near a defibrillator; and it is made up entirely of people who have survived an SCA. There is professional support available on the group, the people in the group were friendly and all the posts are related in some way or another to the subject of SCA or the SCA Group. I found the group to be very informative and helpful. It was also a very positive group. I found all the other groups to be quite negative but the people here were different; they were all dealing with their SCA in a positive way and rebuilding their lives despite having had an SCA, rather than letting it control their lives, and I took a lot of strength from that. An added bonus was that they held occasional meet ups. This, I was particularly excited about as I had never met anyone else who had survived an SCA before. The next one was on a Saturday in London. The distance wasn’t a problem to me as I had a friend I could stay with down there, so I decided to make a mini break out of it and spend a few days in London. The meeting was to be held in a room above a pub in Southbank. There was a small charge of £5 to cover part of the cost of the room and the buffet which was provided. The rest was paid for by SAD’s UK charity which is a charity set up to help prevent sudden cardiac death. The day of the meeting came and I was both excited and nervous, I was looking forward to meeting other people who had gone through the same as me. I was also a bit nervous. I knew some of the group knew each other already and I had come alone. However, one of the group members was staying close to where I was staying so I arranged to meet up with him the day before and that helped me on the day. At least I would know one person when I got there.
However, I didn’t need to have worried, everyone in the room was really nice and friendly and easy to talk to. It felt as if our SCA’s had formed a bond between us even before we had met. As you have already read, I have had all the help I needed from my family and friends, and I really don’t know how I would have coped without them, but at the same time I was the only one who knew what I was going through and I had to deal with a lot of it on my own. Suddenly for the first time, I wasn’t alone; I was in a room full of people who had been through it as well. I found it very beneficial talking, listening to peoples stories, telling my story. It was easier too than talking to my friends and others around me. There were many things that didn’t need saying, didn’t need explaining, because we were all talking to people who can understand them already. Everything was so positive too. These were not people who were going to let their SCA ruin their life. They had faced or were facing the many issues that the aftermath of an SCA brings, and were determined to live life to the full. I left feeling very inspired and positive, and with a bit more confidence about the future than I had before. Since the meeting, the number of panic attacks I get has reduced considerably and I am quite certain, this is due to how I felt meeting and talking to other survivors. There is very little support available in the UK post SCA and SCA UK is providing something that is desperately needed. I have been more than happy to sit down and write my story for them. I hope that people who have had an SCA will find it helpful; that they can read it and realise some of the things they are going through are just natural and that they are not alone. Once you have had an SCA, then it never really goes away, even if you are lucky enough to make a complete recovery physically, there will always be some mental and emotional issues and it’s a continuous learning process dealing with them. I have tried to be as open and honest as possible, not just about my SCA, but about the issues I faced afterwards, no matter how well or badly I dealt with them. I hope that others will read it too and understand a little bit more about SCA’s and also think about what they can do to help. I am one of the lucky ones; I was near a defibrillator and people trained in CPR. I have a story I can tell. Most people who have an SCA only get a funeral. Have you a business that has an external wall where an AED can be mounted? Would you be willing to raise funds to have one fitted or even fund one yourself? Learn CPR so that if someone close by you or even family and friends suffers an SCA you could perform it until help arrived? CPR won’t restart a heart that has stopped due to cardiac arrest but it will keep blood and oxygen flowing and help avoid serious brain damage.
I also hope that some of my friends will get to read this at some point and if you do, please know I appreciate everything you have done and continue to do for me.
I love you all.
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