I can’t tell you the whole story, but I will tell you what I know.
Memory is a fickle thing when it comes to bodily trauma, and unfortunately I have lost or never retained some of my memories.
On the 2nd of August 2019 I had only just started dating my boyfriend J a couple of months previously. I went on a quick break to see my parents, meeting them in Lincoln to see the city.
I don’t remember much of that weekend, only snippets, and I can’t recall this actual event I’m going to explain – probably for the better. Most of this story I have simply been told.
*Trigger Warnings: Photos from in hospital with tubes/bandages/etc. Strong descriptions of my arrest and procedures.*
On 4th August 2019 we planned to awaken at the hotel, have breakfast, and part ways, as I head back to Wales, and my parents south after our short city break. We were sharing a family room at a Travelodge, an easy way to save money as they stay in the double bed and myself on a pull-out bed, which I’m quite happy doing.
I was awoken by my parents in order to get dressed and sorted to leave, but when they did, I said I felt dizzy. Seconds later I began to shake and make straining noises like I couldn’t breathe properly. I appeared to be having a seizure on the bed. I apparently opened my eyes and sat up sharply, only to fall back down still trying to breathe, and my Dad called 999. They thought I was fitting. The emergency caller told them not to move me or attempt CPR as they did not know the cause, whether anything was blocking or whether I was indeed arresting.
I fell into Cardiac Arrest due to Ventricular Fibrillation.
When an ambulance crew arrived I needed an abundance of shocks to restart my heart, which cracked a few ribs, and since we were up high in the hotel a fire crew had to be called. I remember being told that I had needed another shock when we got to the bottom, making seven total, because I had been strapped to an ambulance bed and carried down the stairs putting me at an angle as we walked.
I was rushed to Lincoln Hospital, and was in the Intensive Care Unit for approximately two weeks. While there I had a lot of tubes and monitors on me. I had multiple organ failure, liquid in the lungs, and had to be on dialysis for my kidneys. They took an MRI scan on the 8th August to assess brain damage. One doctor explained to my parents that it may well be best not to revive me, as I was considered (according to him) too brain damaged to recover a life worth saving, in addition to the organ damage I had.
Another doctor, who I do not know, but am of course incredibly grateful to, wanted to give me a better chance than that. Along with a nurse, Lauren, they tested my reflexes as I lay in ICU. I twitched my feet as she tickled me, and squinted my eyes as she brushed along my eyelashes with her finger. This showed I was able to process the sensation and react to it.
I am not sure the extent that first doctor saw brain damage, but I have had no new scan results explained to me since and found nothing about myself that has changed, except perhaps a little more forgetfulness than normal.
When I awoke I was disorientated hugely by the drugs and had both a catheter and tracheostomy tube in, along with a food pipe in my nose. I can remember believing heavily that first day that the really nice black nurse who smiled at me was the only one who understood me, and that the rest of the staff were not healing people but hurting them! And I couldn’t explain to him, which terrified me. A curious drug hallucination.
When I was more stable I could sit higher in the chair, and I know my first coherent thoughts were “Oh, there’s Mum and Dad,” or something equally mundane. I can remember vaguely that my aunt and uncle visited for the second time then. They brought J, who held my hand, kissed me goodbye when he left and I mouthed “I love you” to him. I can barely remember that.
They asked me all kinds of questions, but I had a trachea tube in and couldn’t talk so they used an iPad device to let me write my answer. My movements were slow and jerky as my muscles had degenerated. Things I remembered was the main objective to the questions, and it seemed every long term memory was intact. I remember from then on it was a whirlwind of care. I was helped onto a chair next to the bed for one of my parents visits (who were now using a lot of money in order to stay in Lincoln with me and taking sick days from work), and they looked so pleased I had been able to move, even with a sling.
I coughed a lot, trying to release all the built up phlegm that came from having liquid in my lungs and I was off dialysis for my kidneys. I began walking with a frame and then my catheter was removed so I could walk to the toilet. They took the trachea tube out and put a big bandage on the hole. I now have a neat line scar on my neck to prove it.
A few days later after mastering walking with the frame, and on occasion without, I was transferred from the ICU in Lincoln to Nottingham City Hospital in order to have tests and continue recovery on a cardiac ward. When I got into the ambulance to travel there it turned out one of the women on board was one who performed CPR and saved me at the hotel. She cried a little and I spoke to her rather huskily about how grateful I was. She told me she doesn’t get to follow up anyone she delivers to A and E, as it’s confidential when they get into the hospital. So she was very happy.
I walked with my parents who also transferred behind in their car, and we sat down in an open area of the new hospital. We had talked a lot those days and I know how much it meant to them that I was able to walk, albeit slowly, with them. They had wondered if I’d ever walk, considering whatever brain damage we’d been warned about. No sign so far.
Looking around I suddenly noticed someone walking through the double doors into the deserted common room area. It was J! He came back, alone on his motorbike all the way from North Wales to Nottingham to see me. Not only that, he has originally travelled to Lincoln before the transfer was confirmed and he had to change route, then to Nottingham’s other hospital before finding the right one. I am so lucky, I love him so very much for this. We’d been together such a short time and I suppose this was what made it all so real. If he would do all this for me when we were still getting to know each other, then I wasn’t ever letting him go.
We spent the afternoon together, and even took a photo. I learned later that he had the week before got very upset when he realised we didn’t have a photo together. One of the housemates we now live with together cobbled both our facebook profile pictures into one frame for him. But now we have many together for this reason. Never put it off, trust me!
In Nottingham I took numerous tests, had at least five cannulas in my hands over the time, my blood was taken every day and was wired up for 24/7 heart and blood pressure monitoring. I was put on Bisoprolol to slow my adrenaline intake and I’m still on it now. To this day we still do not know the cause of my cardiac arrest. It is listed as idiopathic, although I have some tests still to do once the end of the pandemic allows me to return to appointments.
On Monday 2nd September I had the operation to fit me with a Subcutaneous Defibrillator (S-ICD) in my side. It looks like a pacemaker, and if my heart ever does something out of rhythm again, will shock it back into normal rhythm. It works by reading the magnetic and electrical signals the heart makes before it beats, and has several levels of shock from minor to major defibrillation.
Yes, I can feel it and it feels very odd, but it might save my life if this ever happens again. I also have two scars, one on my side and one in the middle of my chest. As you can imagine, my anxiety peaks when I can’t breathe, get dizzy or have chest pains as I worry it’s going to shock me. I’ll either black out or it’ll feel like being punched in the chest. Wonderful.
I spent a few weeks from 3rd September to October 26th recovering at my parents home. I sped back to Wales as soon as I could to be with J and be in what I consider my home. They worry a lot about me I know, but nothing has happened since. Everything seems to have fully recovered, except a new box and a few scars.
I can only be thankful I was with someone, because if I had been alone in my shared flat (which I lost while in hospital) I wouldn’t be alive right now.
Thank you everyone who was there for me, I am eternally grateful, and to the doctor who decided to give me a chance.
I will now always remember life is so easily cut short in ways i never imagined. Now I’m going to live mine to the full.
With a heart protector in me like Tony Stark but less Iron Man suits and less cool.
I’m glad I wrote this, as it’s been quite cathartic to get it all down. Maybe it might help someone else who has been through the same, but really, this post is for me to remember how I was and what I’ve been through.
Thank you for reading.