While working on a mural project this week I was trekking in and out of the restaurant carrying paint and ladders when a fellow stepped out of a garbage truck and gestured to his chest. “I think I’m having a heart attack,” he told me.
He was not wearing a mask, but that was the least of my worries at that moment. His complexion looked fine. He wasn’t sweating up a storm. But his breathing was thin. He bent over as he talked about the fact that he’d been feeling weird in the chest all morning. “It hurts,” he said.
“Have you had a heart attack before?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied. “But I’m diabetic. And I smoke.”
He walked across the alley and leaned against the wall. “I just ate,” he told me. “So that’s good.”
For a moment I thought, “Heartburn.” But his affect looked much worse than that.
“Do you want me to call the EMTs?” I asked.
He stood thinking about that for a moment. “I’m gonna call my wife first,” he said. I stood a few feet away as I’d done from the start. While he was talking with his wife, I texted my wife. “I’m with a guy who’s probably having a heart attack,” I typed. “She texted back: ‘Careful, might be Covid.”
He hung up. “I only have three stops,” he offered. “Maybe I can finish up.”
“Aahhhh, well…” I suggested. “Does your boss know how you’re feeling?”
We talked for a minute. I was eager to call 9-1-1 on his behalf. His condition was not getting better.
“I’m gonna call my boss,” he agreed.
“Do you want me to call 9-1-1?” I asked.
He shook his head yes. I walked up the street to get away from the noise of the garbage truck parked near the curb. On the way I noticed a flat, red line painted on the wall. That’s not what I wanted to see happen to this guy.
I reached the 9-1-1 dispatcher who kept me on the line while she touched base with the EMTs. Within minutes the ambulance pulled up to the intersection I described to the dispatcher. I waved them down and they parked and the team of paramedics climbed out of the vehicle. I’ve watched EMTs in action a few times. These guys walked up to the garbage truck guy with an experienced eye.
My job was done. The dispatcher hung up the phone once we confirmed things were under control. Thanks to HIPPA laws I had nothing more to contribute to the situation. They can’t tell me anything. I can’t really tell them anything. The guy in question nearly gave me a heart attack. His. That’s all I knew or would ever know. I tried not to give it back to him. Got him to think things through for safety.
A few minutes later on another trip back to the car I encountered a police officer at the scene. “I know you can’t tell me much, but I hope he’s going to be okay.”
“They’re taking him to the hospital. That’s all I can tell you,” the officer offered.
“He didn’t want to go,” the policeman continued. “You know, the ‘guy’ thing. No one wants to admit they need help. But thanks for calling this in.”
I’ve known a few folks who went through situations like this. A heart attack or stroke is scary business and often sudden in nature. One minute you’re fine, the next minute the corpuscles are backed up and the heart or brain says “screw this” and seizes up or goes into lockdown.
It is always better to take precautions than to deny the situation or pretend you’re okay when you’re not. The people who care about you and even the people who don’t know you but want to help need your cooperation in those circumstances. That guy on the street almost gave me a heart attack. His. But I handed it off to those who could really help him. That’s what all of us should do in that situation. As fast as we can.
I’m trained in CPR but the jury is still out on how effective once person can be in keeping another alive during a heart attack. This isn’t some game of chicken. Why chance it?
At the end of the day while walking out to throw my stuff back in the car, I noticed a set of gloves lying on the ground. That’s probably all I’d ever see of that fellow again. I doubt he’ll come back to get a set of $5.99 gloves but if he’s going to live to work another day at his job. That’s what counts the most.
We never know when those life changing moments are going to present themselves. Well done.