Subject: Reflections on my (nearly) death...
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Tuesday, 20 November 2001 00:00:00 +0000
To: All

Note before: This is an old “Diary Entry” from the Modem-Help site, re-jigged into the etmg format. The original site is now long gone.

A £¼ million GBP refit is underway at work, and this evening the location of my heart attack (18 months ago) was demolished & new carpets, desks & paint put in it’s place. This connection caused me to muse on the event...

It was an electrical rather than a blood event (my father had the blood-type heart attack at roughly the same age, so I’ve got connection to both). The blood-type is where arteries supplying the heart (coronary arteries, hence a coronary heart attack) become narrowed & part of the heart dies because of the lack of blood supply. Mine own is due to a failure of the Pacemaker function. Left to it’s own devices the heart will just quiver, rather than beat in a controlled fashion, pumping the blood through the lungs, head & body. An extension of the Wandering Nerve (the Vagus nerve) times the beating of the heart’s 4 lobes so that it works effectively - this is the Pacemaker function. Failure of this function is similar to the effect of an electrical shock passing from one limb to another through the centre of the body, and is the cause of the sudden death syndrome seen often in (usually) men in their 40’s or 50’s. I was 49 at the time although, curiously, 3 months after restarting work, my team leader fell dead in his garden, and he was in his late 20’s.

Morbid stuff, heh?

I was sat on the edge of my desk at the time, talking on the telephone to a customer. (I actually have no recall of what happened, or indeed of anything from the previous few weeks, so all of this bit is drawn from tales from work colleagues.) I often wonder what this person that I was talking to made of the next few minutes as I went unconscious & fell back upon the telephone, then began to shake violently & slid off the desk to the carpet. Apparently, pandemonium broke out throughout the entire call-centre (it has a central atrium & everybody can see everybody else), and several people went home afterwards suffering from shock. Eventually, one of my colleagues did pick up the telephone & discovered that this customer was still there, and very upset that I had just stopped speaking. My colleague screamed into the telephone that I was dying and slammed down the phone. Not very good customer relations, when you think about it.

One interesting tale from these moments is that, whilst 2 men trained in First Aid were keeping me alive, the supervisor came up to the other people sat at the desks next to where I had been sitting and ordered them to get back on to the phones. The company provides all of us with good training, but simple humanity is not one of the courses. One of my colleagues - and I love him for this - almost blistered the supervisor’s face with the venom of his response.

The most interesting feature for me of this whole episode lay in some insights into memory that I gained after the attack. I could not recall very much afterwards. In particular, I did not recall where I lived, nor where I worked - quite an experience in itself. Friends at work visited me & gave me the name of the place that I worked at & roughly where it physically was. Two personal friends offered me a little journey away from the hospital and, with the help of a local Yellow Pages, we found the site. I walked through the side entrance and, as I did so, like a surge of electricity lighting up the filaments, I was able to recall the plan of the building, where we sat - everything. A later visit to my home was the same. Incomprehension until I opened my front door, when illumination of it’s placing within my life arrived.

What was very clear from all of this was that memory is far more than what sits within our heads (or bodies) - memory is seeded outside of ourselves as well, like dust, wherever we (or our thoughts) go.

Alex Kemp