Commentary — April 2014
By Jason Wang
During my three years at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, I've seen approximately 1,000 patients come in with a wide variety of health issues. Around the holidays and early this year, my knowledge was called upon not once, but twice, in emergency situations.
On Christmas day, I was sitting in a plane to Tokyo on my way to Taiwan to visit my grandmother. Suddenly, the mini-screens on the back of every seat started flashing red with this message: "If you are a doctor, please alert a flight attendant immediately." I sat in my seat for a good seven seconds, willing one of the 400 passengers to stand up and yell, "I'm a doctor!"
No one did. I made my way up the aisle and saw a tiny 60-year-old woman on the floor, unresponsive.
At that point, the training kicked in, and I didn't even think about what I was doing. I checked her ABCs (airway, breathing, and circulation) while calling for an emergency medical kit and gathering a patient history as well as I could.
It was a hectic 10 minutes. Someone mentioned she might be diabetic. I couldn't hear her breathing even with a stethoscope because of the engine vibrations. She was very pale.
I asked for help from a veterinarian sitting in first class. We got a blood pressure cuff on her arm, and it came back with a reading of 85/55. Eventually, I was able to find someone who told me she did have one alcoholic drink with her meal.
I processed the information and was able to get her the care she needed. Luckily, we did not need to start an IV.
The woman woke up and was able to recover. The 300 passengers sitting behind me watching the action clapped. After the plane landed, the flight attendants and many of the passengers thanked me, as did the patient and her husband.
Answering the Call
In January, I joined a group of medical students on a ski trip to Taos, N.M. I went a day after the main group with my girlfriend, Christian-Marie Dominguez, who is a nurse. We were about 10 miles south of the small town of Socorro, N.M., when a serious two-car collision occurred in front of us.
As we drove up, I saw the entire back half of a Ford Taurus had been ripped away; debris, metal, and glass littered the highway.
My girlfriend and I ran out of our car toward the Taurus. In the seat, I saw an elderly man sitting with his eyes wide open, but he was unresponsive. I couldn't assess a pulse.
The heavy stench of fuel filled the air. We pulled him out of the car, moved him 20 feet away, and lay him on the ground. A passerby was on the phone with 911. Another passerby was an off-duty emergency medical technician (EMT) who stopped to help. My girlfriend, the EMT, and I could feel his pulse, which was weakly pounding but still stable. He was still completely unresponsive, so we continued tracking his vital signs and waited.
The nearest hospital was 10 miles north in Socorro. His breathing became extremely shallow. The EMT pointed out that the man now had a blown pupil.
I was half crouching in the grass of the median, and my muscles were getting sore. I was still in a short-sleeved shirt, and the cold hit me. I was shivering too much to feel the radial pulse. By this point, the man's chest was no longer moving up and down.
Police arrived on the scene first, followed by the ambulance crew. We helped roll the man onto a backboard and put him in the ambulance.
As my girlfriend and I were giving our statements to police, I looked at the ambulance. It was rocking back and forth. The only force that could do that would be chest compressions. He was coding. We watched the ambulance pull away.
We left and stopped in Socorro so we could gather our nerves. My girlfriend said a prayer for the elderly man. It was a long drive to Taos.
As I lay in bed that night staring up at the ceiling, I realized that even now, at a ripe young age of 23, through the extraordinarily generous actions of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, I have already undergone so much training that seeing patients in emergency situations has become incredibly natural in a short period of time.
I still have much to learn, but by the time I graduate next year as a physician, I will have become a part of the next generation of well-trained U.S. medical school graduates. I will have joined the ranks of those who have felt the calling to save lives. I'll be proud to call myself a doctor.
Jason Wang is a third-year student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso.
April 2014 Texas Medicine Contents
Texas Medicine Main Page