THE BABALU AYE SPECIAL EDITION: 2 BACK FROM THE DEAD STORIES (sorta)
Well: I was really planning on the next piece i wrote being about all the mundane bullshit we do, which is like 90% of the job, especially cuz now i got fricken jud and saraivy telling me how i’m just trying to show off on facebook with all the gory shit we do…BUT, f them- cuz this week was Babalu’s day, and in his catholic form, Babalu was Lazarus, who Jesus famously raised from the dead, and in honor of this I somehow ended up with 2 Babalu-relevant jobs, and I’m sitting here bored out my skull so I will now share them with you.
There’s this crackhead motel on 125 and Park. Everytime we go there it’s some scene out of The Wire or Pulp Fiction. Job comes in as first DIFFBREATHER, then UNCONCSCIOUS and then, inevitably, ARREST. Means the guy’s supposedly dead. We get there, walk up the rickety stairs and our dude is laid out doing a very loose impression of a dead person, surrounded by a swath of mortified and confused cops and fire fighters.
On a sidenote: this is a classic firefighter maneuver called The Circle Of Death: it’s when they get there first and form into a small circle of curious white faces looking down at the patient. It’s FDNY sign language for ‘what the fu-u-ck?’ Many a time we roll up on scene to find this peculiar huddle and it’s usually not a good sign.
Anyway, if you’re any kind of medical personnel you get good quick at knowing the difference between a true cardiac arrest and a guy that wants attention (the best are the fake seizures, when they go “I’m having a seizure!” and squirm awkwardly till they realize you’re not buying it). But firefighters and cops are not trained in this art, so they really were convinced. O and I took one look at the man and O set up the stair chair and i said “Get…up!”
First he squirmed and moaned and the firefighters all gasped. “Get up and get in my chair,” and reluctantly, he struggled to his feet and planted himself in our chair as the room fell completely silent.
We had ourselves a good chuckle driving back to our spot when it was all over. Not so much at the fireguys’ expense (a little though…) if not at the whole situation in general: here we are again in the midst of this whole huge bureaucratic clusterfuck, dozens of different agencies and crossed lines and legalities and so much work done covering ass and so little done treating patients, between dispatchers and insurance companies and godknows what kind of existential spiritual lifendeath tug-of-war, and right smack at the center of it all is five guys with helmets standing in a circle around one old bobo trying his best to look dead so he can get a night of sleep away from the other crackheads.
That was Wednesday, December 17, sacred to San Lazaro, who shocked everyone by
The first was a 96 year old lady who was clearly well past gone, but when we walk in the fire guys go “oh! She was up and talking just before you walked in!” like it’s all our fault. This is pretty standard procedure especially when it comes to nursing homes- we get there, the patient’s rock solid with rigor mortis and the staff is talking bout how she was laughing and chatting not seconds before and how they can’t believe it, in fact she was walking around, walking I tell you! Playing freeze tag even! Lord- look how quick she went!
This lady was, as i said, gone but she didn’t fit the criteria for us to leave her in peace (rigor mortis, decomposition, dependent lividity-which is the pooling of fluids at the lowest point in your body, or a grim catch all called Obvious Death, which is for those guys that are just DEFINITELY not coming back, i.e. decapitated) . So we went ahead and started working her up. It ended up messy, firstly cuz she was old and must’ve had a terrible case of osteoporosis, because literally all of her ribs collapsed on my first round of cpr. Secondly, she had zero veins for iv access, (and we tried plenty) except as it turned out, a nice solid 1 going right down the center of her forehead, and that is exactly where the iv ended up. It seems crude, it is crude, i guess, but this is what it is: if you’re in or about to be in cardiac arrest, having a little saline-lock antenna popping out your head is not what matters, all that matters is that you have one. In that iv goes all the good medicine that we carry around that will bring you back, directly into your bloodstream and all across your body. So in retrospect, or from the comfort of all of our not-imminently-to-die selves it’s easy to squirm at the thought of all these gruesome details and invasions, but I’m telling you them precisely because that is the very heart and soul of emergency care. It’s by definition a sticky mess of bloodied gauze, discarded syringes and stained suction tubes matched only by the colliding and collapsing human disaster zones that it’s created to revive.
Which brings us to the second cardiac arrest of the night.
No wait, first, another sidenote:
Approximately 100% of the recently dead on tv and movies who are treated with a touch of poorly performed CPR come springing right back to life and go back to killing bad guys. Most notably, James Bond, who just one movie ago defibrillated himself back from the beyond and then went on playing poker straight away.
Yeah- that’s not how it works. First of all, it’s literally about 1-2% of people we get in arrest ever get a pulse back at all. In my five year career I’ve gotten 2 maybe 3 pulses back total. Second of all, and maybe most importantly, of those few the vast vast majority of them are total vegetable matter from then on out. You just can’t deprive a brain of oxygen for that long and pop back around like nothing happened, it doesn’t work that way. In NY the situation’s complicated even more by tall buildings, projects, traffic and numerous other obstacles delaying patient contact.
So, so so so, that means when it’s your time it’s your time, and most guys that’ve been working the field long enough know better than to walk into every arrest that comes over and raise the dead.
I was particularly feeling that way on Saturday, not just cuz of the first messy arrest, but because i was working with, oh let’s call him Gerk- a certain medic that I just wouldn’t trust giving treatment to anyone i knew or cared about or had ever met. At all. I mean- well his name says it all. And then I was even less thrilled, you can imagine (maybe…) when the second arrest of the night came over not long after we finished cleaning up the first one. Oh lord, i said to myself, this poor whomever, wrong night to flatline…
Whomever turns out to be a 72 year old Indian gentleman lying flat on his back in his underpants with a bright red flare of blood at his lips and nostrils and a burly EMT thumping up and down on his chest,. He has no signs of trauma and appears to be in good health except for a large unsightly triple bypass scar stretching across his chest (and the fact that he’s dead).
Our monitor says he’s flatline, so there’s no movement at all in the electricity of his heart, nothing to shock in other words, so I start looking for a place to put my iv while Gerk prepares his tube kit to get an airway. This guy has only slightly better veins than the last lady, and having no heartbeat doesn’t help, but i manage to sneak one in right along the top of his left hand. Gerk’s having trouble with the tube, to his credit the blood in the airway means he’s just staring into a dark tunnel of fluid, with surely no vocal chords in sight to pass the tube through. Eventually, we do get it though, and just when I’m thinking the EMT is gonna have his own cardiac incident from how hard he’s pumping and sweating, someone announces that they felt a pulse.
No shit, i think, but there it is- a vigorous thump-thumping along his carotid artery. There’s some excitement now as the crew shifts course, one EMT running off to get the stretcher, the other taking the blood pressure, Gerk on the phone with our on-line medical control to get more meds, me and the lieutenant prepping the patient for transport. As we pull up I check again and miracle of miracles, there it is, that rhythmic murmur of pressure against my finger… In the ER bay they do their usual half-joking complaining about how we have all the fun and get right to work on him, setting up a dopamine drip, getting a ventilator set up, etc. I can’t help but feel good, and I’m literally typing the first words of a jubilant text message to Gabi when I see all the nurses run over and a doctor start compressions again.
The family’s all there screaming and praying as we load up our post-arrest patient and stick him in the ambulance, and though I’m trying to be pessimistic I’m feeling good about this one right up until he arrests again as we’re flying along to the hospital. He’d come back strong with a solid blood pressure and the pulse way up in the high 140’s but halfway to Wyckoff his heart dropped back down to the 60’s, then 30’s, and while we’re frantically working on him he loses pulses again completely and we’re back to thumping his chest while trying to keep balance amidst the tossing and turning of Brooklyn streets.
Crap! I shut the phone right quick and walk over cringing. For a third time though, our man decides to live that night, and this time he stays for good. When we leave the hospital he’s pumping away all by himself, but he’s still, and maybe always will be, a vegetable.
As we pull up I check again and miracle of miracles, there it is, that rhythmic murmur of pressure against my finger… In the ER bay they do their usual half-joking complaining about how we have all the fun and get right to work on him, setting up a dopamine drip, getting a ventilator set up, etc. I can’t help but feel good, and I’m literally typing the first words of a jubilant text message to Gabi when I see all the nurses run over and a doctor start compressions again.