On December 2, 2000, I was sixteen years old and had just woken up at my friend Bec's house after a sleepover. It was summer in Launceston, and my mum was away in Melbourne with my grandmother, visiting my aunt. Late in the morning, I got a call from my dad. He told me that he'd been driving through Kings Meadows with my siblings to do some shopping, and he'd felt some odd pains down his arm and chest and felt kind of sick. He said he'd gotten home and called his doctor, who'd advised him to drive himself to the hospital and get checked out because he may have had a small heart attack. My own heart froze in my chest at hearing this news. Fresh out of doing a first aid course (that my dad had encouraged me to do, as he was a first aid instructor), I realised that he could well still be in a lot of danger. I told him to stay right there.
Bec's mum and I leapt into the car, and she GUNNED it over to my parents' house, breaking all sorts of road laws on the way. Like me, she realised that the worst could be far from over. Dad was waiting out the front of the house, looking pale and a little shocked. He talked comfortably with Bec's mum on the way to the hospital, which was frankly the shortest trip I've ever taken. Wow, that lady can drive. She used to be a taxi driver. She left us with good wishes, and I took Dad into the emergency ward. He went to the first triage window and explained what had happened to the nurse on duty. The nurse sent him over to the next window to fill out some paperwork so that he could be checked out properly. Dad spent about five minutes at that window. He turned, and started to make his way back to the first window. Then, the strangest look came over his face.
Before I knew what was happening, my dad started to slither to the floor right in front of me. I took a step back, horrified, as his large frame crashed to the floor with a sickening crack, and he started to convulse in front of me. My throat constricted and my eyes welled up as nurses and young doctors vaulted over desks, shouted instructions and skidded to the floor next to him. The most ghastly, rattly, gasping noise was coming from my dad's lungs as his body convulsed, struggling for oxygen. He had lost control over his bladder.
Tears were openly pouring down my face, and I didn't know where to look. A kindly Canadian lady, who was there for a broken arm, got up and hugged me as I cried. I looked over her shoulder, and I could see the doctors using the paddles, and shouting all the things that they shout on All Saints episodes when somebody is having a heart attack. One of the nurses came over to me and said, "You had better go in here," and showed me into a tiny little room with a few chairs, a potplant, and a phone. "Use it to call somebody," she said. Then she closed the door.
Shaking, I picked up the phone and called home. Mum was in Melbourne, so my sister Helen answered. "Um, I think Dad is dying," I said.
"Er... What?" she asked.
"Dad's having a heart attack out in the Emergency Room, and I've been told to call someone."
"... Okay," she said. Helen was 13. Bruce was 15. Rosie was 9.
I tried calling my aunt's mobile. No answer. My mum didn't have a mobile. I was left with no choice but to ring my grandmother, who had only recently lost her own husband, my grandfather.
A few minutes later, I was allowed in to see my dad. I found out later that they let me do this because they believed that he would soon die. I took Dad's diary and began cancelling his appointments and engagements. When I saw him looking so weak, something maternal just welled up in me and I began getting things organised, post-haste. Dad's skin looked yellow, and he smiled at me from the bed, though he was obviously in incredible shock. Dad says that he doesn't remember me being allowed in to see him.
My mum flew back that night, not knowing if her husband was already dead or how long he would live. I found out, years later, that the doctors had told Dad to get his affairs in order straight away as he wouldn't last two days. A week. Two weeks. A month. Two months. Six months. A year. Two years. They kept extending the timeframe, certain that his heart would give out again and he would die.
On December 2, 2010, it will have been ten years.
Dad suffered three massive cardiac arrests that day. If he hadn't been standing in the ER when he had the first one, he would've died. One of the chambers in his heart is dead and useless. One of his arteries is completely blocked. Another two are 90% blocked. The other artery is only a little bit blocked. For nearly ten years, they've been telling him that he needs a bypass but he wouldn't survive the surgery.
My dad has been campaigning for defibrillating machines to be supplied to remote areas in Tasmania. He has succeeded in a lot of cases. He also participates in heart research at his local hospital, and attends a support group. He is a kind man, with an Order of Australia Medal for his service to the community over his lifetime. You will never, in your lifetime, find a man who is so generous with his time and talents as my dad has been with his local community, be it the elderly, mentally ill, chronic pain sufferers, or his best friend, who laid in a nursing home for ten years after a stroke. My dad has, amongst other things, Parkinson's disease now. In the last couple of years especially, it has really slowed hiim up, and he finds things quite difficult now. The one thing that he doesn't find difficult is promoting worthy causes through the internet. He spends most of his time on the computer now.
So, when I got an email today advising me that this week is Heart Week, I realised that the best way to present this information to my friends is by sharing my story about my dad's heart attack. It is so important to know what to do. I just knew instantly that he was probably about to have another heart attack. I didn't think twice. I just did what I had to do. My dad is alive today because of that.
Take a few moments to visit this website and learn what the signs of a heart attack are. It could save your life, or your loved one's life, some day.
Check out my very first VLOG, about Heart Week: