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The Journey / The Quest 1: What Happens To Brain Activity When The Heart Stops? A Personal Take

The first time I lost consciousness was when they placed the stent in my LAD, shortly after I was flown to the hospital, following a delay of about 70 minutes (February 21, 2014). It seemed like I had just drifted off to sleep. I woke up to what I thought was annoying pounding on my chest, when it was CPR. For 20+ hours after the procedure I remained flat in bed, with my right leg immobilized by the catheter in my groin. Inside were the wires of a temporary pacemaker.

The second time I passed out was shortly after they removed the temporary pacemaker. They pulled it out of the catheter like fishing line. This time it felt like a massive, frightening head rush, and I went in and out of it, like a wave. Apparently my heart missed quite a few beats. It was enough to prompt them to put in a permanent pacemaker.

The third time I was out cold, for 45 seconds. It seemed like sleep, and I have no memory of the moment when it came over me. They printed out the data from the heart monitor, indicating I had flatlined, despite the pacemaker (later to be determined to have a faulty wire, but I did not know that until the following day, after a second “install”):

flat·line
ˈflatˌlīn/
verb

informal
past tense: flatlined; past participle: flatlined
  1. 1.
    (of a person) die.
  2. 2.
    fail to increase; remain static.
    “their share of the vote has flatlined at about 3%”

They snapped me awake by yelling my name; the startle restarted my heart. They also yelled at me to spit out the food in my mouth, as I was in the middle of eating lunch when I lost it.

In just under a minute my room was full of professionals. In addition to at least three of the nurses on the floor, there was an amazingly GQ heart technician, who steered the foot of my bed on the way back to ICU. I remember thinking that if I was going to die, I was surrounded by some really cool people, and I got to stare at a gorgeous being on my way out.

Another person in the room when I came to was “Supervisor Troy.” He and the others escorted me to my second stay in ICU: Supervisor Troy, me Troy, and other assorted heroes. When we entered my assigned room, they realized that my nurse for the night was also named Troy. On the way into the room, Sup. Troy said, “Oh, no. It’s a trifecta”! Someone out of my vision said, “It’s a Troy-fecta”! It’s funny now, but at the time I was in shock, and near tears, as I had no idea what was happening, or if it would stop. I knew they had to rip open the wound in my chest to fix the unknown problem, and I was not looking forward to it.

How long does brain activity last after cardiac arrest?

The common medical understanding is that cardiac arrest victims become unconscious within 20 seconds of the loss of blood flow (heart stops). That’s not quite the same thing as losing “all brain activity.” It just means the brain is incapable of keeping you awake.

All brain activity is thought to be over by about 3-4 minutes from the moment the heart stops, which is one reason why we want to start CPR as quickly as possible. Full Article Here

When this happened I was fortunate to have been in the “heart wing” of a renowned hospital that specializes in cardiac care, and I was treated immediately by the heart surgeon and the team at the “Catheter Lab”. Within that context, it seems I had plenty of time to spare without suffering any brain damage.

In this case my blacking out was a consequence of a faulty wire in the pacemaker that they installed after the second time my heart stopped. I spent the night in ICU, and they corrected the problem. I was transfered back to the heart wing the following morning, and was discharged two days later. I felt like the “Ajax Lady” in Cheech and Chong. Her antics after mistakenly snorting ajax at a party are classic, as is Chong’s statement to the police: “Can’t you see she’s been through a lot in a short amount of time?”

Presently, my surgeon stated that he has concerns about the pacemaker doing further damage to my heart. The 70 minutes it took for the helicopter to get me there was not helpful, but I forgot to ask him to clarify exactly how so. I had been distracted by the images from my angiogram that showed my entire LAD is shot, including the valve, and that I am at high risk for future clogs in that artery.

The next step is checking in with the pacemaker nurse, and my surgeon, next month. The bandage has not fallen off of the sutures, but it is starting to itch. It is still quite tender. It is weird to feel something like an MP3 player, sewn into my chest. It seems this may be just a beginning.

Next entry? I have been pondering writing a post about diet changes:”How To Gain And Lose 5 Pounds In 12 Hours With Fiber” …

Cheers!

Just before the police arrive –

Club flatliners journey quest

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The Impetus

My first venture in to what I experienced at the time as the great-unknown of the blogosphere came about after waking up one morning with most of my right arm paralyzed, due to a broken neck. The lack of any seeming reason for my neck breaking, and the time I was afforded during a lengthy recovery, provided me with the inspiration to begin several blogs.

Exactly one week ago to the day, after having just re-entered the work force only a few months prior, both my world, and my worldview, were shaken to the core, once again: I had a nasty heart attack. I have a history of working with people who find themselves in life-challenging, and/or life-threatening situations, so I was able to identify what was happening, fairly quickly. Despite efforts by the paramedics to assure me that I was not having a heart attack, I knew better.

One of the things the paramedics said to me was that if I was really having a heart attack, I would know, because I would be on a helicopter, being flown to a hospital for treatment. I was asked a lot of questions about my anxiety levels, and, just as when my neck was broken, and my arm had atrophied to the point of it being visible through layers of clothing, I was told to calm down. Still dizzy from the pain, when they asked me if I really wanted to have someone take a look at things at the hospital, I said, “Yes”.

Within the hour, the local hospital informed me that the data was indeed indicating that I was having a heart attack, and that the REACH helicopter was on its way to fly me to a hospital that specialized in heart care. Shortly after, my heart stopped while they were putting in a stent, during an angioplasty procedure. I woke to my surgeon doing chest compressions on me. After the temporary pacemaker they put in was taken out, the next day, I lost consciousness again, as once more, my heart stopped long enough for me to lose consciousness.

They decided to put in a permanent pacemaker, and the painful procedure was completed, within a short amount of time. Not long after, on the same, day, my heart stopped, again. I did not breathe for 45 seconds. I woke to a team of concerned medical professionals, and instinctively continued to chew the food that I was eating before my heart stopped. A nurse yelled, “Spit it out”! By this point, I was fully conscious, and I knew instantly things were not right. It turned out that the pacemaker was defective. An important lead wire was broken, and it had failed to deliver the life-saving shock to my heart, at the moment when it needed it the most.

The Intent

As noted, I have other blogs. However, it is my intention with this blog to focus more on my personal experience, as well as incorporate my broader range of interests in one place. It may have been short, but technically, I just died three times this last week. Surely, I have more to offer, before death is permanent.

Background:

The following is taken from the “about” section of one of my other blogs, Social Work Unplugged. Feel free to stop by that site, but please know that my intention with this blog is to lean more toward the personal, while attempting to nurture my kinder, gentler qualities. No doubt, I am who I am, and trying to hide the less pleasant aspects of my character would just bring them out in dark ways, so I do not seek to repress parts of my self.

Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom.
― Michael Ellner

While the name implies looking at the field of social work from an “unplugged from The Matrix perspective, everything is connected. The field of social work certainly is rife with areas to be explored from an awakened point of view, but to attempt to make this the sole focus does not work and my own awakening process has been far too intense to keep out the personal.

As such, there is both an unplugged point of view that can be taken in regard to social work and the universe at large, as well as my own point of view as someone who worked as a “professional” social worker with an emerging, “awakened” perspective.

After growing up with social services as a part of my early years, I developed both a desire to get in to the field of social work and to do it by treating people with as much dignity as possible.

While I feel I was able to do this to the best of my ability with my clients, after more than two decades it became increasingly difficult to maintain a sunny disposition with my coworkers,  supervisors and the incredibly flawed systems that were providing our salaries.

My first and perhaps most profound experience was at the age of eighteen, when I began working for a residential program for eighteen adults living with a range of disabilities from Down Syndrome and autism to “mental health” issues. Most of them had just been exited from State Hospitals. I learned that regardless of the approach, I had a knack for the work. I was able to run programs that the writer was unable to execute and I was promoted to management when I was twenty.

After four years, I moved to another area. After moving around in miserable retail positions, I was able to get a job with a residential home for adults living with autism. I did this for the six-and-a-half years that it took for me to get my AA in Liberal Arts and my BA in Psychology.

While obtaining my Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW), I enjoyed a variety of both paid and volunteer positions assisting adults living with developmental disabilities to obtain community employment, as well as provided case management services to people who were homeless and living with mental health issues. The greatest challenge during this time was working as a Substance Abuse Counselor.

Throughout the years I have worked also as a certified nursing assistant, as well as helped out in the family business with a care home for the elderly, while working as an investigator for Adult Protective Services.

There was a time when I was extremely proud of these accomplishments. While I am not ashamed of them, I am surprised by my lack of awareness at the time in regard to how I had been programmed myself to provide services that would assist with programming others.

I did my best within systems that have failure built in to their mission statements, but there are some nights when I cannot sleep – when the faces of those who crossed my path – however long – remind of shortcomings.

After my last job as a case manager for low-income individuals living with HIV and Hep C, I could not stand the assault to my soul any longer. I walked off of my job.

Due to a serious physical injury I have been afforded the luxury of time to reflect on my life and my passions. This blog is both my attempt to continue to effect positive change in the world and to heal: knowledge IS power and I hope to shed light on some areas of concern for vulnerable populations.

I appreciate your company and I look forward to sharing the journey.

Interestingly, when I came home from the hospital, I discovered that February is “Hear Awareness” month. I will start with posts about signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and go forward from there (is there anywhere else one can go, but forward?). I will use this blog to outline my personal experiences, and journal my progress, as well as explore any/all areas of my life, and the world.

Thanks for stopping by, and being a witness to my evolution, and the evolution of this blog, while going through your own.

Troy M. Burnett, MSW

February 28, 2014