The Start of the Heart of the Matter
By Malcolm Robinson
You may be wondering how I came to be involved in organising these courses under the banner of CPR COUNTS. What’s printed below is just the beginning of a long story that began on that fateful morning of 15th April 2017. Much of what is written here has been gathered from other people and from scribblings that I made in the notebook brought to me in hospital by my daughter, Hannah. Words I barely remember writing. You will learn how lucky I am to still be a) alive and b) with most of my brain function still intact and working normally. I am amazed by parts of this tale and I want to get across how incredibly slim are the chances that I am alive to write this.
On the morning of 15th April 2017 my wife, Ann, and I set off by bus from near our home, heading for Birmingham city centre. I was going because of two reasons. There was a vegan food festival taking place and I also wanted to explore a guided walk I was planning to lead for our rambling group, associated with Tamworth Folk Club. This walk was to look at, among other sites of historical interest, the multitude of graffiti left on various appropriate walls in the Digbeth area of Birmingham, just to the east of the city centre. These were put there by invited artists, from far and wide, for the ‘The City of Colours Street Art Festivals’ which took place in 2014 and 2016.
Ann got off the bus in Sutton Coldfield town centre to have her hair cut and I carried on to look at the food festival before she would join me on a later bus. Leaving her in Sutton is the last thing I remember for about the next week. There is a text message on my phone which I sent to her at 11.27am which reads ‘Don’t get bus to town. I am coming home. Will tell why when I see you.’ But Ann was already on the bus and phoned me to tell me so. If I had already got on a bus I may well not be alive today.
I told her that I had an ache in my chest and was feeling very cold and thought I should abandon the walk. By the time Ann reached me in the city centre I was feeling much better and decided to carry on as planned. It seems, from notes I took as we were exploring, that we had almost completed our three-mile perambulation and were heading for our favourite vegetarian restaurant, The Warehouse Cafe, for lunch.
Nearly there, I suddenly keeled over on to my right side on the pavement. Ann thought I had tripped but soon realised I wasn’t responding. The fact that my tongue was lolling out to one side caused further alarm. By now a group of onlookers had gathered to witness the scene, one had phoned for an ambulance but no-one was offering further assistance. Then suddenly a stranger, Judy, was there (you’ll be hearing more about her later). Ann was trying to rouse me by shaking my shoulders and Judy said, ‘Don’t do that, he’s had a cardiac arrest’.
Judy immediately took control of the situation, got me on to my back and started cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and also closed my fixed-open eyes to prevent burst blood vessels in them. Another bystander (unknown and untraced) offered to help and between them they kept my circulation and breathing going for the 20 or so minutes it took for an ambulance to appear. The first call hadn’t resulted in a response, so a second 999 call was made and then two ambulances and two police cars turned up at the same time! With all their fancy gear they defibrillated me twice on the pavement and once more in the ambulance on the way to City Hospital, Dudley Road, Birmingham.
I have made some investigations since coming home and discovered that the chances of surviving what is medically known as a VF Cardiac Arrest occurring in the street is no more than 4-10% and then only if a competent person is on hand at that very moment. A lot of people might think they could do it but not many would be confident enough to apply enough pressure to fracture several ribs in the process (a necessary and painful side effect that I am not moaning about).
Site of my collapse. Being Easter Saturday there were no vehicles parked there and it was about where the front of the van is as we were cutting the corner, by going through the car park, from Bordesley St. into Meriden St.
The ambulance crew wasted no time in stripping me nearly bare by using scissors to completely destroy my jacket, jumper, shirt and trousers. Punched a hole into my left shin to insert some sort of line for injecting an unknown brand of fluid into me and kept me alive until I got to hospital. Judy had left her coat over me before departing, leaving the paramedics to carry on with my resuscitation. Eventually the ambulance took off with Ann in the front with the driver; an exciting experience if it hadn’t been so stressful. The Police had asked if I had any other relatives that they could inform and she had given them my children’s phone numbers. They called Hannah who, at first thought it was a hoax call, having experience of some idiot making a similar call about their house being burgled a couple of years ago. She tried to call me (I didn’t answer!) and then called Ann who was in the ambulance and got the dreadful confirmation of the truth. Hannah, in turn, informed her brother, Mark. Ann informed her daughters, Laura and Eleanor. It didn’t take too long before there was a big family gathering in A&E. I, of course, missed all the fun, being blissfully unaware of any of the foregoing hullabaloo.
At the hospital I was quickly transferred to the catheter lab where three stents were put in my right coronary artery by Dr Derek Connolly. By the time I came out of this procedure all of our kids had arrived, and then I was transferred to Critical Care where I was kept for three days before being transferred to the cardiac ward.
In Critical Care I had numerous tubes inserted into pretty well every available orifice, was cooled down by a large freezer block on my chest and kept sedated for two days, before being warmed up on day three and allowed to regain consciousness.
Now for a few words about Judy. Without her presence on day one, and knowing that no-one else at the scene was making any efforts, or had the knowledge, to resuscitate me, I would not be alive. It’s as simple as that. What is more remarkable and bordering on miraculous is what I have learned since about her.
Judy hadn’t been feeling very well during the preceding week and was due to go to St Albans to visit her mother on the day we are relating to. Instead, her daughter offered to go to see her grandmother by coach. The coach station is in Digbeth. Judy had taken her into Birmingham by car. She does this fairly frequently and always chooses to use the same car park. On this day she parked in a car park which she never uses. On leaving to drive home, on a route which, again, she never uses, she approached a crossroads and noticed a gathering of people near one corner. Through a small gap in the crowd she saw two lower legs sticking out from behind a low wall. This was me flat out on the ground.
She pulled up realising that someone could be in trouble and, seeing me lying there, asked if anyone was qualified to help me. No-one moved but she learned that an ambulance had been requested. This was when Judy took control of the situation. At that moment I had no pulse and wasn’t breathing and had very little survival time left. I am at a loss, here, to know why the person who called for the ambulance wasn’t receiving CPR guidance over the phone.
(20 months later I eventually found out that the person calling the ambulance had told the operator that I was breathing – perhaps it was agonal respiration, that would have down-graded the urgency of the response and that might be why it took so long for the paramedics to arrive. When Judy arrived she took the phone and put them in the picture)
We have now learned that the chances of Judy being there at all were very slim, but how come she was the right person at the right time, considering that a moment earlier she would have passed by and not seen me in trouble. This is where it gets even more incredible.
Judy is a nurse who used to work at The National Heart Hospital in London and now is a practice nurse in a GPs. She had trained to use CPR, correctly, and had used it in the hospital. Like me she has had hormonal cancer and follows the same dietary practices as me, eating only plant-based whole foods, cooking everything from scratch. She often visits the same restaurant where we were headed for. We have both suffered the deaths of our first spouses and have remarried. We both have medical backgrounds. She was a British champion ballroom dancer in her younger days, but I can’t be sure if I was. Remember, I have suffered some memory loss!
After the ambulance crew took over the process of resuscitation Judy put her coat over me and left the scene to drive home. At this point no-one knew who she was, except that she had told Ann her name. While she was driving she suddenly thought that she might have left her house key in her coat, so she turned round and drove back to the scene. By this time the ambulance had departed, with Ann in the front seat alongside the driver, but some police were still there clearing up the remains of tubes, fluid dispensers and dressings that I hadn’t been able to tell them to tidy up. I hate litter! She learned which hospital I had gone to and drove there. At the A&E department she caught sight of one of the policemen who had been at the scene and asked if he wouldn’t mind seeing if her coat was there. He invited her in but she declined, saying she didn’t want to intrude on the family’s privacy. The coat couldn’t be found but it later turned up in the bag with my shredded garments. Judy later found that her key wasn’t in her coat anyway.
At this point none of my family knew any more about Judy than her first name, nor the identity of the young man who had volunteered to assist with the CPR. Hannah tried using social media, to no avail. Judy, however, could not get me out of her mind over the next few days, which I find quite flattering. She eventually telephoned the hospital A&E to see if she could find out if I had survived. All she knew was my first name and the date of my admission. The nurse she spoke to said that she too would not be able to rest without knowing what had transpired. She told Judy that I was now in the Critical Care ward and was put through to there. When she identified herself the person who answered knew that my family had been trying to trace her and so the connection was eventually made.
Judy came to visit me on my fifth day in hospital, but I have no memory of this and certainly would not have been able to pick her out in an identity parade. This is why it was so good to meet her when she came to our house for lunch on 18th May when we had a good three-hour chin-wag. This is when I learned the full story of that first day and when I came to the realisation of how incredibly lucky I had been and how almost spooky it was. Judy has had many psychic experiences, some of which she related to me, and is convinced that we were destined to meet. It’s difficult to argue against that.
There’s much more to the story but this will give you a good idea why I started feeling the need to ‘give something back’ by improving other victims chances of survival. Don’t imagine, like me, that it couldn’t happen to you, either. I had had no previous symptoms whatsoever, was very fit and on a very ‘heart-friendly’ diet. Cardiac arrests can hit anyone of any age at any time – hence the need for bystanders who know the life saving drill.
How our CPR COUNTS team of four evolved is another story and it’s now here:
Hear Judy describing, on BBC Radio WM, how she saved my life:
Eventually meeting the Four Paramedics who continued my Chain of Survival:
Malcolm is a retired Chartered Physiotherapist who used to specialise in treating back and neck pain. His other interests include music (he plays Banjo, Mandolin and tin whistles in two bands), growing fruit & vegetables, organic, plant-based wholefood cookery, hill walking, cycling and Tai Chi Chuan. Despite his healthy lifestyle and his belief that heart disease was never a thing he should worry about he suffered, without any warning, a cardiac arrest in 2017 proving that no-one can consider themselves immune to this common affliction. He believes, however, that his life-long insomnia was the major contributing factor.