Coleman / Waking up to why I nearly died

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THERE are some historic dates that are instantly recognisable. You know, dates such as November 22, 1963*, or July 20, 1969**.

Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman.

For me March 11, 2011 is one of those days. Not because it was the day of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but because it’s the day I nearly died.

I was needed at work early that morning and was feeling tired when I arrived a bit after 6am. There was nothing unusual about that, as I always felt tired in the mornings. It was my job to collect the papers, so I took the short walk – maybe 150 metres – to get them, and the newsagent said I was looking a bit unwell. I dismissed it as tiredness and being a Friday.

As I reached the office front door I broke out in a sweat from head to toe and started to feel very light headed. Instinctively, I checked my pulse and felt it going way faster than I could count. Not exactly a good feeling, I can tell you.

Less than five minutes later I was in the care of paramedics who hooked me up to the machine that goes “ping”. And it started pinging between 170 and 250 beats a minute. I was soon in an ambulance and on the road to hospital with lights and sirens going.

In the emergency department I was hooked up to a bigger machine that went “ping” so much they turned the pinger off.

Over the following 12 or so hours the medics tried several different things to get my heart back to normal. If I lay perfectly still, it would go below 100, but the slightest movement would send it skyrocketing again. It turned out I was experiencing atrial fibrillation (AF) and I was told several times why AF is a bad thing. In short, it can cause a blood clot in your heart and with one good pump it can go into your brain, at which point it’s game over.

It continued through the day, and some 15 hours later a doctor said I should try to get some sleep. He went on to say that if the AF was still going in the morning that they’d try shocking my heart back to normal.

Get some sleep. With the threat of one “good” heartbeat killing me. Or the possibility of being electrified the next day. Yeah, right…

Ironically, within minutes of falling asleep, my heart action returned to normal.

Over the following weeks, I was subjected to a barrage of tests to find the cause. Eventually, the heavy snoring I’d been doing for years became the chief suspect. A sleep study (where they connected me up to a million wires and told me to sleep) ensued. This led to the discovery that due to sleep apnoea, every hour while I was asleep, I stopped breathing around 80 times. For up to 30 seconds.

If you don’t get how bad that is, try doing it while you’re awake. The net effect was a steady drop of the oxygen level in my blood through the night, making my heart work harder. From there, one particularly bad night was enough to put my heart under more strain than it could take. Bingo! AF! And near death!

I was advised to go on a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.

Despite the initial discomfort of trying to sleep with a mask, it took all of two nights for me to wake up in the morning not feeling tired. A follow-up sleep study showed I was sleeping almost uninterrupted through the night.

My blood pressure went down, my fitness went up to the point where I could do 10 kilometres on almost any device in under 50 minutes.

So here’s the thing. If you – or someone you know and/or love – snores, don’t muck around. Get it checked out. It might just save a life.

*Assassination of President John F Kennedy. **Man lands on the moon.

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Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman is a former radio announcer and passionate travel writer.

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