Key Takeaway

    • Life will look different after cardiac arrest.
    • Breathe and know this is a work in progress. 
    • Over time, the survivor will heal, and you might be able to start sharing responsibilities again. In the meantime, ask for support from family and friends.
What does it mean to be a co-survivor?

The sudden cardiac arrest of a loved one can drastically alter the dynamics of a relationship and the roles each partner plays. In this personal account, I share insights from a real-life partner/wife’s journey as they adapt to life before and after cardiac arrest. Discover the importance of transitioning to new roles and responsibilities, finding a balance between caregiving and maintaining your sense of self, and seeking help when needed. Learn how to move forward together, redefine your lives, and continue to support one another in this new chapter.

Life before cardiac arrest

Co-survivor insight: “Before my husband’s widowmaker heart attack and cardiac arrest, we were very independent people, taking pride in living our own lives but having a really great partnership. We were equals in every sense of the word. We shared household chores. He made dinner every night and was our handyman around the house. I did the laundry and the grocery shopping. We shared long walks with the dog. He was completely independent.”

Life after cardiac arrest

Co-survivor insight: “Because of my partner’s brain injury due to lack of blood flow, his short-term memory was impaired. He sometimes doesn’t remember things he told me from as recent as two days ago to a few weeks. His long-term memory (luckily) has not been affected. It’s almost like someone took part of his brain out. Parts of time and memory are missing from him. He became a different person after cardiac arrest. He didn’t want to socialize as much. He was unsure of himself and the world around him. He didn’t want to cook dinner. He didn’t want to fix things around the house. He didn’t want to participate. Life was different, and I was overwhelmed. I was resentful and angry. Why me? How am I going to handle all of this?”

As you adapt to the changes brought about by your family member’s cardiac arrest, it is essential to find a balance between caregiving and maintaining your sense of self. This process may involve redefining roles, adjusting expectations, and seeking help when needed.

Changed lives/changed roles

Even though your lives may have changed drastically since your family member’s cardiac arrest, there is a way to move forward. It will take time. Time for healing. Physical healing and emotional healing. With love, patience, and understanding, you and your family member can figure out what your “new life” looks like. In the beginning, most likely, the co-survivor will be handling the bulk of the chores in the house (including making follow-up doctor appointments, cooking, and cleaning). The co-survivor will be doing the heavy lifting to allow the survivor to heal and rest. But in time, you can slowly start assigning tasks to the survivor. See how they feel participating in each task. 

If you can, start offloading whatever you can to the survivor.  This will also give them a sense of accomplishment and, in turn, your burden will be lifted – even if just a little. Caregiving doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can have your life and care for the survivor at the same time. Also: don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Continued help is always important and necessary to your long journey. 

Adapting to the changes that come with a family member’s cardiac arrest can be challenging, but it is possible to find a new balance in your relationship. By focusing on redefining roles, adjusting expectations, and seeking help when needed, you can create a supportive environment for both the survivor and the co-survivor. Embrace the journey with love, patience, and understanding, and remember that you are not alone. By working together and leaning on your support network, you can navigate this new chapter of life and continue to grow as partners, despite the challenges that arise.

Thank you to our contributors

Cindy Marchionda

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