On October 27, 2012, I went through some unexpected changes when I experienced an event known as Sudden Cardiac Death Syndrome (SCDS or Sudden Cardiac Arrest). It is as bad as it sounds!. I have had difficulty dealing with the psychological effects from this event, so I am writing this blog in hopes it will assist me in my recovery and my understanding of what happened, and is happening, to me. Due to my post traumatic stress it has been difficult to arrive at a point I can begin to allow the numerous emotions and thoughts percolating in my body to begin to surface. That is to say, I have difficulty dealing with both thoughts in my brain and the feelings in my heart and body. I am not sure how to allow them to come to be fully actualized so that I can deal with them in a healthy way. It has taken a long time for me to begin to open myself to letting the feelings out, but I have finally begun the process through counseling and this blog.
Saturday October 27, 2012, was a beautiful day and my wife May, daughter Anna and I had traveled to a family reunion in Travelers Rest. It was for my father’s family. The reunion had been very pleasant experience. My relatives had enjoyed the barbecue and the green bean casserole I had prepared. We had enjoyed both the company and the wonderful food they prepared. At my insistence, we decided to visit my brother’s memorial stone in Westminster, South Carolina. We were in the upstate and Westminster is a good ways from Columbia so it seemed like the thing to do.
My brother died on September 11, 2009, after a long struggle with Stage IV lung cancer. His body was cremated and his remembrance marker is located by a beautiful stream at Ramsey Creek Preserve in Westminster. I have not visited the site since the date when we scattered a portion of his ashes in the small stream and I did not make it there on that day. My plan was to sit at his memorial, remember the good times we had, and play him his favorite song, Black Muddy River.
I certainly did not have any foreshadowing I was about to drop dead in a few moments. Still when we left the reunion, I made a decision which likely saved my life. Table Rock is one of my favorite places in the world and I travel to it or by it any time I am able to drive that way. While a detour by Table Rock is often substantially out of our way, I love to take a side trip there despite longer drive. I figured it was best not to tell May how much time this detour would add to the trip. She does not like spontaneous departures from our planned trip. From there we would be able to catch Highway 8/11 across the upstate and enjoy a scenic ride across the foothills of South Carolina. As I prepared to pull out of the church parking lot, the voice I call intuition told me not to go that way. For a change, I listened to the intuitive message. I decided to abandon those plans. Reviewing the map, I decided to travel the quickest route from Traveler’s Rest to Westminster. That route was through my old home town, Easley, and I figured we could detour by my old home on Pope Field Road. This would satisfy my desire to detour and it would take less time. My seemingly random intuitive thought was we could go to Table Rock on a different day. For some reason, I felt like I needed to get to Westminster by the quickest route. This decision saved my life.
October 27, 2012, was the date of the Carolina versus Tennessee football game. As usual when we are traveling during a Gamecock game, I found a station to tune in to the broadcast. Unfortunately, I tuned in at almost the exact time Marcus Lattimore’s knee was blown out by a Tennessee defender. My reaction was anger and dismay as I was sure it was done intentionally. (I have no love for the Tennessee football team even without the injury to Marcus Lattimore. Orange makes me sick to my stomach.) In any event, the game was very tight and I was disturbed as it looked like Carolina might blow the game. As we approached Easley, my long standing love/hate relationship with Gamecock athletic teams was moving towards the hate end of the spectrum. Fortunately May was asleep and did not have to hear my ranting at Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs.
Suddenly I began to feel light headed and faint. Initially this did not alarm me because it was not unusual for me to feel faint both due to my high blood pressure and the numerous medications which I take for this condition. However, this time the feeling did not dissipate. It began to wash over me in waves and I remember thinking this must be more serious than I thought. I had no previous recollection of the feeling lasting this long. My initial thought was I needed to see if this dizziness was going to stop. I did not want to go to a doctor in the middle of this trip. So, I drove on for a few moments. It now seems odd to recall that my last thought before I went into cardiac arrest was trying to decide if I could gut this out or if I needed to go to the doctor. Well, the answer was obvious, just not to me in that moment.
After realizing this was more serious than I thought, I decided to pull over to the side of the road and ask May to take me to the hospital or an emergency care facility. I have a vague recollection of her waking up and asking me what was going on. In my mind, I said, “I do not feel well and you need to take me to the hospital or a Doctor’s Care.” However, she says I actually said, “Something is wrong with my eyeballs” and I then drifted off into indecipherable mumbling. At that point, I slumped over and my heart stopped and I was dead. May was in the process of calling 911 as I collapsed and my head fell over on my chest. She was understandably anxious and alarmed. Rather than continue the 20 questions with the 911 operator she dropped the phone and got out of the car waving her arms. Fortunately, a number of people stopped their cars to help.
At least two men were attempting to help May figure out what to do until the EMS could arrive. First they had to determine how to position me. One man wanted to lay the car seat down and the other wanted to get me out and lay me down on the ground. May sided with the “get him out of the car guy”. Once they had gotten me from the car May noticed that not only was I non-responsive, I also had voided my bladder. This is not a good sign. At some time during this process a woman who came up and told May she was an off duty paramedic. She took control of the situation and began directing the two men on the CPR. She cut my shirt and jeans off. (She cut off my shirt from the College World Series where Carolina won back to back baseball championships. I was not real happy about this when I was awake and realized the shirt was ruined. However, but I am attempting to understand that it was necessary. I still have the shirt in my closet.) She used the AED machine she had in her car on me about three times to attempt to help me regain sinus rhythm. During this time, the EMS ambulance and the Easley police arrived.
I do have some hazy memories of these moments. The strongest is recalling the odd feeling of anxiety and foreboding I had just before I drifted out of consciousness. It seemed as if I was in a nightmare designed by Kafka. My recollection is how I felt completely alien and as if I had gone insane and lost control of my body. I have no recollection of thinking I was dying, which I was. I do recall voices off in the distance which sounded like they were in an echo chamber. I was attempting to talk to these people but I recall I finally gave up and drifted off into the unconscious.
The next day I awoke in the hospital with tubes and wires in and about my entire body. My arms and legs were also restrained. May informed me that I had been combative once I was resuscitated and I was restrained to protect me and any of the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals working on me. It is difficult to describe the surrealistic feeling I had at that time. I do recall bits and pieces of the Paramedics and Police talking about and discussing me even though I cannot recall the exact conversations. I also have some fleeting memories of hearing me being moved inside the hospital and some of the ambient noise in the hallways of the hospital. These memories are from the time period after my heart beat had been restored. I also have memories of drifting in and out of awareness while I was being discussed at the hospital. I could not understand any of the discussions, I just knew they were talking about me. It was a frightening moment and I am sure that my inability to communicate and to understand had a lot to do with my combativeness. I simply did not like all these strange people touching me and sticking, probing, taping, and holding me without my permission or understanding.
I do not recall what happened throughout Saturday afternoon and night. I awoke Sunday in a dream-like state with my memory virtually wiped clean. My pressing thought was not about my health or even where I was or what happened. May was there with me so I felt I was in a safe place. Her presence was reassuring and I felt as if nothing had happened. It did not occur to me what had transpired and that I had been gone from this planet. I felt like everything was fine and only wondered why I was in the hospital The most pressing question I had was not what happened to me, but was “who won the game, Carolina or Tennessee.” That is right; I wanted to know who won the game more than I wanted to know what had transpired. It seems like I would have been interested in knowing where I was and what had happened, but I just wanted to know the result of the game.
I could not talk due to the tubes down my throat, so I asked May for a paper and pen. My arms were restrained and I was under anesthesia as well, so I could not write well. The first thing I attempted to write out in my chicken scratch hand writing was “Who won the game?” I was happy to hear that Carolina had beaten Tennessee. Once the tubes were out and I could talk, I repeatedly asked the nurses for the score because I could not retain the information. Eventually they got smart and wrote it on the blackboard so I could remind myself of the score without their assistance. Other than that, I felt safe because May was with me and I knew that I was alive.
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of Bentz's personal essay.
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