Know when to call 911 this holiday season

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Drew Rinella Guest Opinion

An unrelenting deluge of waves slammed the jagged rocks of Yaquina Head on the Oregon Coast, with an intensity guaranteeing the destruction of any human body caught in between. The ancient basalt monoliths, having been driven upward from the depths of the Earth by the violence of an angry fault line ages ago, had become a quickly sinking life raft for a handful of cold and frightened beachgoers stranded by the incoming tide. I watched from the safety of my ambulance on the nearby rocky shore as a Coast Guard rescue helicopter swooped in overhead to pluck the victims from a certain and savage death.

Working beneath the Eurocopter MH-65 Dolphin is an awesome thing, with its twin 853 horsepower Turbomeca Arriel turbine engines screaming like a Star Wars TIE fighter above. My job was to standby, and process the beachgoers for hypothermia and injuries upon the completion of the rescue. And that’s when the radio crackled: “Medic 1 respond to the Best Western for uncontrolled bleeding from the face.”

My partner and I reluctantly departed from the active rescue scene, having been dispatched to a call of a higher triage priority, and sped off to our new assignment. We threw our gear onto the stretcher and made our way up the impossibly slow hotel elevator, hoping to clear from the bleeding call and return to the rescue before the action was over. I knocked on the hotel room door. It creaked slowly open, and what we found caused the blood to drain from our own faces as we gazed on in horror:

A 70 year old woman picking at a pimple. It wouldn’t stop bleeding because she couldn’t stop picking at it. She demanded we transport her to the emergency room.

When I moved to Idaho 10 years ago I fell in love with the resiliency of its culture and people. Idahoans take pride in their self-reliance, and as a matter of pride they don’t ask for help unless it’s needed. Idaho septuagenarians have survived for seven decades in this rural and rugged land because they can handle the simple inconveniences of daily life (like zits) without the need for emergency services.

Unfortunately, that resilience sometimes prevents Idahoans from asking for help when it’s most needed. This happens often during the Holiday season, as people with serious illnesses may delay calling 911 to avoid inconveniencing their family members. Immediate treatment by paramedics and EMTs, while in transit to the most appropriate hospital, can improve outcomes for sufferers of time sensitive emergencies such as heart attack and stroke. Any delay in seeking treatment results in poorer outcomes, including decreased survival and lower quality of life.

As inconvenient as an ambulance trip and a hospital visit may be, nothing quite puts a damper on Thanksgiving like Uncle Jim dropping dead in the mashed potatoes because he neglected a nagging chest pain. The American Heart Association recommends immediately calling 911 if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms:

• Chest discomfort such as pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain, as this may indicate a heart attack. Pain from a heart attack may radiate outward from the chest into the back, neck, arm, stomach, or groin; or the discomfort may be isolated only to those areas outside of the chest. Some people don’t experience the classic symptoms of a heart attack, and may experience less dramatic symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, light headedness, or suddenly breaking out into a cold sweat.

• Signs of a stroke such as drooping of one side of the face, numbness or weakness of the limbs on one side of the body, slurred speech, confusion, severe headache, or trouble seeing.

If any of the above signs and symptoms appear and then suddenly improve, you should still call 911 as the underlying cause may still be present. And if your pimple won’t stop bleeding, apply firm steady pressure with a tissue for several minutes until the situation resolves.

• • •

Drew Rinella is a paramedic, and the captain of operations for Boundary Ambulance Service in Bonners Ferry.

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