I had a stroke. I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m retired. I was volunteering at one of my former hospitals. I worked at the information desk. Visitors arrived at the hospital, got a pass, and went up to see the patient. I did the COVID screening.
COVID appeared to be on the decline. It really wasn’t, but many precautions were disappearing. I think people just wanted it to be over.
I performed the COVID screening. As visitors entered my hospital, I approached them with my laptop. I asked them if they were vaccinated; if they had any COVID symptoms; and if anyone in their household had COVID. It really didn’t matter what they answered, almost everyone was granted a pass and permitted to see their patients.
It was 3:45 pm on a Monday. My shift ended at 4 pm. I was behind the information desk. Suddenly the room started spinning— really bad! I grabbed a chair and sat down. The room continued spinning. I fell out of the chair and onto the floor. I did not hit my head or lose consciousness.
I really don’t exactly know what happened next. It was all a blur. It was as if I were watching it happen on a movie screen as opposed to experiencing it. Plus it happened so fast.
As I was falling to the floor, the information desk worker closest to me exclaimed “Are you alright? Can you speak?” I remembered hearing that second question and thought it was strange. Isn’t the question “Can you speak” something that you ask a person when they’re choking? It’s a question you usually ask when you’re performing the Heimlich maneuver to determine if the person is getting air. I don’t remember if I answered the question.
Another hospital worker picked up her phone and call for a Rapid Response Team. A Rapid Response Team is a group of individuals trained to handle a patient, visitor, or employee emergency in the hospital. She [the worker] was able to keep her composure and remain calm during this very stressful situation.
I thought the Rapid Response Team arrived pretty quickly. They asked me questions to assess the severity of my stroke. Questions such as “Can you tell me your name? What year is this? Do you know where you are?” I think that I answered them properly. Then they rolled me onto a plastic board, placed me on a stretcher, and rushed me to the emergency room.
I felt like I was in a semi-conscious state even in the emergency room. Like I was watching things happen rather than being an active participant. They were hooking me up with leads and connecting me to machines. The team started an IV in both arms. They wrapped a blood pressure cuff around my arm and it immediately registered my blood pressure on a machine. One of the Rapid Response Team members verbally ordered scans and tests that he wanted me to have.
What they didn’t do was ask me for any information that they usually ask patients for when they come to the ER. Questions like “What are your home address and phone number?” Or “What insurance do you have?” Or even “Do you have any allergies?” I guess there would be time for these questions after I came back from the tests.
Performing CPR To Restart The Heart
I wasn’t watching the football game. I only saw the aftermath. It was Sunday, January 2, 2023. The Cincinnati Bengals were leading the Buffalo Bills 7-3. Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow threw a pass to Tee Higgins. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin tackled Higgins to end the play. Hamlin eventually suffered a cardiac arrest.
I never saw the actual tackle where Hamlin hit Higgins. Although they showed the play countless times on TV, they always stopped the tape in the middle.
As Damar Hamlin went down, his heart stopped. The medical staff immediately performed CPR. His heartbeat was restored on the field. Hamlin was whisked to a nearby medical center. Players on both teams were devastated. The game was suspended.
I’m really downplaying CPR. CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. When a person experiences a traumatic experience and the heart stops, CPR is crucial. It can be the difference between life and death. CPR must be performed immediately.
It’s the medical team that is the true hero here. I admire people who can jump into a crisis and perform what they need to in order to save a life. It happened with me and it happened with Damar Hamlin. It’s a wonderful thing— to be able to jump into a situation and focus on what needs to be done.
Nothing can prepare people for an emergency situation. They can practice all they want. They can know all the steps and procedures necessary if something were to happen. But when a crisis hits, they have to be ready. This is not a drill.
I’m in awe of these people. Especially the ones who took care of me. I spoke to several of them. I asked them what they were thinking when they saw me go down. What did they feel? Was there any hesitation as to what they should do?
They all sort of said the same thing. When I went down, their adrenaline started flowing and they jumped into crisis mode. They didn’t think about what they needed to do, they just did it. They could have made a mistake, or forgotten something. But they didn’t. It was a person’s life that they were dealing with. Mine.
Damian and I were both very lucky. If we had to be the victims in an emergency situation, we were in the right place when it happened. He was on a football field surrounded by trained medical staff. I was in a hospital with knowledgeable medical professionals.
Jumping Into Action
My boss and I stopped for lunch. We were in a fast-food restaurant. We heard a commotion behind us. We turned and saw a woman (in her 20s) on the floor. My boss ran toward the woman and yelled,” I’m trained in CPR. I’m here to help!”
As he knelt, my boss pointed to a person wearing a red shirt and yelled, “ You, call 911.” He pointed to one of the fast food workers and said, “You, get the AED.”
“I can help. I know CPR,” said a man as he knelt alongside the woman, opposite my boss.
“Does anyone know her name?” Yelled my boss, as he pointed to the girl.
“Cathy,” replied a voice.
“Cathy,” yelled my boss while shaking her and tapping her face, “Cathy, are you okay? Cathy!” There was no reponse.
The other man tilted the woman’s head back, thereby opening her airway. He bent down and put his ear close to her mouth. This allowed him to determine if she was breathing. He checked for a pulse. Nothing.
My boss began chest compressions. He was moving very fast. I thought I heard him humming the Bee Gees tune “Staying Alive” as he performed CPR. The ambulance arrived two minutes later. It seemed like two hours, but it was only minutes. My boss continued performing CPR even as the ambulance workers arrived. One of the workers took the woman’s pulse.
“I got a pulse,” yelled the EMT worker, “Thanks, we’ll take it from here.” The two EMT workers placed the woman on a stretcher and raced her to the ambulance.
My boss stood up to a round of applause. He shook hands with the other man helping him. He walked back to me as several people said “good job”.
“You’re a hero,” I said.
He put up his hand and replied,” I’m not a hero. I just did something that needed to be done. I’m glad that I was able to do something. And I’m glad that it was successful. But I’ll tell you something, I was a bit nervous at first. I always wondered how I’d react when a crisis occurred.”
“You did just fine,” I said.
I’ve thought a lot about this process of jumping in when a crisis occurs. Perhaps it is my hospital background or just my general thought process. I can analyze a problem, from many different viewpoints, in order to achieve a solution. Yet when an emergency situation occurs, I shift into high gear. There’s no time for analyzing and then acting. I must think and act at the same time. And most times I don’t even analyze. I just act and react. I address the situation as it is unfolding. At which point the desired outcome is hopefully achieved.
Most people I know operate this way. When a crisis arises— we act and think about it later.
Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.