It was an ordinary Thursday evening just after 7 p.m. And, as on every Thursday evening at that time, my choir was warming up for its two-hour rehearsal to come. All eyes were on the conductor, including mine.
But one of the tenors was very slightly late and was just coming into the room. A couple of people later said that he looked very ashen. He stumbled before reaching the seat he was heading for and crashed onto the floor. There was a clattering from the missed chair.
The conductor stopped. The room became very quiet. That is when I realised something was wrong.
And it was – very, very wrong. It was a heart attack for all to see.
My choir has singers from all walks of life, and – perhaps surprisingly – it has four doctors who sing regularly. Two are eye specialists and two are general practitioners, so none have real expertise in heart conditions, but at least they are doctors.
Not one of these was there that evening.
But fortunately, one of our newer members turned out to be a young nurse who specialises in coronary intensive care. She immediately took over. She asked whether anyone had experience of helping with CPR or would be willing to help – and two people volunteered, including one woman I later learned had been a nurse in earlier years.
An ambulance was, of course, called.
We were asked to clear the room. Some choir members simply went home. Many of us decamped into a second room nearby, where we sometimes rehearse, and waited to see what would happen.
The ambulance arrived quickly, we were later told. The paramedics, together with the nurse and her helpers, carried out CPR on the tenor for some time – close to an hour. I learned later that there was a substantial period when he wasn’t breathing. I hadn’t known that was possible.
After a brief period, our choir conductor came into the spare room and said that he didn’t really know what was the right thing to do, but if we wanted to sing, he would conduct us. Several choir members indicated that they would like to sing, so we began to rehearse as normally as we could.
I wondered if the tenor with the evident heart attack could hear anything, would he be helped or hindered by the stunningly beautiful sounds of Verdi’s Requiem, which we were rehearsing.
At some point, the young nurse who had initially taken charge popped into our room to give us an update. “We found a pulse,” she said. Clearly good news. The patient had been taken by the ambulance to a local hospital.
“But,” she added, “if you don’t mind, I would like to go home.”
Yes, I thought. You have just saved someone’s life and must be full of adrenalin, not to mention complex thoughts. Of course, you don’t feel like sitting in choir practice. Of course, go home and have a lovely glass of wine. Or probably something stronger.
Our choir has regular communications by email and during the next few days, there was a fulsome thank-you from the tenor himself, adding how he might not be able to get to the rehearsals immediately, but he still hoped to sing in the concert.
And another from his wife with enormous gratitude for the work of the key choir members in saving her husband.
And then, exactly one week later, Thursday morning, the day of our next choir practice, came a sadder note that the tenor had experienced another heart attack while still in hospital and had died. His wife was especially grateful for the extra week we had given her and her family.
It was a sombre choir practice that evening.
It is strange that although many people are dying every day, we rarely find ourselves so literally close to it. It does make you think.
Where will you be when your time comes? Will someone be around who knows what to do? Will you see your family in time? Will you be able to say all the important good-byes?
What if it is your husband or partner – or, indeed, child? Will those things happen for you?
Even though I am over the age of 80, I am more aware of infirmities and illness than of death among friends and family. Yet seeing loved ones die is part of life as we grow older. This occasion was a big reminder.
And I can add a note that, a week or so later, some members of the choir sang at the tenor’s funeral.
Have you witnessed a heart attack? What did it make you feel? Do you know how to do CPR or feel you should learn? Do you ever think about your own death and where it might happen?
Tags Medical Conditions