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‘I will never forget this one’

An AEMT recalls a response to what appeared to be a stroke, which turned into a chest pain scenario


Photo/The Woodlands Fire Department

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“Ambulance 881 you are being requested to the home of a male subject possible stroke.”

I rolled over, rolled out of bed and acknowledged the page. My partner and I got our uniforms on, and while most people were asleep, we were up and ready to help a life in need. As I put my uniform on with honor, held head up high, I instantly got in the mindset of game time. I hopped in the driver’s seat, started the rig up, and waited patiently for my partner. My partner arrived and hopped in the passenger side with a tired look on his face.

We told dispatch we were en route. I flipped the switch and red lights instantly began to flash around me. It was me, the rig and my partner. Nothing else mattered at this point. I flipped my second switch on – the sirens.

Dispatch updated us that the patient was taking a medication that was supposed be given for heart issues. Or, there may have been a diabetic issue. At this point, I began to think, I have no idea what I was about to go into, but I wasn’t panicking, not worried. Our rig was lit up like Christmas lights and sirens were echoing off the buildings in the silent night. We came through the small town right before reaching our destination.

We pulled up to a frantic woman on her deck waving us down. The look on her face said it all. Something was not right. My gut instantly told me this was going to be a call that I would never forget. I jumped out, walked around the rig to the back, and grabbed my red bag that is heavier than me. I put my mask on and walked into the home to find a male sitting in the bathroom. My first look of the patient gave me everything I needed to know. He was hurting, he was sick. Something was going on.

As my partner followed from behind, I began my interview of the patient. What we thought was a stroke, turned into a higher blood sugar, which turned into a chest pain scenario. The patient was sweaty and had a look of doom on his face. We figured it was cardiac related, so we wanted to get the patient in and evaluated inside our rig.


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My partner left me with the patient while he got the cot ready outside. I continued talking with the patient and closely monitored him for any changes. This was when the tables turned; we were in for the fight of our lives. My partner came back in, and we assisted the patient to the standing position. He did fine. We took one step, and he flopped to the ground like a fish. In the blink of an eye, I went from interviewing the patient to a full cardiac arrest. I looked at my partner and he went to get the EKG. As he came back in, I told him our patient was down and out for the count. He was in trouble and needed our help now more than ever.

“Lance, he has agonal breathing and no carotid pulse. We need help now. Dispatch 881.”

“Copy that, I will get 881 en route and get a cop to help us.”

Our patient dropped to the floor with his teeth clenched and his face purple. I knew I had to talk to him to let him know he wasn’t alone. I had to protect his wife. His wife was standing there and saw everything. I told the wife she needed to back up and stay out of the way as we were about to work him, and it isn’t a pleasant sight.

The monitor arrived, and my training immediately takes over. My patient came to, and I began to talk with him. I attached my 12 lead and placed the pads on him. He wasn’t breathing. His pulse was slowly going down. The 12-lead confirmed what we didn’t want to be true; a heart attack. He had a complete blockage that played against our fight.

He began to clench up again, and CPR began. Without any drugs given, he came to. I will never forget the fear in his eyes. We made eye contact. He reached for my hand and held on tighter than ever. I slowly felt his grip loosen in my hand and watched as his eyes rolled back. His life slowly slipped away in my hands. With tears in his eyes full of fear, he cried to me, letting me know how much pain he was in. And just like that, he was gone again. We established the IV. A bag of saline was pumping through his veins like fire. The intubation kit was being set up. CPR was in progress, and the patient was being bagged. His life was now in the hands of trained medical professionals. We intubated the patient – success – attached EtC02. The numbers were not so good.

Rhythm check number 2; we got him back. Unbelievable. He had a weak, but steady pulse.

“What a save!”

The patient fooled us, showing us signs and vitals of a person who was living, breathing and walking. Pressures were near perfect, EtC02 was perfect.

Crew number 2 arrived, and we started pacing him. We had a pulse. The patient was fighting the tube for a short few seconds; all good signs that we may have this save in the books. We got him on a board and loaded into our ambulance to be flown out for a lifesaving procedure. It was then, when we got him in the rig, that all life was lost. CPR was started once again. We were running hot with lights and sirens while performing CPR. We were transporting to the landing zone as we had ROSC twice. He had a fighting chance, though, we thought.

Landing zone – two amazing flight medics and a nurse arrived on scene, and without any hesitation, jumped in and took over CPR as my arms felt like Jell-o. They were hurting, but that didn’t matter at the time. With the EtC02 number where it was at, we couldn’t give up. It was as if he was fighting as hard as he could to stay on this earth. After rounds and rounds of a medication to help restart his heart, we began to think it was over. The discussion between the flight crew and EMS crew was in agreement of calling it. Unfortunately, we were faced with the harsh reality that there was nothing more we could do for him. He was gone. A motionless, lifeless body, laying on the stretcher, who just a few minutes ago was talking to his beautiful wife, letting her know something was seriously wrong, now gone.

A life was lost in our arms that night, and I will never forget this one. He looked at me and, without speaking, asked me to help him and save him. I couldn’t. I felt for a few minutes as if I failed my job. God won the battle tonight with bringing him home.

Life is full of battles, and some of them we have no control over.

Meena Thill is an AEMT in the great state of Wisconsin. Meena had attended school for EMS and has been in EMS since 2016. Meena is presently taking courses to obtain her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. In her spare time, she loves to hang out with family, and can be found on the water kayaking. Writing has given her a way to express how working in this field can be.

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