These are the stories of the 8 times I died (well episodes of VT/VF 🙂 )
1 :: Train Station :: 20 years old
I don’t remember much about the initial cardiac arrest that started it all, only 3rd party stories from my family and friends who had to experience it for me, and some of the bystanders who were nearby when it happened. It was a Tuesday, I think, and I was on my way to my new Internship in the city. It was at an airline in the marketing department and I was very proud and happy that I had got the position. It was 7am, and I was at my local train station. The train station has an overpass in order to get to the platform I needed, so I skipped up the stairs, and rounded the corner onto the walkway. At this point, bystanders nearby said that I dropped down to one knee, and they asked if I was alright. I replied “I’m fine”, but stood up, turned, and walked straight into the wall – before collapsing for good.
I once got a hold of my medical records, and I read the paramedics report. I required over 40 minutes of CPR, 5 attempts using the Defib, and 3 shots of Adrenaline. I was taken to the nearby hospital unconscious, and I was put in a medically induced coma. My Mum is a nurse who works at that hospital, and a colleague saw her name on my phone. I can’t imagine how that call must have been. Apparently when she first saw me, they were still performing CPR on the gurney.
I was in a coma for 4 days, and they told my family and friends that when I wake up I will probably suffer from brain damage. Once I woke up, I probably didn’t help alleviate these concerns when I asked the same questions over, and over, and over again. Not out of curiosity — just that I was so out of it I was forgetting I had asked within minutes. I failed my first psych exam: failing 1 question — “Who is the Prime Minister of Australia” they asked, I answered “George Bush”.
2 black eyes, 1 broken nose, 3 fractured ribs and 2 weeks later — I had been implanted with an ICD and discharged from hospital. I had an un-diagnosed Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.
2 :: Friend’s Kitchen :: 21 years old
It wasn’t until a year and a half later that I was dead again. I had taken my computer over to my friends house for a night of gaming, movies and football — and we stayed up all night doing so. At 6am I thought it was time to go to bed, so I headed downstairs to the sofa. But I had forgot my phone, so turned face and ran back upstairs. When I got back down stairs, I realised that I had also forgotten to take my medication (beta-blockers and ACE inhibitor) — so turned around again, and skipped back upstairs.
On that third time down, I began to feel… “funny”. I thought I was just unfit and feeling tired from the all-night gaming, so wasn’t too concerned. I laid down on my bed to try and momentarily catch my breath — but it didn’t help. I figured perhaps I should take my medication now, so hopped up off the bed and headed to the kitchen.
I remember reaching for a glass, feeling intensely dizzy and the noise got really, really loud. I held onto the counter to rest, and then silence.
I woke up with my neck at an odd angle, staring at a roof. I couldn’t remember where I was, and I felt strangely peaceful. I felt good, like I had just had an 8 hour sleep — which really confused me. My first thought was literally, “Did I go to my friend’s last night? or was I just dreaming I did?”. It all felt like a dream, and it’s one of the weirdest experiences I’ve had — not knowing what reality was.
It took a few minutes until I realised that I was in my friend’s kitchen, and I had mostly likely had another SCA. My heart was still racing, and I tried to count my pulse with my fingers but came to a number faster than 160bpm twice.
As this was the “first” time I had had an SCA and been aware/awake for it, I was worried and didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to crawl to the bench and get my phone to call emergency, but the other part told me to stay where I am, shout for help and not risk it. I chose the latter, and started shouting for my friend to wake up.
3 :: Outside my Office :: 24 years old
Alot had happened in the years since that event. I had moved to a new country (and somehow survived carrying 50kg of luggage around a new city), and had a shiny new job right in the middle of town.
It was an ordinary Thursday, and I began to walk to the office after catching the train in to the city. It was a nice day, cloudless and sunny, and I felt good — until about half-way to the office when I felt a little palpitation/flutter from my heart.
Having been years since my last event, I had no reason to suspect anything was wrong, so continued my walk to work.
It wasn’t until I rounded the last corner, with my office just 20 yards away, that I began to feel out of breath. I felt my heart rate accelerate rapidly, and I had a pretty good idea where this was headed.
I spotted some colleagues across the road from the office having a cigarette, so I thought that if I go and say hello, I could use that as a decoy to try and compose myself and calm myself down. It didn’t work.
I made my way across the road, and said hello. I sat down on a ledge, and I must have looked ill, as my colleague asked “Are you alright?”.
I said to him, “No, I think I’m about to have a cardiac arrest.”
I passed out for a few seconds and woke up leaning on my colleagues shoulder. Unlike the last time, I definitely felt my ICD go off that time. I tasted Iron/metal in my mouth, and my heart rate was still rapid. Scared, I asked my colleagues to call paramedics.
I had a VF episode arrested by my ICD, which started as 10 minutes of Polymorphic VT when I felt that palpitation earlier.
4 and 5 :: Office Stairwell :: 1 week later
Perhaps stupidly, after last week’s SCA I went back to work on Monday. I kept remembering my cardiologists words that if my ICD works, that I should be good to go after 15 minutes. So felt fine on Monday and had no concerns heading in.
I actually still felt really good — I felt no palpitations heading into work, was taking it easy and had no reason for concern. I made it to my office fine, and headed up the stairs to the 3rd floor where my work was. As I rounded the 2nd flight of stairs I got a few steps up, and then…
LOUD NOISES – CAR HORNS – TRAIN NOISES – FLASH.
I woke up and I was at the bottom of the stairwell. I had no doubt what had just happened. Immediately my first thought was perhaps the most depressing and scary thought I’ve ever had in my life.
“Thank f@!k I was dreaming, it means I’m still alive.”
But I knew I still wasn’t right. After congratulating myself on still being alive, I felt a palpitation. So far, after an ICD shocks me I feel “fine” relatively quickly — but not this time.
Within 15 seconds, I felt my heart go into VT. I was even getting better at diagnosing myself now.
A colleague rounded the corner and saw me sprawled on the ground and asked if I was okay. I said no.
I had a second, separate episode of VF. Speaking to my cardiologist afterwards, after the first VF whereI passed out, my ICD administered successful therapy. Speculating, she thought that perhaps because of an Adrenaline rebound effect — my heart immediately went back into a new VT, that led to VF and a second, separate ICD shock. I was awake for that one, and I still hadn’t gotten use to the sting, or the metallic taste in my mouth.
6 :: Front Door of the Office :: 3 weeks later
So this is where I really started to fear Thursdays. After taking some time this time to relax and recover, I returned to work 3 after my last two SCA.
I was feeling fine again, and had hoped that the worst of it was behind me. My Cardiologist had put me on new, stronger medication, and I was assured this would mean that I wouldn’t likely have an SCA again any time soon.
So that’s what I thought, until again, Thursday rolled around.
Walking to work as usual, much like the previous times, I was feeling great. I had no reason to suspect anything was amiss or anything was about to happen again. I felt no palpitations, and expressly remember feeling even more energized/upbeat than usual. Life was good.
I turned the same corner as my 3rd SCA, 20 yards from my office — still feeling fine. It wasn’t until 5 feetfrom my office door, when suddenly I felt it. I knew immediately what it was, I’d had 5 times worth of experience now so felt like I was getting good at spotting the early warning signs.
My heart was in VT – 5 feet from my office door.
Scared, my first thought was to get help. There was no one around this time, and I knew I didn’t have long. There was a button on the door to speak to our receptionist, but when I looked at the panel, the panel I’ve used 200 times already – I could not figure out how it worked. I knew this was probably anoxia, so thought my only option was to sit down lest I collapse and do damage.
When I sat down, I remember thinking about my Mum. It stemmed from a comment a nurse said to me the last time — “You know your ICD isn’t going to work at some point right?” — great nursing. So this time all I could think about was what I could have said to my Mum if I don’t wake up this time.
7 :: My Work Desk :: 25 years old
My Cardiologist called that period a storm, and I was now well on the way to having my first SCA-free year.
Life was returning to normal. I asked for counselling to help cope with some of the mental side-effects of my “storm”. I was paranoid of Thursdays (can you blame me?), and I was acting out “safety behaviours” because I was too scared. I would stop walking every 100 yards, and I would stop after 3 or 4 stairs, even if I felt fine.
But by now, these were becoming less and less a thing, and I was starting to get “adventurous” again.
It was raining this day, and it was lunch time. Feeling nothing of it, I actually even “jogged” (walked briskly) to the Cafe across the road. I didn’t think anything of it, and “jogged” back to my office. I practically skipped up the office stairs, all 4 flights, and actually remember feeling proud of myself.
But this is where it went wrong.
I knew I should have taken a break at that point. I knew I should have given myself time to catch my breath — as proud as I was I knew that it even a healthy person would feel a little puffed after that. But, unfortunately, my HR manager came up the stairs just as I finished, and began talking to me.
While I tried to catch my breath, she walked into the office continuing to talk to me. So, as not to be rude — I followed her in and kept pace. Her pace. I was starting to worry, and spotted an empty chair on our path. How desperately I wanted to sit down.
But I told myself in my head that if I just keep up with her until I make it back to my desk, I will catch my breath when I get there. So kept walking.
And I did it. I made it back to my desk, with my HR Manager still there talking to me. I knew I was in VT — but was hoping that now that I was sat down and relaxed I could wait it out and calm myself back to normal. If only it worked that way.
I can’t actually remember what I was talking about to my HR Manager, but I vividly remember what we didn’t say.
After a few seconds I began to feel fine, and looked at my HR Manager — she said to me, “Jamie – write your name on the board 3 times” — and handed me a pen.
Except she didn’t. and I woke up being cradled and lowered to the ground by my colleague. I died in my office chair. I took a moment to process it while I lay on the floor of my office.
8 :: Airport Gate :: 26 years old
So after all this I felt like I was becoming a pro at dying. After last time, it only took a couple of months to recover and get over some of the mental effects — and I was back in my home country on holiday — as relaxed as I could be. It had been 7 months since my last SCA now, so had once again forgotten to be careful.
In an ultimately serendipitous series of events, my very-close Granddad became very ill while I was back home, and we were asked to go to his home town to be with him. My mum being a nurse, knew it wasn’t good when they asked that.
So we booked the next domestic flight up, and had an uneasy flight.
When we landed, thoughts of my own health and heart were far from my mind — and why wouldn’t it — I felt fine. It had been 7 months since anything had happened and the fresh air of my home country was doing me good.
But you’ll never believe what day it was.
Of course it was Thursday, and when we disembarked the plane, our domestic airport did not have a walkway attached to the plane. You needed to take your carry on down the stairs, and back up a set of stairs when to get into the Terminal.
Still thinking nothing of this, as I had even done domestic flights previously on my holiday, I made it back up the stairs into the Terminal.
While I say I was over the mental side-effects, they have never truly gone — and I still get worried at every staircase I need to climb. So after making it up these stairs, I knew I should take it easy. So I began to walk slowly up the gangway, careful not to over exert myself.
Too late. I felt it.
Being the pro of death that I was, I even had a name for this feeling now: “The 8 seconds of dying”. I called it this because I knew that once it started I had about 8 seconds until my ICD would charge up and administer the shock therapy.
I made it to the gate — where hundreds of people were waiting for the next flight to board. I knew it was coming, and had only seconds left — so I dropped my bag, and sat down in the middle of the gate.
A passenger asked if I was okay, and I said no, I just had a heart attack (I felt that if I called it a heart attack it would provide a bigger impact for the stranger) — and they rushed to the airline staff to get help.
My Mum, who was with me, had disappeared into the crowded terminal, and my phone started ringing.
“Where the f@!k are you?” (she was obviously upset because of the state of her father)
“I died back at the Terminal” I replied.