Trust your gut

So yesterday I died again, for the 9th time.

Luckily, I was already at a hospital, unluckily, I didn’t have my ICD to protect me — it had been switched off.

So a bit of back story; having had 8 cardiac arrests previously, my consultant Cardiologist had referred me to see the Transplant team at a hospital NW of London. I had gone to a few assessment sessions over the last couple of years, and each time the results were positive. No noticeable change or concerns for transplant. I was here yesterday for another checkup, roughly 6 months after my last.

As part of the assessment, they require an exercise test — walking on a treadmill that gets steadily more inclined and faster. You must last at least 10 minutes for it to be an accurate reading of your performance, and they turn off your ICD, to stop it from delivering “inappropriate” shocks (the irony, in this case).

In my previous blog I wrote how before I go into cardiac arrest in the past, I have experienced what I call “the 8 seconds of dying”. It’s a feeling I get where I know my body is about to go into VT/VF and receive (hopefully) a shock in about 8 seconds. Unfortunately exercise feels very similar to this feeling – but there is a difference.

It had been 18 months since my last cardiac arrest however, which I attribute to a mastery of my detection of this warning sign, and then stopping myself before I get into any trouble. However, Counsellors, ICD Technicians, and even Cardiologists have all told me this feeling is in my head, because it doesn’t appear on any Interrogations or ECG reports. It doesn’t exist they said, I was acting out PTSD-like “safety behaviours” by stopping.

The last time I did the exercise test, I stopped the test early, because I felt this trigger feeling. As I didn’t last the required 10 minutes, I was scolded for not continuing when according to the ECG, I had no problems. Once you stop, you can’t restart the test.

So going in this time, I was resolved that if I get this feeling again, I would just continue through it.

As we got going, I was confident, I had been playing Tennis recently and felt more fit and less “scared” than ever. It started well, and I got over the half-way mark with ease. And then immediately I felt it. There was that feeling. It’s hard to describe the dread I feel as soon as I feel this. It’s literally the feeling that you will die in the next few seconds.

I panicked, I told the Cardio-Physiologist I just had the feeling, and I should stop. But they said no, the ECG was normal, there were no ectopic beats and nothing else was showing anything was wrong.

So I kept going, and within 3 seconds, I had died.

I remember seeing the the Physiologist slam the emergency stop button, before hearing him yell out “NEED HELP IN HERE!”.

After that, I had a nice dream, I couldn’t tell you what it was about, I forget, but I remember it being a nice feeling — before I woke up to the Physiologist doing CPR compressions on my chest, the paddles stuck to my heart, and an oxygen bag over my face. There were also about 12 other Doctors, Nurses and Surgeons standing over me. Code Blue, I assume.

Being the Pro at dying I am now, I was back to “normal” within only 15 minutes of being resuscitated, and I overheard the chatter between the staff. One of the Physiologists was commenting to the Doctor how weird it was that I had somehow felt it coming on before there were any signs of it on the ECG.

Coincidentally, I was also thinking the same thing — but more along the lines of:

“I F#@!ING TOLD YOU SO!”

So lesson here is, there is obviously some things that our medical knowledge or technology cannot pick up. The feeling I feel before going into a cardiac arrest is real, and it doesn’t appear on any ECG or reports. So, if you feel like you need to stop or have a rest or that something is happening, don’t be afraid to speak up, and don’t be ashamed of just stopping what you’re doing. It’s our lives at stake here, and I will now be stopping with confidence well before that feeling escalates into death number 10.

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