So, it was Tuesday 19th July and I woke up excited as we were going on holiday with our friends and there were only 3 more sleeps to go! Dan went off to work and I took the boys to school before heading off to meet a friend for coffee – it was the hottest day of the year, so as I was early to meet my friend, I just sat in the car for the extra few minutes of aircon!
It was 9.09am and my phone rang and I saw the name of one of Dan’s colleagues flash up – not thinking anything of it (as she was also a customer of mine) I answered “Hi! How are you!?” and then she spoke in a very serious tone, it was a call that would be the start of what was to be a huge change in my family’s world… A change nothing can ever prepare you for – my husband had collapsed at work, and 999 had been called.
My family is my world, and my husband had been in my life since I was 15 (although we didn’t get together until we were 26 – but that’s another story) We had our ups and downs like a lot of couples but he was my world along with our boys. He was sexy, strong, dependable, amazing, well organized, intelligent, great at sport, fit, a great father and he put up with me ‘Mrs. demand pants’!!
I could not have hoped for a better husband – even though sometimes I took him for granted and didn’t realize how lucky I was! We had our whole lives ahead of us and we were excited about all the possibilities ahead.
That phone call… I still shiver as to what happened that day, and how the day that had only just started would unfold right in front of me and I would remain totally helpless and unable to do a thing to help my incredible man.
Colleague – “Hi Kirsten, I don’t want to alarm you but Daniel has collapsed – he seems to have fainted or had a fit – does he suffer with epilepsy?”
Me – “NO! WHAT! Is he OK? Has he come around?”
Colleague – “No he hasn’t, we have called 999”
Me – “Is he breathing? Please tell me he’s breathing!”
Colleague – (asks the first aiders if he’s breathing and then replies to me) “Yes, he is – I’ll let you know when the paramedics get here and what hospital we’re going to”
Me – “Is he conscious yet?”
Colleague – “No – I’ll keep you up to date”
I could feel he was leaving me, I knew it wasn’t good – my mind wanted to reach his. ‘Dan what are you doing? What’s going on?!’ I needed to get to him! I called my friend to ask her – if I could get myself back to town, could she drive me the rest of the way? He was at least an hour away and I was a trembling wreck! I called my parents in Spain and asked them to pray as they are the best prayers I know – with a million friends who pray too – Dan’s name would have been around the world within a matter of minutes. I don’t pray – but I did that day, and so did hundreds maybe even thousands of other people – although no one knew the extent of what was happening.
That hour drive was the longest of my life, my friend Claire was talking to me in the car but all I could do was look at my watch. I got the message from Dan’s colleague to say they had arrived at hospital – I replied ‘was he conscious?’ she replied ‘No – he was breathing’
I arrived at the hospital and ran in as fast as I could, not knowing what to expect – I was taken straight through to the resus room where Dan was surrounded by a medical team – he was grey and lifeless, wires everywhere. It’s funny what you notice in situations you don’t expect to find yourself in, and are nowhere near prepared for! He was a grey/blue color but still my Dan – I wanted to shout at him and tell him to wake up! He had no shirt on and there were wires everywhere and the machines they were attached to were beeping.
He had no shoes on – his feet looked huge I was thinking ‘he always did have big feet’ Why was I even thinking about his feet – he looked dead. I just didn’t know what to do. No one spoke at first but then they just said ‘this is his wife’ and the medical team stopped and stepped back – they had been waiting for me – I knew it, keeping him alive until I got there – what was I supposed to do now?
Then a voice ‘Kirsten I am Dr ???’ I can’t even remember his name. ‘Your husband is very sick; all we know is his heart stopped – we don’t know why but we need to find out – we think it may have been his brain – so we need to take him for a brain scan. My mind was screaming what??! He’s only 39! He’s young and so fit! This isn’t happening!! But I couldn’t speak – I just stood with these bizarre thoughts going around in my screaming head – I was in shock. My husband had died and was still dying, I could hear him struggling to breathe – a crackling bubbling noise with every breath!
‘Mrs. White, your husband is struggling to maintain his airway – it’s collapsing. We need to anaesthetize him and then ventilate him to maintain his airway, but if he’s still there, he can probably still hear you’ at which point the doctor pushed me towards my husband and told me ‘So say what you need to say and say it now’. OMG I thought he’s going to die, he said that because he knows Dan won’t make it! I was trying to be strong but how could I be when it was so clear no-one in the room thought he would pull through!
I got my face on the side of his face so I could put my mouth beside his ear… I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I told him I loved him, and I told him the boys loved him – I named them pointedly so maybe he could take it in better through his unconscious state. I told him he was the best husband I could have ever hoped for, that he was an amazing father and that we needed him. I begged him not to leave us – I asked him to fight this. I said ‘DAN YOU FIGHT THIS – promise me that! We need you!’ And then they said “we need to go” so I kissed his face and they wheeled him out.
I turned to my friend and my tears started. I said “that’s it, isn’t it?! That’s the last time I’ll ever see him alive!” Claire took me by the shoulders and shook me and I remember her clearly saying “NO! Kirsten – You have to believe he’s going to be OK, you have to stay strong for you and the boys, and while he’s still breathing you have hope, you have to hold on to that – he’s going to be OK!” (Of course she later admitted to me that she didn’t believe what she was saying herself, but what else could she say – but her words were true, and of course Dan was strong so if anyone could do this – he could.
We sat in a little room, you know the room like the ones you see on the TV when they then come in and give you the bad news – I was trying to stay strong but I just couldn’t. I called my family and Dan’s family, to update with the little news I had. My mum booked herself on the next plane home from Spain which would be in in the morning. My sister, who is a teacher, left her job straight away to come and be with me. And we just waited for news.
The nurse and Doctor came in – Dan’s brain scan was clear – so we knew his heart had stopped due to an issue with his heart – so we were whisked off to another hospital to fix his heart. Dan still wasn’t conscious and was seriously poorly – but he was hanging in there and the more time that went on – my hope started to build that maybe, just maybe, we could get through this…
The doctor at the next hospital told me ‘I’ve fixed his heart – as far as I’m concerned his heart is nearly perfect – the trouble is he had no oxygen for such a long time that there will be brain damage, but we won’t know to what extent, until we can try and wake him up – which won’t be for around another 48 hours – it’s going to be a long road ahead whatever the outcome – but he has certainly suffered a Hypoxic Brain Injury(HBI) and Dan is very sick’.
I went to him whilst we were waiting to be transferred to the 3rd hospital which was called “Good Hope” – I was panicking about another ambulance ride for Dan, but his ITU paramedic nurse was amazing and calmed me down. Claire (who was my rock that day) and I stood with Dan waiting… He was packed in ice to keep his temperature down because if it rose it could cause the brain to swell. He looked peaceful. They said we could go on ahead, but I couldn’t leave him, so we waited. I tried to smile and make eye contact with his medical team who were busying themselves in the room – most wouldn’t the make eye contact and the ones who did looked at me with pity in their eyes…
I knew at that point the outcome was still not looking good but Claire was right – for Dan and the boys I had to be strong. I had spoken with my Dad – who is a very wise man – and he had already told me ‘for the next however long Kirsten, you are going to have to live hour by hour, but sometimes minute by minute – it’s a long road ahead, with ups and downs – but just take it a step at a time. So here we were at the first step – packed in ice and waiting for Dan’s ride to Good Hope…
We arrived at the 3rd hospital and Dan was bedded down in ITU – I sat down to talk with the consultant, who was the loveliest man with kind eyes and a soothing, calming tone to his voice. He confirmed again that Dan was very poorly, I looked for clues in his eyes as he talked but I couldn’t see any – I cried and asked “what’s the prognosis? Percentage chance? Give me something I begged?!” Then he told me to do two things – “prepare for the worst but at the same time have hope – as that’s all we could do”
I still had to tell our boys…
On that day, Dan died, he suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest(SCA) at work, due to a blood clot caused by Anti-phospholipid syndrome (APS) – he received no CPR, as the first aiders had not realized his heart had stopped – he lay in the recovery position, receiving no medical treatment for around 8 minutes, until the first responder arrived, then she started the CPR. He then had CPR for around another 25-30 minutes.
He was dead. His heart had stopped for nearly 40 minutes by the time more paramedics arrived in an ambulance to help him further. Dan died that day… But was brought back to us, he is not the same as before, but I am forever grateful that he still here today and he fought the fight of his life to stay with us, with me by his side willing him to live. He is now in recovery – Dan has a Hypoxic Brain Injury(HBI) and his short-term memory is very effected – imagine someone asking you the same questions over and over as they can’t remember they’ve asked it already or the answer you told them – that’s me.
Imagine yourself being in the middle of something and just not remembering what you were doing or where you were going – that’s Dan, and he gets frustrated – these are just a couple of struggles associated with his brain injury. He has been home for nearly 5 months after nearly 3 months in hospital and a rehab hospital, he has learned to walk and talk again with great speed and surprised all the medical staff who have come across him – the odds were well against him – in fact to be where he is now considering what happened and all the circumstances he probably had less than a 1% chance – but he’s doing it!
Our story is one of love and courage, life and death, highs and lows and above all determination, hope and possibility.
I hope it can give others hope that there is life after a SCA, APS diagnosis, and a Hypoxic Brain Injury(HBI)!