This year has thrown a lot at so many of us with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
My family and I have been observing the restrictions since they came in…
indeed K and I were working from home for a couple of weeks before the
restrictions came into effect here in Melbourne, as we have K’s parents
staying with us from the UK. I have missed my regular run commutes with my friends and
parkrun, of course, but have made
up for this by running 5km each day and catching up with friends online for
coffees or beers, depending on the time of the day.
On Saturday, 16 May 2020 my family got a big disruption thrown their way. Our
five-year-old found me face down in the doorway of the bedroom. He calmly
alerted K and then sought out his granny (whose flights back to the UK had
been cancelled shortly after arriving in Melbourne back in March) and told her
that I’d fallen over. My wife and her mother called the ambulance and identified
that I was in cardiac arrest. They performed effective cardiopulmonary
resuscitation (CPR) until the ambulances arrived about 15 minutes later. K had
recently injured her wrist in a running accident, making CPR quite painful to
perform, so I was doubly fortunate that my mother-in-law was stranded with us
and in the house and able to assist. The ambulance crew got my heart beating by
itself using their automated external defibrillator (AED) and took me off to
I don’t remember anything from the Saturday morning until the Tuesday evening,
but have had the story relayed to me a number of times. I had to be shocked
three or four more times after that initial use of the AED to allow my heart to
re-establish an effective rhythm. I had burn marks on my skin as a testament to
this but they have since faded. I was then put into an induced coma to stabilise
Coming out of the coma was very confusing. I didn’t know where or when I was.
The drugs they’d had me on caused an hallucination where it felt like I was in a
tunnel with amber flashing lights. A voice told me I was in the Royal Melbourne
Hospital and eventually I was asked if I knew what the date or even the month
was. I thought it was March, isolation perhaps adding to the confusion.
Apparently I realised pretty quickly I’d missed World Whisky
Day but I don’t recall saying this out loud.
Funny how the brain works!
I was tired and drowsy after becoming conscious. K helped me eat some cold
custard in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) ward to try to boost my energy levels. I
slept well that night.
On the Wednesday morning, two of the physotherapy team helped me learn to walk
again. Putting my feet flat on the floor felt like a big deal but it felt good
to take those first tentative steps around the CCU, with one arm hooked around
the physio’s. It felt like a very positive step to get upright and mobile and I
made every effort to get up and walk around when there was a nurse around to
assist that day.
By Thursday, I felt comfortable walking short distances without assistance. I’d
had all kinds of readings and measurements taken to check that the levels of
medication I had been prescribed were working to keep my heartbeat regular and
my heart muscle strong. Day on day, I was feeling stronger and stronger.
On Saturday morning, I had a visit from some cardiology experts who were really
happy with my progress and talked to me about fitting me with an implantable
cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to prevent a similar incident in future. The
operation was planned for Monday, with a view to me being discharged from
hospital on the Tuesday. I felt elated! I had envisioned a much longer road to
recovery at the beginning of the week. We were still unclear as to what the
cause of the cardiac arrest was and we may never know for sure.
The weekend was quiet on the hospital ward. I followed the physio’s advice
“Don’t get the sits” and took regular walks around the ward to keep myself
active but also used the time and the fact that I had the two bed room to myself
for most of the weekend to catch up with some friends with video calls and to
read some books.
I wasn’t fitted with the ICD on the Monday but I was told that I might be better
suited to a subcutaneous ICD (S-ICD) because I am “young” and “athletic” (not
adjectives I’m used to hearing but it’s all relative, I suppose) but this would
require a stress test. I did the stress test on the Monday afternoon, walking,
jogging and running on a treadmill, while hooked up to an electrocardiogram
(ECG) as well as an S-ICD simulator to ensure that the device wouldn’t
administer any shocks that I didn’t need.
The stress test was a success and I was fitted with the S-ICD first thing on the
Wednesday morning. Having such a sizable device implanted under the muscle under
my left arm resulted in quite a lot of discomfort but that was a welcome
distraction from the sore ribs from the CPR!
Now that I had suitable drugs to keep my heart free from ectopic beats and my
own personal defibrillator to keep the heart beating should they fail (or, more
likely, I forget to take them), there was no reason for me to take up a hospital
bed and I was sent home to convalesce on Wednesday.
I am so very grateful to my family for their fast response, to Ambulance
Victoria for administering the defibrillator and getting me to hospital, and to
all the team on the CCU at Royal Melbourne Hospital for giving me the very best
of care. I am also very thankful to everyone who sent my family messages of
support, reading each one gave me a real boost and I am sure that the positivity
really helped with my speedy recovery.
It is so good to be back home with the family. I am still adjusting to life
post-cardiac arrest and post-implant but I know one day the ribs will heal, my
fitness will return and I’ll be able to ease back into work and into running.
Each patient on the CCU ward had a whiteboard for noting important information
(name, nurse’s name, doctor’s name, estimated discharge date, daily plan, et
cetera) and this board had a question about what is important to the patient. I
had plenty of time and space to think about this and thought I’d share it as a
part of this post:
To be an active member of a global family and to leave the world a little
better than I found it.
Having this written down and shared with my family I’m sure will be helpful as I
settle back into life. Much like the pandemic we’ve all lived through and the
restrictions associated with that, we get to evaluate which parts of “normality”
we want to keep and which we don’t.
I now have a plan from my GP for easing back into work and am looking forward to
being back online with my colleagues. I’m told that cardiac arrest survivors
have a high risk of depression, so my mental health is something I need to pay
attention to in the coming months.
There were a few other things I want to share with you that my family and I have
learned over the past few weeks. I hope you find them useful.
The survival rate for out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests is terrifyingly
low. Effective CPR saved my life. Please learn how to do this properly: lock
your elbows (don’t bend them like actors do) and don’t be afraid of cracking a
rib or two, the casualty won’t mind. Trust me!
Know the location of your nearest defibrillator
There’s an app for that. If you don’t have one in
your office or other building where you frequently meet other people, consider
asking for one to be installed.
Family rooms in hospital are not just for bad news
K feared the worst when she was seated in the family room to have what had
happened explained to her and had to ask at one point if I was still alive!
Offer specific help
We felt very well supported for all of the time I was in
the hospital and many people said, “if there’s anything I can do”. Genuinely we
couldn’t think of anything. Some friends offered very specific help such as
cooked meals, looking after the kids and taking the eldest running: these were
Your employer probably has your emergency contact details on file for should
something happen to you at work, but do your family know how to contact your
work if you are incapacitated?
Have someone you can delegate to at work
At the beginning of the pandemic, I nominated a member of my team who could
represent me were I incapacitated due to COVID-19. This made it easier on my
team when I was out of action.