Real Life

Real life story: “I died more than 20 times”

When Denise started collapsing, doctors were stumped.

Denise, 70, shares her true life story:

The sun beat down on us as we walked.
“I have to stop,” I said breathlessly to my husband Roy.
We were on a caravanning holiday with friends.
After a few drinks at 4pm, we’d decided to walk to the local club at Kempton for some dinner.
I was fit and active and it was very unlike me to get out of breath.
The next thing I remember is coming round on the footpath.
There were people all around me, putting pillows under my head and offering me water.
A doctor arrived.
He checked me over and told me to go back to our caravan and rest.
The next morning I went to see him again and he said I could carry on with my holiday but to make a cardiologist appointment when I got home.
A month later I went to see the specialist.
He made me run on a treadmill and once again I passed out.
But my heart was fine.
He couldn’t work out what had caused the blackout.
He said he’d confer with his colleagues and to let him know if it happened again.
My husband, Roy, has been such a huge support.
I was fine for the next six months but then it happened when I was having a coffee with friends.
Then not long afterwards I blacked out twice in the same day.
Roy took me to hospital but they couldn’t find anything wrong.
Then a week later it happened five times in the same day.
Once again the hospital wanted to send me home but this time I put my foot down.
“This is getting ridiculous,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere until you’ve worked out what's wrong with me.
They agreed to keep me in and the next morning a doctor came to observe me.
He touched my neck a certain way and I blacked out.
“I think I know what’s wrong,” he said and I was immediately moved to the High Dependency Unit.
From then on things became hazy.
I remember at one point lying on a stretcher and seeing clouds below me from a window.
Then I woke up in a strange hospital room with lots of doctors around me.
“You’re in Melbourne,” a nurse said.
I was so fuzzy my first thought was, “What’s Melbourne?”
But slowly my brain cleared and I found out more.
Roy and the grandkids visiting me in hospital.
Once in high dependency I quickly deteriorated.
In the night, I had flat-lined 20 times before my heart miraculously started up again.
They couldn’t get me a pacemaker in Launceston in time so I was airlifted to Melbourne and later that morning had one fitted.
After three days, I flew home to Tassie.
Turns out it wasn’t my heart that was the problem, it was the nerve system around it.
The doctor discovered that when he touched my neck the way my cardiologist explained, it was like an old house where the wiring wears down – my electrical system had stopped working and was causing my heart to stop too.
Now I’m back to full health and can’t wait to go caravanning with my friends again.
One thing I did learn is to trust your instincts.
If I hadn’t insisted that there was a real problem going on I might not be here to tell the tale.
The scar from my pacemaker surgery.

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