Reflecting on life after cardiac arrhythmia

On Sept. 24, 2017, Dr. Robert White’s heart stopped in the middle of the night. We asked the Beacon Medical Group neonatal-perinatal specialist, and director of the regional newborn program, to reflect on that night, the meaning of that experience, and describe how it has changed his life.

It is never good to go to bed one night, healthy and happy, and then wake up in the ICU – in my case, more than two days later.

Had it been an unfamiliar ICU with caregivers I had never met, that would have been terrifying. But it was Memorial, under the care of people who were friends and family, in whom I had complete trust. And with good reason. If any one of them had not acted quickly and accurately I would now just be a statistic – “sudden death from cardiac arrhythmia, in good health, no predisposing factors”.

Even now, a year later, it seems more like a dream than a real experience. But I know for those around me it was very real. For my family, who had every reason to believe I would not survive. For my co-workers, who had only recently lost another member of our group suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically.

There are questions you ask yourself, and that others ask.

Did you see a light? (Nope, slept through the whole thing.)

Are you different now? (Not really; I was pretty happy with who I was before and just hoped to be able to be that person again.)

Well, did you learn anything at all? Certainly God must have been trying to tell you something!? (OK, for that one I do have some insight…)

“Live every day to its fullest.” 

I thought I had done that. More than most, I had filled my days with work and play and time with my family. Yet when the moment came that I nearly lost it all, I realized I had not done enough. There were people I hadn’t told how much they meant to me. There were moments with my kids I had let slip past, thinking I would see them tomorrow. I hadn’t taken all my opportunities to go out for a few minutes on a clear night and thank God for the beauty of His creation and the gift of all those He had made a part of my life.

My “wake-up” call came in the middle of the night. Actually, I was asleep and unaware of the cardiac arrest, the heroic efforts of my family, and the medical teams in our community and at Memorial Hospital. I didn’t know about all the people who were praying for me. When I awoke two days later I was filled with amazement that I had survived something I hadn’t even seen coming, but also with terror that this could have happened without a chance to say goodbye, to tell people what they meant to me, or to really savor so many moments that had seemed routine.

Before, I knew that friends and family and life itself were precious. Now, I try to take nothing for granted. I am a little more loving, but a little more impatient. I take a little more out of every day, but I try to put more into it for others, too. And I am grateful to be part of the Beacon family. Some of you provided the medical care that helped to save my life; some of you provided the prayers. I thank God for all of you and will do my best to pay it forward.