Treating from the Heart

As a paramedic, I responded to a call at a small hotel. The manager reported that a guest was having “difficult breathing”.

On arrival, we walked into the man’s room. He was in his 60’s, lying on his bed with labored breathing. He had a bulbous red nose (like W.C. Fields), and a small bottle of nitroglycerin tablets on the nightstand next to his bed. His breath smelled like he’d been drinking. I read his name on the Rx.

I said, “Mr. Johnson (not his real name), do you have any other problems besides angina?” He said, “Go away.” I explained that the manager called us to check him for his labored breathing and that, since we were there, he should at least let us evaluate him. There would be no charge if we didn’t transport him.

While my partner began to take his blood pressure, I asked if he was taking any other meds. He said they were in the “grip” at the foot of the bed. I opened the small leather pouch and saw several generic Rx’s from a VA hospital. The man was a World War II veteran.

Just then, the guy got up off the bed, BP cuff still dangling from his arm, rushed over to sit in a chair directly in front of me, flipped open his small suitcase, took a pistol off the top of his clothes, pointed it at his head, closed his eyes, and leaned back in the chair – all within 4 seconds.

My immediate thoughts were 1) “Well, he’s not pointing that gun at me”, 2) “He’s not mad at me”, and finally, “I wonder how loud it’s gonna be?”

My partner then literally ran over the top of the mattress, twisted the gun from the guy’s hand, opened the chamber, and dumped 6 bullets onto the bed.

When the police arrived (attempted suicide), the guy told the cop, “You got a gun, YOU shoot me.” The cop calmly said, “I got no reason to shoot you.”

Realizing that this man needed to hear the right words to help him at that time was a no-brainer. I asked him again, from my heart, “Mr. Johnson, what is going on?” He replied, “I was a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp.”

At that moment, Rick Garzaniti stepped aside and the following response just flowed from my mouth: “Mr. Johnson, you didn’t let them kill you THEN, don’t let them kill you NOW!!” It was then that he got up and willfully laid down on our stretcher.

This is a perfect example of how being present, treating the patient from our hearts, and listening with our being is so important.

It certainly worked for me.

NOTE: The night before we responded to this call, CBS TV aired a special program honoring World War II military personnel called “V Day”. The program included lots of footage of actual WWII battle scenes. As I watched that program (part of it), I couldn’t help but wonder what effect those videos would have on WWII veterans. I found out the next afternoon.

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