Fast treatment can save a life
Last weekend I spent a day in the emergency room, sitting with a friend who suffered a heart attack.
Thankfully, he survived to tell his story. And after talking to him, and listening to what the doctor said about the severity of the heart attack, I know he was a very lucky man.
Lucky because shortly after he started having heart attack symptoms, someone recognized them and immediately called 911. And that saved his life.
Not only did it save his life, but early medical intervention (a balloon angioplasty and stent) lessened the damage done to his heart muscle. Although my friend will need medications, careful monitoring and lots of lifestyle changes, his situation could have been soooo much worse.
Recognize these heart attack symptoms
- Chest pain or pressure that isn’t relieved by rest or changing position. The pain is often described as “crushing”, or “an elephant is sitting on my chest.” Pain can radiate into the jaw, the middle of the back, or down the left arm, as well.
- A rapid pulse. Because the body is being deprived of oxygen, it tries to compensate by telling the heart to “Beat faster!” The pulse may be irregular, too.
- Difficulty breathing. Another way the body tries to get more oxygen is to breathe more quickly. Rapid, shallow breathing is common, as is shortness of breath.
- Profuse sweating. Dripping sweat from the face and armpits is part of the body’s “fight or flight” response.
- Pale, gray or bluish skin color. Most heart attack victims just look sick. Blood is being re-routed away from the extremities to the vital organs. The lips, especially, can turn blue if the body is not getting enough oxygen.
- Lightheadedness. For some reason, the body does not consider the brain to be a vital organ, so it gets less oxygen, too.
- Nausea. The stomach is another non-vital organ that suffers from lack of blood flow.
My friend experienced all of the above symptoms. He is also over 50, overweight and has a high-stress job. Classic.
His day began with an early-morning game of basketball before going to work. He hadn’t played for a few months, so was eager to get some exercise.
After playing for only a few minutes, he began to feel sick.
He left the school gym with the intention of driving home, but felt so bad he had to sit down on the curb in the parking lot. As he was trying to decide if he could get to his car and drive himself to hospital, another man came out of the school and asked him if he was feeling OK.
“Not really,” my friend replied, and described the pain in his chest and arm. He was also short of breath and just had no energy to move. Sweat was pouring off his face.
The other man knew right away what was happening, and called 911.
Be prepared to give CPR
I taught first aid and CPR classes for many years, and I highly recommend everyone learn how to perform CPR. It’s not perfect, but it’s not difficult to learn and it can help keep a victim alive until help arrives.
Related post: Learn CPR and first aid
Even better, most CPR classes also show you how to use AEDs (automated external defibrillators), which are more and more common in airports, schools and other public buildings. They work much better than CPR in cases of sudden cardiac arrest due to heart arrhythmias (rather than heart disease).
I’m just so grateful that someone not only recognized my friend’s symptoms as a heart attack and called 911, but stayed with him and reassured him until the EMTs arrived.
His actions might not seem heroic to most, but as I said at the beginning of the post, his rapid response saved my friend’s life. And that’s a hero in my book. 🙂