The beeper told me that he had a pacemaker;
That means he has a cardiac history.
The beeper told me that he was 58 years old;
That means he was too young to die.
The beeper told me that it was 07:00am;
That means he was probably dead.
What I didn’t know, was that his widow would be inconsolable.
What I didn’t know, was that he would end his life, as he had lived it – with virtue.
What I didn’t know, was that he had several young children, who were now orphans, bereft of a father.
I was still sleeping. It was Shabbat (Saturday) morning. The Beeper beeped, and I instinctively took it off the night table, whilst simultaneously looking at my watch.
My first thought was, “7am – no problem – I have to get up soon anyway.”
“What!” I hear you exclaim in disgust, “Someone is in distress; how can you think of sleep.”
If you consider my thought process immature, negligent even; you would be wrong. The truth, is that I am not a superhero. The brutal truth, is that I am a human being with all the base behaviors and incivilities that are part and package of Homo Sapiens. I, too, am sleepy and have difficulty getting up in the morning. I, too, would much rather turn over and let someone else take the call.
But it was seven am, and my alarm was set for seven thirty, and I am pleased to report that a spirit of decency prevailed, and I jumped out of bed. Literally jumped; something that very few people (outside of EMS) have ever experienced or are proficient in. It is an awakening and shock that is fueled not by the knowledge that you have a meeting downtown at 9, but by the understanding that someone, somewhere, is relying on you to save their life.
And you are already 60 seconds late.
I pulled on my pants, radioed “Unit #18 en route,” and ran down to my bike, two steps at a time. The address was 100 seconds away.
Yes; distance is measured in seconds, when someone is unconscious.
I turned onto the main road, saw that the right lane was closed for some reason, and immediately decided to drive (the wrong way) down the left. I pressed enter on the beeper and reread it:
“58 year old male – Unconscious – Has Pacemaker.”
Many, if not most of the calls for unconscious patients in the early morning are for people that have passed away in middle of the night. The spouse awakens, turns to their partner, notices something is amiss, and calls us. The ‘better’ possibility is that the patient woke up and then collapsed. If the cardiac arrest is ‘fresh’ the chances for survival are significantly higher.
I turn onto the street and immediately notice the son flailing his hands. I get closer and can hear the mother screaming from the first floor window.
I park, grab my AED from inside the seat compartment, and then my equipment from the box at the back. The son is a bit calmer now. He knows he has done all he physically can to help his father. He runs in front of me up the stairs, turning his head only to tell me that his father is 58. I think what he means to say is; do everything you can – and more. My Dad is too young to die.
He joins his mother in the kitchen; to support – to pray.
The duo waves me toward the room; the other kids are sleeping. Control had tried to guide resuscitation over the phone, but mother and son had felt inept.
The door is open to the study, and inside an immense amount of Holy Books (Sefarim). I gently lift the man to the floor and assess.
I radio for assistance and start compressions. Moments later, I am joined by three others.
“No shock advised.”
The Natan arrives and with it plentiful fresh hands. There are now too many people inside the small room and I decide to leave. I make it to the front door and meet #46 on his way in. He looks at me questioningly.
“There are too many people inside,” I explain, “That’s why I’m leaving”.
Suddenly, there is a scream from the kitchen; the son calls for help. His mother has fainted, in the broader sense of the word. There is nothing we can do to help her medically; we stay to offer emotional support.
Ten minutes pass and the head Paramedic from the ALS team wants to talk to the wife. He asks about her husband’s medical history and signals us to leave the room.
I wonder why he was bothering her with an unnecessary interrogation. Perhaps it’s part of the process – perhaps it would help her, to talk. She explains how she had last heard him shuffling around the house at 5am, heading towards his study.
The son catches my eye as I attempt a second exit.
He knows now – he can’t be fooled. He is mature for his age – he will have to be.
There was only one small source of solace in this unspeakable tragedy;
I had found him, sitting at his desk, a sefer open in front of him, having passed away while learning Torah.
For a religious Jew – this is a most honorable way to leave this world.
May his memory be an inspiration and a blessing.