17 Jun 2024

“Move towards the light…”

by John O’Brien

It has been reported by many that a near death experience can include sensations of being enveloped by light or moving towards a light source. Well, I recently came close to my end and have to report no such impression.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sat on the porch, enjoying a pleasant Sunday morning cuppa in the sunshine when a pain in my jaw moved into my arms and then across the chest. I went and laid down but as the symptoms worsened, I got my dearest to call 000. When the ambos arrived and hooked me up the ECG machine, our fears were confirmed – I was in the midst of a heart attack.

I could tell it was serious by the change in their tone and subsequent radio comms with their supervisors to get a helicopter dispatched pronto.

Normally, the remoteness of our little oasis in the bush is a blessing. In emergencies such as these, that distance can be a problem. It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to arrive, 10-15 minutes to process me onsite, then a further 40 minutes to get to the pre-arranged pickup spot (Euroa Football Ground) for transfer to the chopper. We met with MICA paramedics halfway to Euroa, where a roadside thrombolysis cleared the blockage and likely saved my life. The air ride to Melbourne took another 40 or so minutes. I was trying to enjoy the view but was getting more than a little hazy with the repeated Fentanyl injections.

I ended up at the newly minted Victorian Heart Hospital attached to Monash University and Monash Health. A clean, up-to-date facility with everything functioning and some of the best local minds in this field. It could not have been a better place for cutting edge cardiac care.

They rushed me into surgery and ended up putting a stent in the right coronary artery. I was conscious during the whole procedure and found it fascinating that a little tube inserted into my wrist could travel all the way to my heart. This modern-day miracle was alien but not unpleasant – I felt a little bit cyborg at that moment. I was also allowed to watch the entire process onscreen. Some may baulk at this, but I was in a state of mind to sit back and enjoy the show.

Post-op, five days of constant ECGs, blood pressure checks and incessant beeping of the hospital environment followed before I was released back into the wild with a shopping bag full of new pills.

My pre-existing ailments already took a lot of time and effort to attend to. Now I can add cardiologists and heart health sessions to the list. I’m starting to understand what my 83-year-old mother has been complaining about for so long – one endless stream of medical appointments. She calls it the Medi-go- round and I understand why. It’s a time consuming and frustrating process.

Earlier brushes with mortality didn’t seem to involve such constant interception. Because, by most rites, I should be dead many times over. Seven (110-240VAC) electric shocks (four from faulty gear, three from inattentive me!); seven serious concussions (four in the workplace and three out having fun); five near misses on the road (four as passenger and one where I listened to my sixth sense and didn’t ‘punch it’ through the green as I watched the other car doing 100+ through the opposing red), some gnarly moments on the fireground as CFA volunteer, and a few dicey events while touring the Golden Triangle. If I were feline, I’d be well onto my third set of lives.

I don’t bounce so well as a cat, and I guess that part of the aging procedure is not being able to shake off the near misses so easily anymore. Firefighting aside, I’ve curtailed my tendency for wanton self-destruction and would like to live a few more years yet.

This trog is a little disappointed that, when it all got serious, I wasn’t staring down the barrel of a SuperTrooper (or equivalent bright light source). However, I will forgo that quasi-mystical experience so that I may bother your eyeballs for years to come.

I am extremely grateful that the medical crews, from ambulance officer to head consultant, were efficient, courteous and kept me ticking. It was intriguing seeing how much more focussed and competent the medical peeps got as I progressed up the chain.

If you never pay any other insurance, please renew your ambulance cover. For a single person, $52 per year is a small price for peace of mind. If I’d undergone the same experience in the US, it would likely have cost $50,000 or so for the chopper ride alone, let alone the hospital treatment. If this had happened in much of the rest of the world, it would have been game over, do not pass go.

I had two distinct thoughts while being stretchered out of my house: 1; I’m not ready to go yet, and 2; I am in the hands of professionals now, so do what they say and focus calmly on breathing – the one thing that I still had in my control.

Only you have full control of your life, so look after yourself. You really do only get one shot at it.


Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.