My wife and I were taking a vacation day in between two talks she’s giving, and we decided to stop at a local restaurant to have some food. We were eating the food, relaxing and having a good time. It was a warm, summer day, and we didn’t have a care in the world. Suddenly, one of the restaurant employees ran out and called for someone. That someone ended up being a young man whose aunt was in some sort of trouble. “Do I need to respond?” my wife asked. I told her I’d go check.
I got up and walked across the area where you order food and get your drinks to another area where people were eating. There was a group of people around a woman who was laying on a set of chairs, surrounded by people. I turned around, walked back to our table, and called my wife’s name. She bolted from her chair, handed me her bag, and went to the aid of the woman on the chairs. The woman had apparently passed out, lost control of her bladder, and was now vomiting and profusely disoriented. My wife, a physician assistant with tons of experience in urgent care and family practice, stepped in to help, but another woman there quickly announced to the entire room that she was a nurse and that she would be taking care of the woman.
I’m not going to second-guess the nurse’s actions. I’m not an expert. But I will tell you that my wife was not impressed. The nurse refused to let us put the woman on the floor. Instead, three people had to hold the woman on the narrow chair seats. Had the woman fallen to the ground, we’d have a whole other set of problems. Next, the nurse kept saying that the woman probably had a seizure. We asked the nephew if there was anything medically wrong with his aunt. He said that she had been complaining of vertigo because of the heat. Upon hearing this, I grabbed a dinner tray and started fanning the woman as hard as I could. With everyone around holding her, the air wasn’t circulating very well, and she probably had heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. Maybe she was diabetic and didn’t account for drinking fluids on a hot day when taking her medication. Finally, when the fire department arrived, the nurse called for an oxygen mask “at full blast.” Even without any emergency medicine experience, I looked at my wife in horror. Have you ever seen anyone puke into an oxygen mask?
It can get “soupy.”
The best part was that the fire department first responders, who arrived in a pick-up truck with lights and sirens and a medical go-bag, had no glucometer with them. No blood pressure cuff. No stethoscope. The paramedics arrived five minutes later, and we hoisted the woman onto a stretcher… Then we went back to eat after washing our hands. I could tell my wife was not happy. She told me that the nurse handled things in a mistaken way. I agreed with her that holding the lady on the chairs by four people in a hot room was crazy. And I agreed that the oxygen mask “at full blast” (how many liters per minute is that?) could have caused the woman to aspirate vomit if she had vomited into it.
But I have to admire my wife for stepping aside and letting the nurse do her own thing. It wasn’t a moment to start having pissing contests, but my wife was ready to step in and intervene if the nurse crossed any lines.
They say that the first rule of handling an emergency is not to panic. I think the second rule should be to know your own limitations. Then the third rule should be to be ready to step aside and let the adults handle the situation. And the fourth rule should be to get a good picture to post on Twitter. (Don’t judge me. I was just a human air fan at that point.)
— Rene F. Najera, MPH (@EpiRen) June 24, 2014
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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