Having said that, there are 2 exceptions. The first is non traumatic cardiac arrest- cardiac arrest because CPR only requires hands- (the American Heart Association recently took mouth to mouth out of the equation cuz no one wanted to do it and compressions work well on their own. holla. ) and non traumatic because traumatic cardiac arrests usually involve lots of blood, and I love humanity and all but not enough to catch something nasty from some stranger. Aaaand traumatic cardiac arrests rrrrarely make it anyway.
The second exception would be the choke and by choke I don’t mean the guy holding his hands to his throat going Oh my god I’m…I’m choking! I’m choking dammnit! Because someone who tells you they’re choking is like someone telling you they’re in cardiac arrest- it means they’re not. Real chokes don’t talk, they’re too busy turning blue and coding and I’m too busy getting my forceps out and putting em down their throat. They don’t turn red. They don’t cry and moan. And usually, they were eating right before it happened, not talking on the phone with their ex like most CHOKE calls we get. But yes, for the real legit, bluefaced not talking not demand making not EDP or recently dumped choke, the good old heave ho on the tummy will do the trick most of the time and make all the difference.
So there you have it.
Now on to the subject of tonight’s pleasant/gruesome chat.
I was pleasurably napping on my couch yesterday when all the sudden I was downstairs in a strange duplex and people were filing out of some meeting on the second floor. An old scruffy fellow with a beard came up to me and sort of collapsed onto me, getting his drool all over my shirt. I lifted him up and he puked on the floor and looked like he was about to check out as I was waking up.
Damnit- I thought, back to work already…
Later that night:
You can tell this job’s gonna be retarded from the way it comes over on the screen. It’s an UNCONCIOUS and the text says “FEMALE CALLER STATES MAY HAVE LO BLOOD SUGAR” so you already know the lady is not unconscious at all, but lucid enough to be already trying to rationalize Why she called 911 and told the operator she wasn’t conscious. And it’s at a bar. Any UNCONSCIOUS at a bar sucks on principle cuz it automatically means the patient’s having more fun than we are.
When Mr C and I pull up outside 1 of these new trendy spots on Myrtle, a short white guy approaches the bus. He has thick glasses and a little hair left and carries himself like he owns the place but doesn’t want to throw it in your face but wants to make sure you know but doesn’t want any trouble either. The creases on his forehead say that he’s gonna try to maintain calm and keep control even though he’s very fucking concerned about how this looks for the business. He immediately irritates the shit outta me so I open the window just a quarter of the way. He wraps his anxious little fingers around the edge of the window and gets up on tippytoes to peer in at us.
Um- excuse me…
Yes, can we help you?
Yes, um, there is a lady inside, she was shaking, and she said that um, her sugar might be low, and um so now though she’s like, unconscious and so we you know called and she’s inside so maybe you could you know…um. Yeah.
I roll up the window.
The bar is all wide eyes and whispers. The unconscious lady has decided to stay in the back area and she’s moaning and carrying on, waving her hands in the air in the midst of a small crowd of onlookers. She’s middle aged and fattish with an indigo girls haircut leftover from 1992. Predictably, she’s trashed.
Oh god! She’s yelling in a thick british accent. God, this is- this is so Not Me! I just- I don’t know what’s wrong with me, it’s like…I’m like…It’s like I’m perhaps I’m or my sugar is low!
Are you a diabetic? Mr C asks.
No, but I mean, oh it’s crazy, I’m so, I’m so embarrassed. I mean…
Ma’am, could you hold still a second?
I mean, I’m so- this is so not me. I can’t even, oh godddddd
Ma’am, stop writhing please and sit in this nice orange chair.
(Patience waning, waning away)
It’s like…oh! I’m so embarrassed. Perhaps it’s you know, something menopausal, you know, like I don’t know, I feel so weird, perhaps it’s something with menopause…
Perhaps, I suggested, it’s that you’re drunk.
At this point her friend chimes in helpfully- Oh, she wasn’t drinking tonight!
Mostly without meaning to, both me and my partners’ eyebrows raise with wonder.
I say that I think maybe she was, just a little.
Just three vodka tonics, says the patient, but that can’t be it…
Everyone stares as we wheel her out, which usually bothers me, but this one’s still moaning and carrying on so much it’s hard not to think that she’s feeding on the attention. When we load her into the bus she enters the apologizing drunk lady phase, starting with a thick round of Oh god, I’m so sorry boys, I’m really really really really- uh sorry. Oh, I think I’m gonna be sick again, oh my god- like, i”m really really sorry, guys. I’m really embarrassed and I really think this is the menopause, you know, and maybe my sugar.
Must be some combination, dear, -the friend offers reassuringly. Some combination of chemicals, you know, in your body. Reacting to each other, you know? Not to worry- this isn’t you, darling, this isn’t you, just some combination of chemicals.
Yes, I think: alcohol and blood.
Drunk people l o v e to repeat shit, just in case in the retelling some new detail will emerge that makes it all make sense in that satisfying drunk way. And when you add a mostly drunk person to a completely drunk person, they usually end up repeating themselves and egging each other on to repeat things even more, ad nauseum (literally). So I was happy to be driving last night, and not sitting in the back listening to the pissfaced brit fest skip back to the beginning of the monologue again and again.
At Brooklyn Hospital, she decided that she needed a cool room please, and a clean bucket to be sick in, and that perhaps it was actually, you know, food poisoning.
Perhaps, my partner said, it was alcohol poisoning but she’d already cycled back to the low blood sugar theory and her friend was nodding enthusiastically.
Even later that night:
Our EMTs are dealing with a drunken head trauma when another guy approaches them to say he’s having trouble breathing. So they call us to come handle it while they continue longboarding and collaring their guy. Our guy is outside on the stoop, puking and yelling that he can’t breath. It’s dark, so we don’t really get a good look at him till we’re inside the ambulance and starting the workup. He’s 59, a diabetic and has just been having shortness of breath all day but no chest pain, no bleeding, nothing else unusual at all. When he takes a breath you can hear the rustling of excess fluid frothing in his lungs. It sounds like someone sucking the last bits of soda out of a cup of ice and it means his heart’s failing.
There’s a few things I tell my students to look for when they’re trying to assess whether a respiratory distress patient is about to check out. They’re not medically proven and you won’t find them text books, but as someone who sees people on that gray breathless line between alive and dead fairly regularly, i can tell you they are almost without fail warning signs of someone looking to not make it.
The first is Non-Tolerance of Oxygen.
I can’t breath I can’t breath!
Ok, Here’s some oxygen, this’ll help.
No! I said I can’t breath damnit! Ah!
When someone’s so deep in their hypoxic stupor that they can’t even bear to have the O2 mask strapped to their face, I start looking at my tube kit.
The second sign of imminent respiratory and then cardiac arrest is the Toilet Spin- they start making crazy circles with their upper body like someone just flushed them down the big linoleum bowl of death. Their eyes stop looking at anything at all because the patient’s too busy trying to breath to bother seeing. It may be why we call it crapping out.
Finally, Everything That Once Was Fast Gets Slow, real slow. That fast thing is how the body compensates: They can’t breath, so the heart beats faster to pump more blood to the lungs and other vital organs. The respirations speed up to try and get more air in, but adds to the hypoxia and franticness. Sometimes a patient can keep going like this for a long time, their chest muscles flexing in and out in a desperate attempt to keep breathing, but eventually, exhaustion will kick in from all that hard work, and that’s when Everything That Once Was Fast Gets Slow. They’ll go from “OhmygodhelpmeIcan’tbreath
This fellow had all that going on within minutes of getting on our ambulance. AND he had no veins for me to put an iv into. AND his lungs were quickly filling up with backedup fluid from his failing heart, so he was literally drowning inside himself, which is only a deep concept when you’re not watching it happen to someone right in front of you. Now, usually folks in this condition, it’s called Acute Pulmonary Edema, have extremely high blood pressure, which sucks a lot for them and could quickly kill them, but suck tho it may, it’s still much better than the ones with fluid filling up their lungs and NO blood pressure at all. Those guys are in whatscalled Cardiogenic Shock, and they’re fucked. That was this guy. He was cold to the touch. No one could find his blood pressure. His veins were collapsed. It was the kinda guy that you keep looking up at to make sure he hasn’t coded yet, even if he’s talking to you.
And he was talking away at first, while we were digging around in his hands for that lucky little flash of blood to tell us we had IV access and could get some life-saving meds in him. Then he got agitated, and started taking off his O2 mask, and me and Mr C exchanged a glance. Then we still couldn’t get a blood pressure or an IV and he started getting quiet, which is when I said “Imna start rolling.” As I hopped out of the back I saw him make a little sightless spin with his upper body.
When you’re a paramedic and the man you’ve been assigned to keep alive is about to die and you don’t have an IV, all you have left is you’re lights and sirens (this is why I don’t mess with patients when I aint working). I fucking flew to the hospital, my siren turned up to an ear shattering, frantic splatter that makes yuppy scum jump the fuck out the way and then look on irritably. Made it there in a minute and a half and by the time I opened up the back our man was in cardiac arrest, intubated and lifeless. Can’t say I was surprised. The only thing that didn’t fully add up about the situation was no chest pain- for someone to be in as much cardiac distress as he must’ve been, judging from his EKG and symptoms, he shoulda felt it, but diabetics are known to have whats called silent heart attacks, meaning you can catch and not know it.
In the hospital they put a central line in and got him back for about ten seconds before he coded again. They shocked him more than a few times, brought him back again, lost him again and last I checked he’d coded and revived a total of five times but was still alive and ticking all by himself.
What’s the story with this guy? The doctor wanted to know.
No history, I said, except the diabetes. No chest pain, he was just sitting on his stoop vomiting and looking like he was about to check out.
Then I remember my dream.