Spouse of Survivor

Spouse of Survivor

I am finding myself reaching out in hopes that there are others out there that may have some words of advice for me. I feel very guilty writing this as I am not the victim of the Sudden Cardiac event rather I am the one that applied the CPR and that kept my husband alive. My story started in May of 2016 at 12:30 am. I woke to what I thought was my husband snoring and tried to wake him to roll on his side. I in a short time frame realized that something was wrong. I could not wake him and he had stopped breathing. I to this day do not know how I jumped into action but I did without hesitation. I am sure it was the higher up that was with me leading me through what needed to be done. The 911 dispatcher walked me through getting him on the floor and starting the CPR. Long story short, he did survive the event with having 6 additional events over a 6 week time frame in the ICU. I am happy to say he is alive and his mind is doing great. He is recovering slowly from the loss of muscle mass while in the the ICU. He does not recall any of that evening at all and does not understand the full impact that it had on me. We have been married for 40 years.

I can not get the sight of seeing him laying there that evening out of my mind. I find myself panicking everytime he sleeps on his back and goes into a deep sleep. I have many nightmares, have tried meds to assist and have talked to therapists (they do not understand). I want to get past this and back to a new normal life without worry all the time. Is this even possible? Hoping for words of encouragement.

SCAFoundation's picture
SCAFoundation wrote 6 weeks 3 days ago

Thank you for sharing

Hi Rosemary, Thank you for sharing your experience. How wonderful that you did not hesitate to take action and you saved your husband's life! What you are describing is not unusual, based on things we have heard from others in your situation, and based on our research, which is summarized here: http://www.sca-aware.org/sca-news/the-aftermath-of-survival-from-sudden-.... We will reach out to other rescuer/spouses and ask them to reply to your blog. Best wishes,
Mary Newman

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation

catnip's picture
catnip wrote 6 weeks 3 days ago

You are not alone! You are a survivor, too!

Hi, Rosemary... I read your post and want to reach out in hopes I can help. I was you almost 5 years ago (2/27/12, 9:30A). Like you, I am both a spouse of an SCA survivor and his lay rescuer—Rick calls me his “wifesaver.” Our husbands are survivors, but you and I are survivors, too. It took me a couple of years of processing to embrace that fact.

First, I am so happy for you and your husband that he survived thanks to your courage and strength to take action and not panic. You are now making so many memories that may not have been. You both are on a connected yet different journey with so much to process in this first year especially. And, it takes time. Like you, my panic came later as I replayed the trauma like a movie in my head for the first year or so. It gradually eased.

I cannot know exactly what you are feeling, but I want to let you know that you are not alone—though I’m guessing it sure feels like it. You are right. It is hard for anyone to understand what you experienced and continue to relive... Yes, we are so grateful for the gift of life. But we have many other feelings as well. I learned to give myself permission to feel them all in balance over time.

Early on, I remember thinking... I am incredibly lucky, so why do I feel so sad... so scared... and so unclear… so guilty... and even grief-stricken? That is normal... And, I agree the nights were the toughest... I was afraid to sleep and watched Rick breathe. It was Dr. Samuel Sears (you can google him... great literature on this site, too) who explained that what happened to us upset our core sense of security, and it will just take a little time and effort to regain that...

I have shared my personal thoughts with other spouses and SCA survivors who are grappling with life after SCA. I hope that somehow my insights will help you push through this, just like you pushed with every ounce of strength and courage in May 2016 to save your husband… Here's what I did to help me through...

First, I went to my doctor and got myself checked out. What you are going through takes its toll on your own well-being. Stress is hard. My doctor was so kind and took care of me. We as caregivers are so focused on our husbands/families, that we are sometimes that last in line to take care of ourselves. In my case, I needed some medication to help me deal with the post-traumatic stress... I have talked with other spouses over the years and we sometimes get stuck in a loop of "what ifs." That will eventually pass as you move through this. I also sought counseling to help me understand my feelings and to learn the triggers and the science behind my fears so that I could move through it. I wish I had sought help sooner than I did. It was critical to my own recovery.

Also, I accepted help from friends, family and neighbors in the first year. They helped take care of me so that I could take care of my husband. We'd all like to think it is like the movies and a victim is resuscitated and better instantly, but it is anything but. I remember that after his release home, days would go by and Rick would not want to talk or engage in anything. I was beside myself with fear that he was always going to be this way. But, in time, he gained strength and began to be himself again. I learned later after he processed what had happened to him, that he really felt disconnected and in a bubble. He would hear me tell our story and he felt like I was talking about someone else. He lost 2-weeks of his memory, so he questioned so many things. Depression is very normal and that is why heart patients may also need medication. He went through a period of denial and that hurt me, because at this same time I was vividly re-living his event and my own trauma, which he had no memory of. There was a dissonance. But, we both came to realize that was normal. He first needed to heal his body; his emotional healing came later. We have come to respect each other’s unique needs.

It was Cardiac Rehab that really helped Rick regain his footing and incredible zest for life. For us both rehab solidified a heart healthy program to speed healing of mind, body and spirit. It was a safe place for him to exercise, which made us both feel better. And, it was something that he had within his control. He always recommends to other survivors to take action and get involved in your healthcare. It really was as much a mental boost as anything. His life had forever changed in a heartbeat, so cardiac rehab and all the people he met there were so inspiring. And, Rick inspired others there, too. So, it gave him purpose.

Later, I think what helped us the most, was getting involved in this cause a little at a time. We started first about 4 months into Rick's recovery by going to thank the EMS team for saving his life. And, after that we did the same with his doctors, nurses, caregivers at the hospital. We acted on our desire to give back to our community to advance CPR/AED training and awareness of cardiac arrest vs. heart attack. For us, that is not only therapeutic but also has helped to save more lives. I like to say that it doesn't stop with the "chain of survival" but rather it is a "circle of recovery" and giving back is part of it for us. We are now CPR instructors and volunteer with our Fire Department.

When I was about 8 months into this new reality about where you are today, other spouses told me that it was about a year before they felt more at ease. And, that came true for me as well. But, looking back, I will share this... while I hate that this happened to us, this experience has brought many, many blessings to our lives that I never realized could be in our path. I can never look at life quite the same way again. And, I live in gratitude every day.

Rosemary, I can only share my personal insights. But I can say with certainty, you have come to the right place. SCAF was a lifesaver for me… it helped me get my own heart in rhythm with this new normal and became a safe place for me to learn and heal. It was SCAF that introduced Rick and me to our new family of SCA Survivors and their families. So, consider all of us as extended family. None of us can know exactly what you or your husband are feeling, but what we do know is that we are all survivors and we all can lean on each other. We are all a part of a special club that I like to call “Heart Buddies.”

Day by day, things will get better. There may be set backs along the way, too... But I am here to share with you nearly 5 years out, life is so very good. My journey continues! And, you, too, can get through this!

With all my best to you and your husband,

Your new heart buddy, jen

PS... Please reach out any time... I'm here for you if I can help!


Budof3's picture
Budof3 wrote 4 weeks 6 hours ago

Jen, Thank you!

Thank you Jen for your words of encouragement. You truly are speaking from my mind in all that you stated. I have been trying to understand why I feel that I am greiving at times even though he survived. I am beyond grateful and blessed that he is here with me yet. I find when I tired things are always much worse. As Jim continues to gain his strength and as he has more and more good days I am finding myself able to breath alot easier and starting to look forward to doing things again. It felt so good to read your words and know I am not alone. I can not thank you enough. I think I will always fear the unknown but I do remind myself that any one of us could get struck at anytime for any reason. I am trying my best to live for the moment and to continue to make wonderful memories together.

God Bless, I will keep in touch with my new heart buddy!


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