A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne
K. Young, Associate Editor.
I am a medical geneticist. Both of my grandfathers died in their early
50s of apparent myocardial infarctions. Numerous other relatives have had
heart disease. On September 20, 1999, I stopped worrying about my family history
and started living it.
Although in the previous two days I had run 30 miles training for a
marathon, I felt so good that I ran eight more before going to bed. An hour
later my sitting up and coughing awakened my wife, Brigid. I mumbled, even
more incoherently than usual, and collapsed back to horizontal. Then I was
silent. Profoundly silent. Like any spouse, Brigid was initially angry for
being awakened. But the silence concerned her. To deal with both her anger
and her concern, she yanked the bedclothes off me. When that failed to elicit
my normal squawking, she switched on the light and observed that I was motionless,
breathless, and pulseless, with eyes open and fixed. Brigid, an experienced
volunteer EMT, having determined unresponsiveness, cool-headedly proceeded
to the next CPR step, activating the emergency response system. She called
911, while attempting to rouse me with a mixture of reprimands ("Where do
you think you're going?!"), invocations of saints, and physical assault. She
was about to throw me to the floor to administer chest compressions when,
after being out 90 seconds, I came around. Lesson 1: Never
sleep with anyone who doesn't know CPR.
Guttmacher AE. Twenty Lessons From the Heart of Medicine. JAMA. 2000;284(12):1486-1487. doi:10.1001/jama.284.12.1486