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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Another Death


“He’s over there! I think it’s an emergency!”

Emerging from the elevator, I do not want to hear this announcement. Despite the impression left by television, cardiac arrests are usually fatal. Outside a hospital, seven percent survive.

The survival rate of the few I encounter is zero, and this did not look like an exception. An overweight security officer was kneeling clumsily on the bed, bouncing up and down as he pounded an old man’s chest. The guest’s false teeth had jarred loose and protruded from his mouth; I plucked them out.

Security officers learn CPR but rarely use it, so they forget the details. Cardiac massage on a soft bed doesn’t work. The officer should have dragged the guest onto the floor. At the time of this visit, another officer should have given mouth-to-mouth respiration, but it was almost impossible to persuade laymen to do something they considered disgusting. Mouth to mouth respiration was essential until 2010 when experts decided that chest compression alone was OK.

I asked how much time has passed since the arrest.

“I don’t know. He was out when I got here.” gasped the officer.

There was no pulse or heartbeat, and it was obvious the man had been dead for some time, so I told the officer to stop. Hearing this, an elderly lady in a nightgown hovering nearby burst into tears. At that moment, two paramedics and two firemen clumped noisily into the room accompanied by a man in a suit and a young woman, apparently the manager and the concierge. Cardiac arrests attract too many people.

Observing the corpse and the weeping woman, the senior paramedic flipped through his clipboard. “Is that your husband, ma’am? Could you give me his name?”

She couldn’t. Disobeying my rule about staying out of the way in the presence of paramedics, I comforted her. Lowering his clipboard, he waited patiently. This is the single activity paramedics are happy to leave in the hands of a physician. After a few minutes, she became calmer.

Disposing of the dead guest took a while. Two police arrived and transcribed the wife’s story a second time. One by one, the staff left, followed by the police and paramedics. The medical examiner’s ambulance drove off with the body. The lady couldn’t find her sleeping pills, so I provided some. I left my phone number and promised to call in the morning.

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