What It’s Like to
Save a Life

in ,

In Short: Awesome.

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Read Time: 3 minutes

My wife and I are volunteer medics in our rural community, and were awakened by my pager on a Sunday morning at 1:04 a.m. The report: a 50-year-old man, unconscious, about 5 miles away from our house.

As the garage door rolled up, an update came from dispatch: “CPR in progress.”

As we rolled we discussed our plan: Kit would go in first and take over CPR — whoever was doing it would be tired! — while I got equipment. Based on his location it would take 10 minutes to get there …and the ambulance would be about 20 minutes behind that. His chances for survival were very low.

I stopped out front and Kit bolted. I was less than 30 seconds behind. The man’s daughter had done CPR while we were on the way, keeping him going until Kit took over.

While getting the story and the man’s medical history, I set up the defibrillator; it uses sticky pads instead of paddles, but it’s the same idea as what you see on TV. Kit knew to keep going while I worked the machine. She leaned out of my way, but still kept pumping on his chest while I stuck on the pads, and then stopped while the machine checked to see if a shock was in order: there has to be a “shockable rhythm” for it to help.

Photo: Nawoot on YayImages.

And luckily, we had a chance to save him.

I made sure Kit was not touching him. While the defibrillator charged we both made sure the man’s daughter also knew to not touch him. We got her nod, and I hit the button.


On TV, the person getting shocked does a little jump. In real life he jumps — a violent convulsion (if he’s lucky: that indicates tissues haven’t started dying from lack of oxygen). Our guy nearly came up off the floor!

And …it worked: his heart started again. We got a pulse.

I still had to breathe for him (with a respirator), but after a few minutes he started breathing again.

But he was still unconscious …and the ambulance was still 15 minutes away. I started an I.V. so the paramedic could get stabilizing drugs in quickly.

That’s hardly the end: we still have to get him to the hospital! The ambulance crew needed extra hands so I jumped on board. Kit picked me up when we got back, and we talked about every aspect of what happened until nearly dawn.

A few days later I was writing when the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway. The caller said his name, and it took me a second to realize who it was: our patient — he wanted to say thanks.

He not only had lived, he had no brain damage or other deficits. I asked if we could come visit, he was pleased to agree. He’s a good guy who’s grateful he gets to watch his grandkids grow up. And every time he happens to see me in public he comes over to shake my hand, so that awesome feeling washes over me all over again.

Randy Cassingham is WiLt’s head writer and publisher. His flagship publication This is True, established in 1994, is the oldest entertainment feature on the Internet.

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9 thoughts on “Save a Life”

  1. I’m so thankful for people like you. I very sure that I couldn’t handle the emotional nightmare that I would encounter.

    • I believe you could. Everyone teenage and above needs to at least know hands only CPR.

      Which is exactly what saved the man in the story: his daughter did compressions only — no mouth-to-mouth — for more than 10 minutes, and he walked out of the hospital. In addition to helping create circulation, pressing on the chest also moves a little (and obviously enough!) air. -rc

  2. What a moving account! And there must be so many out there every day, that we never hear about. Deep thanks to our unsung heroes!

    Exactly right! There are stories like this happening every day, with some much more dramatic than this. That’s part of the idea here: to help readers understand some of the experiences others have so they can know the world just a little bit better with every story. -rc

  3. This brought tears to my eyes.

    Rarely will people know when they pass a hero on the street, but I hope that every day, you carry the gratitude of those who were saved in your heart.

    Medics don’t feel like heroes: when you know what to do (and that’s what training is all about), there’s nothing extraordinary or courageous about doing it. A “save” this good is extraordinary in a way, but not because of any difference in what we do; it’s rather the patients’ luck or response or courage. It’s still a fantastic feeling, though, and the point of this story was to convey that. (And, maybe, to inspire readers to learn CPR, because it does work!) -rc

  4. The first time I became aware of the concept of “Paramedic” was through a TV program that we saw here (South Africa) in the late 70s or early 80s — “240 Robert” IIRC. Until then, as far as I am aware, ambulance drivers and their assistants might have had basic 1st aid training but were little more than, well, a driver and an assistant.

    At the time of that show, much was made of the Paramedics using remote-connected equipment which was monitored back at the hospital by a doctor who gave all the instructions. Perhaps that was the procedure back then, but as I understand it now the field operatives are making all the life-or-death decisions themselves, and mostly are no longer full Paramedics but somewhat lower-quailifed EMTs. We’ve come a long way (especially in the quality of medical TV series!)

    “240-Robert” (named for the radio callsign of the squad), about the L.A. Sheriff’s paramedic rescue team, ran 1979-1981 (on ABC in the states). It was created by Rick Rossner, two years after he created a bigger hit, “CHiPs”. I don’t know much about EMS in South Africa, but most first-responder ambulance crews in the U.S. have at least one paramedic on a response, and are no longer remote controlled. Consulting with “medical control” is mostly optional for the medic. -rc


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