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A few weeks ago I died not just once but three times in a single day. It took cardiopulmonary resuscitation, shots of epinephrine and atropine, shocks from a defibrillator, and finally a balloon in my heart to bring me back. But here I am.

Writers about natural health topics are not really supposed to get sick. We would prefer to pretend we have all the answers, but I have always known I don't. I've always been better at raising the right questions.

Just as I would never recommend you wave a stalk of broccoli over a heart attack victim and give her a lecture on healthy nutrition, when I had my own cardiac arrest, not once but three times on the same day, I was very glad I was in an especially well-equipped hospital. Being in the right place at a bad time made all the difference for me, as it does for anyone who has a cardiac arrest.

Impending Doom and Cardiac Arrest

My cardiac arrest did not come as a surprise. I had had not just one but two "widowmaker" heart attacks three months earlier. Because I didn't have active insurance, it had taken five tries to find a hospital that was willing to give me the surgical treatment I needed now and talk about how to pay the bill later. 

One of the most respected heart hospitals in the United States had provided me with two cardiac catheterizations - procedures in which the surgeon inserts a wire through the groin to introduce copper coils into blocked arteries - and after my persistent requests, scheduled me for a third procedure to repair a "irreparable" blockage in my left anterior descending artery (LAD). Fortunately, I had an especially skilled surgeon.

All had gone well. But I somehow for more than a week just knew I was about to die and only being in the telemetry ward, where a nurse watched my EKG 24 hours a day, would make it possible for doctors to save me. And it turned out I was right.

The Right Place and the Right Time for Sudden Death

About an hour after my third procedure a voice in my head that sounded like my deceased mother told me "You're about to suffer something the doctor completely does not expect, but you will be OK." About that time a nurse educator stopped by room just to make a visit. At the same moment, my regular nurse and her student assistant got a "rapid response" (code blue) call from the telemetry nurse that my heart was slowing down to a stop. I commented to my nurse "I don't feel too good" (less than eloquent for last words for a writer, I know) and my heart stopped.

I remember floating to the ceiling, see my dead parents and dozens of departed friends and family, and being told, "You won't be here," meaning floating at the ceiling, "very long."

With a horrible gasp I woke up on a gurney feeling the nurse giving me CPR, struggling to breathe again. I had been injected with epinephrine and atropine. A heart surgeon had happened to be walking by my room when I coded. He was talking to me to keep me awake. Despite the fact I don't speak Italian, I answered him in Italian. 

The gurney goes through the door to the surgery and I'm gone again. I wake to the doctor saying "360," and my heart stops a third time. 

But my doctor knew how to wake the dead. I came to life a third time as he said, "This is going to hurt," and he opened an artery without anesthetic so he could introduce a balloon to give my heart CPR from the inside out. 

I had suffered an aneurysm, a "blow out," in an artery on the side of my heart my surgeon had not worked on earlier in the morning. I would have to lie still for two days until I could get the artery rebuilt in a fifth heart operation. But I was going to make it because I was in the right place at the right time for me.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Ewy GA. The Cardiocerebral Resuscitation protocol for treatment of out-of-hospital primary cardiac arrest. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2012 Sept 15. 20:65
  • Ewy GA, Sanders AB. Alternative Approach to Improving Survival of Patients with Out-of-Hospital Primary Cardiac Arrest. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012 Nov 17.
  • Photo courtesy of ozarksredcross on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/ozarksredcross/4352081361
  • Photo courtesy of gerald-davison on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/gerald-davison/3725402634