OHCA? It’s an “Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest.”
SCA? It’s a “Sudden Cardiac Arrest” – another phrase instead of OHCA.
8%? It’s the survival rate for an out of hospital cardiac arrest.
Sometimes cardiac arrests happen in hospital – maybe in the emergency department or on the operating table. They are a regular event in practically every TV hospital drama, and there’s probably no better place to have one as (a) you’re surrounded by skilled medics and hi-tech equipment, and (b) it’s fiction.
In real life, out on the street, in the home, at work, it’s a very different matter. There aren’t any experts out here, and very little – if any – specialised equipment. That’s why only 8% of casualties survive.
I’m one of the 8%.
A cardiac arrest isn’t a heart attack. About 80% of people survive heart attacks for a start, as they are caused by quite different reasons. Although someone having a heart attack is at risk of having a cardiac arrest as well, a heart attack is basically a plumbing emergency caused by a blockage in the supply of blood to the heart’s muscles. It’s likely to cause some chest pain and permanent damage to the heart although the heart can usually manage to keep going so the person will usually remain conscious and breathing.
In contrast, a cardiac arrest is like an electrical power failure so that the heart stops pumping blood around the body. The ‘power cut’ means that the person will suddenly lose consciousness, fall to the ground, and stop breathing. Unless the person immediately receives CPR (chest compressions) a cardiac arrest will always lead to death within a few minutes. (Strictly speaking, the heart hasn’t stopped beating completely but it twitches weakly and erratically rather than pumping in strong regular beats – it’s called arrhythmia.)
When oxygen stops reaching the brain there’s a strong risk of brain damage, so it’s essential to keep the blood circulating if the heart can’t do this itself. Waiting for an ambulance to arrive will be too late – it has to start straight away. It takes a defibrillator to jump-start the heart and get it going again but, until that happens, CPR (chest compressions) will keep the blood moving and minimise brain damage. I knew nothing about any of this until afterwards and all I know now is what I’ve been told by other people. I can’t remember anything of the day it happened, what I was doing, or how I felt. The day before and several days after are a complete blank, but I survived. Not unscathed, but functioning. Still a bit fragile, but getting stronger.
I survived because someone saw me go down, knew about CPR, and came to help (thank you, Debbie). And I recovered because I got to a specialist cardiac recovery centre very quickly. The call for an ambulance was at 09.38. A road ambulance arrived at 09.44, an air ambulance was despatched at 09.43 and arrived at 10.09. I was in the air at 10.36 and had arrived at Harefield Hospital by 10.55. That is fast, and it meant that I recovered.
Anyone who knows the roads south of Watford will know that traffic can be a nightmare – and I guess this is why the 999 call resulted in an air ambulance being sent as well as a road ambulance. The local air ambulances (two helicopters) were busy on other emergencies so a neighbouring air ambulance service responded in their place.
I’ve since discovered that air ambulances don’t get mainstream government or NHS funding and exist because of charitable donations and support in kind from the military (pilots and paramedics). It also means that East Anglian Air Ambulance, who came to my aid, only have the resources to fly between 7.00 am and midnight, so I was lucky in that respect as well.
Anyway, 500 words later, that’s why there hasn’t been much from South of Watford for a while. I intend to I publish more regularly because getting a second chance isn’t something that happens very often. It’s broadened my horizons to a wider range of interests than just being South of Watford, and I expect these pages will reflect this.
For a start , Dear Readers – please give money to your local air ambulance service to ensure they’re there when you need them. Or just send something to the guys who saved me. Seventy seven days before they came for me, the same guys came for three year-old Annabel Brightwell and you can read her incredible story here. Or just click on the link below to donate to them directly.