Ten years ago, on a bank holiday weekend much like this one, I came downstairs to find a message from London sister on the answerphone, left in the early hours of the morning: my brother-in-law had had a massive heart attack and they didn’t know if he was going to make it. I wandered back upstairs and told my beloved, who said – like we all did – ‘are you sure? what? that can’t be right’, or words to that effect. But he’s really fit and healthy, he’s only 36. That sort of thing. He had an undetected heart condition, apparently: scanning young adults is not routine, so it was never picked up. It’s the same thing that caused footballers like Fabrice Muamba and Christian Eriksen to collapse on field.
They had been out running and out of the blue he had dropped. She did CPR and with the help of a passer by – as she didn’t have her phone on her – had called the ambulance and he’d been raced off to hospital where they operated. He’d been half an hour without a heartbeat and was given a 10% chance of making it through the next 24 hours. I still go cold thinking about it now.
London sister and her husband met at school when they were 11, and did the whole playground ‘going out’ thing, so he’d been in our lives for 25 years at that point. They broke up, as you do when you’re 11, and got back together on my 20th birthday (which made remembering stuff a lot easier). He was a hugely talented guitarist, a sound engineer who had worked on some great albums with some very big names, a guitar teacher, a rock to the whole family when our Grandad Bill passed away. He and I hadn’t always got on, but I love him dearly.
They married in 2005, in a joyful ceremony (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another bride turn round and give the entire congregation a thumbs up and a massive grin when the vows were said) with a reception where their first dance was to ‘If I had a million dollars’ by the Bare-Naked Ladies.
Things 1 and 2 adore their uncle (and aunty, of course), and Thing 1 treated him as a giant climbing frame. Thing 2 didn’t like a lot of people but he was one of them. I don’t think that that she talked to him much, but she did at least acknowledge his existence which was rare. At five and rising three they didn’t understand what was happening, and Thing 3 was only seven months old at the time. I was due to go back to work a few days later, at the end of my maternity leave. I am not sure how much use I was back at work, but there we are.
Both London sister and my brother-in-law are, fortunately, stubborn types. He pulled through, and after several months in hospitals he came home. He had to learn to walk, talk and eat again, and both their lives have changed irrevocably. The long – and ongoing – journey they have been on since then is not my story to tell. Thing 3 never knew Uncle Mk1 as he was too young, but he adores Uncle Mk2 and treated him as a climbing frame in much the same way as his big sister did. He was a sturdy child, to say the least, and had to be reminded to be gentle at times.
The swift work of my sister and the NHS meant that we still have my giant, grumpy, funny, beloved brother-in-law in our lives, and my sister still has her soulmate. They have raised thousands for C-R-Y (Cardiac Research in the Young) and Headway since then, and I am proud to have been a small part of that when we did a half marathon together. Well, together at least part of the way – she finished before I did!
Twelve people each week under the age of 35 die due to sudden cardiac arrest. If more of us knew how to do CPR – I have the vaguest idea, having last done first aid training when I was a student teacher in the mid-90s – then that number could probably be reduced. There are defibrillators all over the country now, but I am not sure I would know how to use one.
When I went back to work I asked our HR team about first aid training: no, I was told, it’s only for front of house staff. While I wasn’t working on the floors, I was delivering sessions in basement classrooms without a radio or a telephone, or on gallery, so I was working with the public. Still not good enough, I was told. This seemed shortsighted, but they wouldn’t budge.
If they can find the space in the school curriculum to teach financial literacy and ‘British values’ they can find a space to teach CPR: a half day out of the school year isn’t that much and it could – quite literally – save a life.
Normal service returns next week, honest.
What I’ve been reading:
Mort / Interesting Times/Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett