Life, Death, and the Space Between – My experience with Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

On March 1, 2011, at the age of 42, I was about 20 min. into a routine two-hour run around Lake Merritt in Oakland when I collapsed from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (V-Fib). To my fortune, there was a runner, Andy Hill, who happen to be close enough to help break my fall and provide immediate aid. Additionally, three other bystanders rendered CPR and contacted 911.

While under the care the paramedics, they continued CPR and used a defibrillator 2x before getting some semblance of a life-sustaining rythm from my heart. They took me to the hospital where I was put into a drug-induced coma and my body was cooled down to the upper 70s for 24 hours in order to protect my brain as my heart stabilized. I spent three days in the intensive care unit and a total of 10 days in the hospital. All I remember of this event is beginning my run that day and then waking up in the hospital, days later.

While in the hospital, they ran numerous tests including: CT scans, various EKGs, a cardiac MRI, and did an EPS (Electro-Physiological Study). Unfortunately, the doctors were never able to determine the reason for the deadly arrhythmia that I had and, in the end, they implanted an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) in my chest just in case my heart ever goes into a similarly deadly arrhythmia. I hear that it’s not particularly comfortable to be shocked, but I haven’t had that experience yet. I have since learned that I now belong to a rather exclusive club of survivors given that only about 8% of people survive sudden cardiac arrest. I consider myself profoundly lucky to have had good Samaritans that quickly stepped up to care for me when I could not care for myself by providing CPR, impressively high quality medical care, as well as having previously invested in my own physical health.

Currently, I am back to running under some limitations set by my cardiologist and have largely resumed normal life except for the fact that I’m not allowed to drive for six months following my loss of consciousness. As I write this, it is almost 3 months to the day since my sudden cardiac arrest. I still can’t wrap my head around what happened to me and may never be able to, but I am grateful beyond words to everyone that has shepherded me through this experience and feel strongly that we (as a society) should do more to save each other. It’s been quite a surreal and mind blowing existential experience.

I continue to maintain contact with the bystanders and the paramedics that saved my life. This is both good and sometimes challenging as there is a part of me, somewhere deep in my subconscious, that actually remembers the trauma of what happened to me on that day. I know this because of the subtle anxiety/dread that I feel in their presence sometimes our when thinking about spending time with them. Sometimes it can feel a little like opening a Pandora’s box. Some the feelings are rather uncomfortable. Also, as I have reintegrated myself back into normal life, I have had a few examples of pretty classic post-traumatic stress responses to things such as hearing sirens or like on the day that I went on my first run around the Lake where I had my cardiac arrest. While, I’ve been surprised by the subtle triggers that can bring a very visceral sense of dread or impending doom, I’m also determined to recognize any discomfort for what it is and have not let it dictate the terms of my life!

Additionally, there is a way that this experience helps me understand why many survivors do not seek out or maintain contact with their rescuers. Contact with one’s rescuers can also trigger a post-traumatic stress response. What an unfortunate irony! There will probably always be a part of us that remembers exactly what happened, whether were conscious of the experience or not that we were headed, very quickly, towards our own death before we were so miraculously rescued by such earthly Angels!

Life is indeed precious and fragile. May we step up to the plate MORE for each other!

May success stories like mine become more common!

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