I wanted to share with you all an amazing medical story that hit close to home for me, though I had nothing to do with it myself.
Our middle daughter’s best friend is Jessi. She recently married a young man named Trevor who was in the throws of trying to get into medical school. He was a healthy young man who had been training all summer for a triathlon.
They were at a family reunion at Bear Lake in northern Utah. He was standing in shallow water next to a ski boat, surrounded by cousins, when he collapsed. Those closest to him kept him from going under the water and hoisted him into the boat.
One of the cousins was a nurse and a second had just recently taken a CPR class. They found him to be unresponsive and with no pulse so they started CPR. This continued for about fifteen minutes until the medics got there. They found him to be in ventricular fibrillation, which is a chaotic heart rhythm that is ineffective in pumping blood and soon leads to death. Fortunately, when they shocked him, just like you see on TV, his heart started beating normally again. He went back into that same deadly rhythm one more time in the helicopter on the way to the hospital. He was shocked again back into a normal rhythm.
I first found out about him when he was in the ICU with his temperature being kept artificially low and in an induced coma. My daughter called and wanted to know what his prognosis was. I told her it was grim. Most people who suffer a cardiac arrest die. Most of those that survive do so with brain injury from lack of oxygen from the time their heart was not beating. I wanted to tell my daughter there was no hope but realized it was time for hope so I didn’t share with her my true, fatalistic expectations.
Trevor remained stable until it was time to warm him up and see if he would awaken. Everyone was hopeful as he immediately started to follow commands and ask what had happened. He soon managed to bend his head down close enough to his restrained hand to pull the ventilator tube out of his windpipe. He then looked up at the nurse and asked, “Where is Jessi?”
By the next day he was eating and asking over and over again, “What happened?” as his short term memory was gone. The next day he was remembering better and was able to be involved as they made the decision to give him an implanted defibrillator. This is a machine, like a pace maker but designed to shock him from inside if his heart goes into that death rhythm again.
Trevor fully recovered. He is in medical school and the father of the child Jessi was carrying when this all happened. This is really an amazing story with an almost unbelievable ending.
I can put myself in the place of the emergency physician who took care of Trevor. I am sure as he was taken out of the emergency department and up to the ICU, the doctor had to be asking if they had really done any good in reviving him or if they had just kept alive a brain-injured nightmare.
In the emergency department, we don’t usually see the whole story and have to keep emotionally distanced to a certain degree as we deal with this sort of difficult situation. This event gave me a chance to be emotionally involved in a way I would never have been able to had this been one of my patients. It helps renew my optimism and not see every patient who survives cardiac arrest as a future vegetable in a nursing home.