Heart attack performance review
One evening last month our home phone rang at2:25 am. It was a neighbor who said he didn’t feel well. We got dressed, grabbed our always-take-with-us bag, and went up to his apartment. We found him clutching his chest, so we called 911. This being New York City, and there fortuitously being no traffic tie-ups in Manhattan in the middle of this particular night, the first responders (firefighters, followed mere minutes later by EMTs), arrived in under five minutes. By 3:25 am he had been transported to Roosevelt hospital where he had been stabilized and given a chest X-ray. By 4:25 he had been transported to Saint Lukes and was already undergoing angio-catheterization.
In evaluating our supporting role in this drama, we had three criticisms. The first is that when we got the initial call we should have asked what the problem was and whether an ambulance was needed, rather than losing time getting dressed and going upstairs to see for ourselves. We would have saved some number of minutes had we done this.
Our second mistake occurred when we got upstairs and realized that he was having a heart attack. We had our trauma kit with us (as we always do), and should have immediately given him either a regular aspirin to chew, or, more reasonably, several baby aspirin to chew. We had both in the kit, and this would have cut down by a few minutes the time until the first responders arrived and gave him their baby aspirin, albeit with some nitroglycerin thrown into the mix on their part.
The third mistake was technical: We did not start our conversation with 911 by giving our address followed by our name followed by the problem, which assures that if you get cut off they know whom to look for where and why. Rather, we answered their questions as asked. We didn’t get cut off, but should nonetheless have started with the where, who, and why.
As it worked out, the sequence of events moved swiftly enough that the minutes we had squandered didn’t matter. Even so, this was more a matter of luck than skill, and the lost time could just as easily have been fatal. While our friend was out of the hospital by Sunday, and more or less back to a quasi-normal routine a few days after that, it could just as easily have gone the other way, with the difference between life and death being a matter of a few minutes.
Independent of the confusion of being awakened from a sound sleep, we should have thought this eventuality through long before an incident occurred, and done better. We will next time….