This story is from the Anamnesis episode called Is There a Doctor in the House? at 23:27 in the podcast. It’s from Evelina Grayver, MD, the director of the Women’s Heart Health Program at the Katz Institute for Women’s Health for Northwell Health’s Central Region, and an assistant professor in the Department of Cardiology at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Uniondale, New York.
Several years ago, I just recently graduated my cardiology fellowship, and I was incredibly excited to be invited to go to the American Heart Association “Go Red” luncheon. It’s a luncheon that is usually done sometime in the time of February or beginning of March to raise awareness in regard to heart disease for women. And I was beyond excited, because I was so eager to get involved … on a national level for the American Heart Association.
I was looking forward to the event, and I was so anxious and so eager [about] how the event will be, who I’m going to end up meeting, because I knew it’s one of the biggest ones that they have on Long Island.
It’s usually held at the Crest Hollow [Country Club] out in Woodbury, and I know that it can get quite glamorous at times. The initial part of the day is when there’s some lectures, and then it’s followed by sort of a meet-and-greet and hors d’oeuvres. And then there’s the main program where there’s usually anywhere between 600 to 800 people that are there, there’s usually a survival story.
So, I was excited, I was so happy to find that I was actually able to get the day off from work, and I was excited — I was going to be not in scrubs, I was going to be like a girl, I was going to actually wear a dress, and I was going to put on heels, and I was truly excited to be out there.
A Lot of People in One Place
I got dressed, got there. And it was interesting, as I walked in, I was thinking to myself that this is a lot of people in one place, and I wonder whether or not there’s anything, any cardiac issues that ever come up at these massive national cardiac conferences.
I was actually initially asked to do one of the teaching sessions, which I did, it went really, really well; then came the second part of the event when I was upstairs, and it was just meet-and-greet. I was meeting a lot of people that are in healthcare from nurse practitioners to PAs [physician assistants] to fellow colleague physicians from different healthcare systems.
And then finally comes the actual main event, and that’s the actual lunch itself in a beautifully decorated hall, and everybody looked beautiful. And all of the women are dressed in red, and men tried to sort of compliment them by either wearing funky red socks or a red tie. And we all sit at a table — each table is usually consisting of anywhere between 12 to 14 or 16 people.
I was sitting actually amongst my own Northwell colleagues. We were just commenting, how nice it is to actually be outside of the hospital and not dealing with hospital work, not dealing with hospital issues, and patients and everything else of that nature.
His Eyes Rolled to the Back of His Head
And the program began; this woman who was a cardiac survivor spoke there. And as she was speaking from the literally, truly, completely peripheral vision — from the corner of my eye — I saw this one man sitting at a table, kind of almost like diagonally from me. He was listening to the speaker and he was, I believe, starting to eat. And as I am listening to her, somehow he caught my eye sort of on the periphery, and I saw that his eyes truly started to roll back in his head.
I’m not sure whether or not it was his wife or his colleagues that were sitting next to him. They were not noticing it. And 2 seconds later, he ended up being completely just flat on the floor, the chair just completely went backwards.
It’s interesting that despite the fact that we’re in the middle of this monstrously large American Heart Association conference, I think human nature sometimes takes over people, and I believe he was in a table with not anyone who’s in the medical field.
So unfortunately, what happens when a person collapses in front of us, people go into this kind of a shock mode, and they don’t know how to respond appropriately at times. And being at that period of time, I was the director of our cardiac intensive care unit and resuscitation and cardiac arrest were sort of things that I did on a daily basis, but I just never did it wearing a fancy dress and high heels.
The first thing that I did was, as I sprung off my chair, I took my heels and I literally flung my heels up.
I got on the floor, and I started to resuscitate the patient. I felt the fact that he had no pulse. I asked anyone to please call 911 because I knew I was going to need ambulance and EMS assistance, and started doing compressions at that period of time.
What was unfortunate to me is that when I initially sprung up and threw my heels up in the air, I saw the fact that the people around were incredibly, incredibly concerned to actually figure out who in the world is this woman that is on top of either their loved one or a colleague of theirs that was resuscitating the person.
I assured them of the fact that I actually am a physician, and that I knew exactly what I was doing. And then, thank God, some of my other male colleagues came over and confirmed the fact that yes, I am a physician, I am a cardiologist, I actually run a critical care unit, and this is what I do for a living.
The Credentials Still Get Questioned
It was initially quite a hard pill to swallow, to be honest with you, because it’s funny that still in this time and age where a woman who is actually nicely dressed and is there to actually help someone — you know, the credentials still get questioned.
I sometimes wonder whether or not it would have been the same thing if any one of my male colleagues would have sprung their heels off or untied their tie to actually start resuscitating the patient.
So anyway, at that time, my male colleagues were there, they started to help me in reference to resuscitation. Luckily, after several minutes of compressions, we were able to regain his pulse.
They did have an AED [automated external defibrillator] on site. By the time that the AED was brought to us, thankfully I was able to get his pulse back, so we did not need to put an AED on him, nor did he need to be or require to be shocked.
EMS got there, they got him to the hospital, it appeared the fact that he did have a cardiac event, for which he subsequently needed a stent placement in one of his arteries.
Right Place, Right Time
So he actually had a cardiac arrest right in the middle of a national cardiac conference and was very, very lucky, because we were able to get him back quite rapidly without any significant detrimental loss to any of his neurological function, or subsequently not anything to his cardiac function.
For me, that environment is actually interestingly enough, my natural environment, I don’t have a thought in regards to being sort of nervous or anxious about it or questioning what I needed to do. I was a little perplexed at the fact that I felt that it was taking quite some time for me to get my appropriate resources, quite some time before the AED would get there, and quite some time before I found that EMS was there. But there was no hesitation, there was really no further anxiety about anything else.
Because of the fact that it is something that I do on an everyday basis, I felt completely in the zone, completely in my element. Completely, exactly what I like to be doing, except for the discomfort of wearing pantyhose rather than wearing comfy scrubs.
When a physician takes their oath when starting medical school, I think that at times we don’t even ourselves recognize the fact that this is not a 9-to-5 type of a job — this is a profession, this is a livelihood, and this is a lifestyle.
Truly I think that I find it an incredible kind of humbling event, where I know how to appropriately treat patients and hoping the fact that I can actually help somebody and assist them in a truly life-altering event.
Want to share your story? Read the Anamnesis Storyteller Tip Sheet and send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.