“The life you save…May be your own.”
Commentary by Victor Baca
That phrase, “The life you save…may be your own,” was tossed around from time-to-time in first aid and EMT classes. I equate it to having even a snippet of knowledge about things medical that could someday be used to help yourself. It never really meant that much to me at the time. Afterall, I was 21 and would live forever. “Victor” means the conqueror, certainly not someone on the edge of eternity, ready to fall face first into the abyss.
19 years later that’s exactly where I was. Lying on a gurney on the way to emergency surgery. They’re telling my wife I’m not likely to survive. They think I’m too far gone, but I can still hear them. I had an infection from a tooth extraction, a little beastie called the Bacteriodes bacterium. Firey red rash lines like prison bars running down my chest, a sure sign of systemic infection, deadly sepitcemia. The dentist took a stitch to my bleeding gum (when he said, “oops” I figured something was up…) Just a little scapel nick, but now septic shock is setting in full-bore.
My face was unecognizable, a horrific sight. Swollen beyond imagination, it felt ready to crack open and burst. The pain was so excruciating, it had begun to subside, nerves carrying the sensation of pain, burned out. I lay there, slipping in and out of consciousness, feeling warm, like floating in a bubble.
I can’t remember how I got here in the surgical suite. It must be over, I’m drenched in my own sweat. Then a voice, close, in my face. It was the anesthesiologist announcing to the OR team, “I can’t find my landmarks…everything’s shifted. I can’t intubate!”
That riveted my attention, it hadn’t even begun yet! I crack open a drowsy eye, the doctor has the ET intubation tube in his grip, close to my lips. He looks at me, all I see are his eyes and they say everything. Seeing me awake, he quietly says,” I can’t intubate you…I’m sorry…”
Even though EMTs don’t intubate, we do artifically keep an unconscious patient’s upper airway open with a device known as an oropharyngeal airway, It’s a J-shaped tube about 4″ long that you insert into the oral cavity, keeping the airway open so you can do effective CPR. I studied the training material showing how to insert the airway tube as well as lessons on my own about full-on Endotracheal Tube intubation, the “gold standard” device used by paramedics and physicians to keep the airway open and the lungs inflated. Even though the ET tube was “above our pay grade,” it was interesting information.
The time had come for a “Hail Mary” play. Then a thought, like someone’s talking to me inside my head, “The tube’s in his hand! Breathe it in, now!” So, I hoped he had a good grip on that ET tube and I breathed it in, guiding it fast until it felt “right.” I could feel it through all the haze of the Fentanyl and Versed, drugs the anesthesiologist had flowing into my veins. I could breathe! Everything went black.
Then, the surgeon whooping, like inside a long tunnel far away. “We saved him!” They’re drenched in sweat, their joy was palpable even through the drugs. It was finally over.
The anesthesologist excitedly asked me, “Do you remember what you did? You intubated yourself! I’ve never seen anything like it!” By taking the time to study a procedure I would likely never use, I inadvertantly set myself up to help someone save my life down the road.
The health and wellness pod is working to bring you self-help medical information, home remedies, what to do in an emergency, how to provide home care for another if the system ever falters. You may never have a need for a splint, a poultice or need to use herbs when there is no medicine, at any price, but do give it some of your attention. If nothing else, there are forms in the book Cindy Arnett and members of the group assembled that may just help you if you ever present to the ER in an unconscious state. There’s also Medical Directives that tell the hospital personnel the law’s on your side. Just a little knowledge or remembering even a snippet about self care, could drive home the old phrase, “The life you save may be your own.”