I am not from Mexico but I do celebrate Día de Muertos with our good neighbors to the south, even if it is for different reasons. On Nov first 2012 , I stopped into the cafeteria of my engineering firm to pick up some breakfast. I walked to my desk and began preparing my work for the day. I was feeling a bit tired but assumed it was from the Halloween activities the night before. My mother was in town and we had a pretty long run of trick-or-treating with my 4 year old daughter. At around 8:40 a co worker asked if I could come give some inspiration to a fellow teammate who was struggling with quitting smoking. Yes, I was asked to provided encouragement and advice to a friend about living a healthy lifestyle. After all I had previously been a 1/2 pack a day smoker and was quite proud of my knowledge of top shelf bourbon, but I had given all that up to become a more active and healthier person. My habits were mild but I had outgrown them and was starting to see they did not fit into my life anymore. I agreed to go to the department where the co-workers station was and started to explain some of the ways that I had squashed the cravings and how biking to work and getting good sleep was really helpful. That's when the most unbelievable/ironic thing happened. My heart stopped. And that's the last thing I remember. I was 37 years old.
When I woke up in the hospital many days later I learned that I had been placed in an induced coma, my body temperature brought down into the 80s to prevent as much brain damage as possible. The doctors were using language like "miracle" and "unbelievable". A woman asked me if I could describe the afterlife. Shocked, I just stared at her and shook my head. I was in disbelief. I honestly did not understand what they were telling me. I assumed I had been in a car wreck or had a terrible accident. What had happened was SCA. Many people here have a similar story and like them I was saved by my friends and co-workers who desperately tried CPR and contacted emergency services. When EMTs arrived they could not start my heart. One rode on top of me using a defibrillator and giving CPR as they loaded me into the ambulance. The outcome seemed grim, I was not responding my heart would not break out of its quiver. Luckily somehow they were able to keep enough oxygen to my brain to avoid total death until I arrived at the emergency room.
I need to stop at this point and recap: I would not be alive today if it were not for my co-workers , the EMTs and emergency medicine. I owe them everything. I will never forget the gift I have been given. I need to say that clearly before I express the hardships of recovery.
The next 16 mo were a blur. I recovered physically (sort of) but after a brief period of time back at the office I realized that something was very different. I was struggling to do what had previously been easy. I could not concentrate. I had incredible anxiety and depression. I had lost a lot of coordination and generally could not focus. I had trouble reading and understanding what I was reading. Memory was useless and my hope of keeping my position was starting to fade. This for me was the hardest part of what had happened. And it seemed almost impossible to maintain a positive attitude.
I had developed PTSD. The stress of the event and sudden changes in my life was more than I could handle. I was placed on SSRIs , Beta blockers statins , benzos ... I was now emotionless. This sounds bad (it was) but it gave me the space to clear things up in my head. And slowly I started to regain my attitude and strength. Eventually I stopped the medication and worked on natural ways to heal the body using diet and exercise.
Today (3 years later) my mental and physical health is at least on par with my pre-SCA self and I look back on it all as a terrible dream. Occasionally I touch my chest where my implanted ICD (defibrillator) sits and I am reminded that It was not a dream but a horrible and scary time that I survived. I am reminded of what matters and how I treat others. I am cpr trained and vigilant about recognizing situations where I could help someone else. I am outspoken about the need for awareness and AED devices. But most of all I am grateful to the people that allowed me to continue to be a father and husband to my family and to live my life despite the odds.
So every year I will celebrate Día de Muertos with my friends and family and remember not only the dead but the living too.