A matter of life and death

Over the years I have sought in this blog to discuss various things – issues which interest me or issues where I want to say something on policy, politics – or even culture. I have never sought to create a commentary on Welsh or UK or international politics and policy or a history of our politics. The blog was, I’m afraid to say, selfishly, created to provide me with the opportunity to speak directly to the reader. And if there are people out there who enjoy it then so much the better. It may be an arrogance to assume that people will be interested but no-one is forced to follow the links either.

Anyway.

This blog isn’t about any of that.

It’s about me.

Or perhaps to be brutally accurate it’s about my death.

I am painfully aware that I do not look like a runner. Not only do I not have the athletic build that anyone would associate with endurance sports but perhaps more importantly neither do I have the determination to train to be so either.

But there are a few places where I like to run. My two favourites are along the river in Bute Park in Cardiff and above Trefil outside Tredegar. Bute Park is one of the great urban parks of not only Wales or the UK but of Europe or the world. The humiliation of being spotted gasping for air and wheezing by friends (and occasionally foes) is nothing when set against the lovely urban environment with those easy pathways following the river or past the wide playing fields. Trefil is completely different. I park by the lay-by opposite Top House – the old Quarryman’s Arms – and run (if my staggering can be dignified in such a way) up past Duke’s Table to the top of the Dyffryn (or Dyffryn Crawnon to give it it’s full name but to us it’s the Dyffryn) and then across to the entrance of the Quarry. In total it’s a 8km round trip. And happily the return trip is downhill.

On Friday evening I had been working in Cardiff and was going to head out of Cardiff and go straight to Trefil for a run. But for some reason I decided to have a quick run in Bute Park before getting into the car. That unthinking decision saved my life.

I have little memory of Friday evening. For most of the day and the week I had been helping out with food distribution and supporting people in Tredegar and other parts of Blaenau Gwent. I had returned to Cardiff to see my partner and to catch up with some other work. I got changed and went straight out. I remember thinking how lovely it was in the early evening spring breeze. I remember thinking that it would be nice to do this run and then head back to Tredegar after a quick shower. I remember discussing with my partner, Anna, whether we should order a curry and our plans for the weekend. I remember thinking about what needed doing with the Coronavirus in different parts of the borough. I had spoken with both the health board and the local council during the day and had a list of things to do.

Somewhere in park – I still don’t remember where exactly – I saw some old friends of mine and stopped to have word. I hadn’t seen Mike or Thoma Powell for years. I was pleased to bump into them. It was very nearly the last thing that I ever did.

Apparently – and I have no memory of this – I stopped and took a breath, said hello, and then collapsed. I know because of the cuts and bruises on my head and face that the collapse was total and immediate.

It turns out that I had suffered a cardiac arrest. At that moment my heart had simply stopped beating. It had ceased to function. The most reliable pump that nature has ever constructed simply stopped working.

There was no notice. No pain. I had no indication either during the day or previous days that there was anything wrong. I felt fine. I actually thought that it was a pretty good run. No record-breaker but not overly difficult either.

The rest of this account is largely what I am told happened.

The cuts and bruises on my face and head tell me that I was unconscious before I hit the ground. I have no idea if my heart had already stopped – I assume so.

Mike and Thoma called 999 and immediately started CPR. The 999 operator guided another person to the nearest defibrillator. He cycled to it, picked it up and brought it across.

The ambulance arrived quickly and I understand that it was the paramedics who used the defibrillator to restart my heart. But that task would have been futile without the quick thinking and urgency of Mike and Thoma.

I have no real memory of anything else that evening. I seem to have memories of things. Lights and shouting. Urgency. Noise. I also know that I was completely unable to respond to any of these things. I was utterly helpless.

Saturday is largely the same. I remember nothing. I can only assume that I was unconscious most of the day. I understand that Anna, managed to get a bag of supplies to me at some point during the day. I do have some memory of her waving from a distance. I was connected up to various machines and feeling in extreme discomfort. I know that I received and replied to some text messages. But I also now know that medical staff were forced to ask Anna to give consent on my behalf for some procedures because I was not able to give reasoned consent myself.

I lay in bed listening to people discussing me.

There must be an elocution school for cardiac surgeons and airline pilots. In his utterly calm, confident and reassuring voice the surgeon told me exactly what he was going to do to me.

He also discussed the impact of what had happened both in short and longer term. He described the treatment and what I will need to do in the future to avoid such a thing happening again. And then he got to work. First an angioplasty and then a couple of days later a series of stents.

And a few days later I’m sitting here in hospital and writing these words. We all talk about the NHS and it may well have its faults, but at a time when it is dealing with the biggest health crisis in our lifetimes it can also save the life of an overweight middle-aged man with a vision of himself as championship middle-distance runner.

The best way to give thanks of course is not to waste the gift that has been given. Mike and Thoma, the paramedics and the staff in the Heath Hospital have given me the gift of life for a few more years.

Overwhelming I’m feeling a profound sense of gratitude to everyone who stopped to help, friends who have texted and contacted me over the last days and to all those people who took care of me in hospital. Together they have saved my life and enabled me to write about this.

12 thoughts on “A matter of life and death

  1. Alun that’s a shocker and I’m so sorry but also pleased to hear that you appear to have survived the immediate thx to your friends and the extraordinary people in our health services. I wish you well and pray for a complete recovery.
    We met at the Wales France pre match dinner that now seems a lifetime ago.
    Best
    Phil

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  2. Hi Alun, I’m so sorry to hear that you have had this heart attack. Your post is very touching and a real testimony to the love and care of friends and the amazing dedication of our NHS in times of crisis such as this. We are praying for you for a full recovery and also for God’s peace at this testing time. If you need anything do let us know. Lots of love, Stuart, Sarah and all at Tabor Centre and at Valleys Family Church, Brynmawr xxx

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    • Hi Alun, so glad you are ok. My wife and I were walking in the park on Friday when we noticed you had collapsed. Some people were already helping you and another had gone to get the defibrillator. We helped flag an ambulance down and direct them to where they could access the park as the gates were locked. I’m so pleased the people close and ambulance service were able to help. My wife and I were thinking of you all weekend so we are grateful you are well. Safe recovery and please don’t let it put you off running. For now relax and take it easy. Tommy and Emma

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      • Thanks a million for writing that. I was very very lucky last week. I had felt no symptoms nor warnings. Absolutely nothing. In fact I was feeling more relaxed and easy than I’d felt for a while. I’m more grateful than I can express to yourselves and everyone else who was enjoying the evening in the park last Friday. I wrote the blog because I feel it is important to describe these things and talk about these things. And how in the future we can make sure that others are safe as well.

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  3. Get well real soon mate. And when this is all over, I’ll share with you some of my fave routes between Trefil and Llangynidr….. The Brynoer Tramroad is amazing!

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  4. Argian fawr, falch i glywed eich bod yn iawn. Gobeithio gewch chi wellhâd llwyr. Da ni mor ffodus fod yna gymaint o bobl anhygoel yn gweithio i’n gwasanaeth iechyd!

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  5. Alun – Your blog is always a good challenging read but this was really dramatic life or death. Great work by your friends, the emergency services & NHS. I am sure you are on the road to a full recovery but with clear instructions for future lifestyle. I know nothing will stop you making the case for a better Wales. Indeed nothing like a life threatening event to focus the mind on what is important. Take care and be patient in the recovery. Pass best wishes to Anna – Peter D

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  6. I heard about what happened to you Alun. Good job you weren’t up the Duke’s Table! Very fortunate that Thoma and Mike were there. You are right about the NHS. I myself came very close to death twice quite recently. I won’t bore you with the details except that my life was saved by NHS staff first in Wales, then in Scotland. I also received excellent care in the Walton Centre in Liverpool. Bydd yn ofalus am y rhedeg falla. Cofia Jim Fix. Brysia wella hen gyfaill!

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