Most of us have read books, seen videos or heard stories about high energy, high stakes medical scenarios, like a patient coding and the medical team shocks them with a defibrillator, or someone is drowning and CPR having to be performed. Since I just started medical school, I doubt I’ll perform lifesaving maneuvers on any patients soon since my main companion will be my textbooks; however, I experienced a couple of these moments before medical school, and they were nothing like what you see on TV.
It was my senior year in high school, and I had made it to the state science fair. My friends and I were in the cafeteria on the university campus grabbing some lunch before the afternoon sessions kicked off. We began eating our lunches and discussing the events of the day. Suddenly, I noticed some commotion at that table across from us—one of the girls from my school was bent over and grabbing her throat. Before I even knew what was going on, one of my teachers sprang into action and grabbed the girl, placed her arms around the girl’s stomach and started performing the Heimlich maneuver.
The girl had part of a chicken nugget caught near her epiglottis, but my teacher performed this life saving maneuver to remove it so that the girl could breathe. All of this probably happened within two minutes; it was a blur. However, I was shocked by how quickly, effortlessly and efficiently my teacher responded. I hoped that I could do that one day. Little did I know, less than a year later, I’d be doing the same thing.
On another occasion, late during an evening my first semester in college, I was chatting with a friend in my dorm room. We were talking about the difficulty of our classes, the stresses of rushing a fraternity, and all the other things that stress out freshman premeds. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, and my friend was in the doorway. As we were talking, he opened a piece of candy, and popped it into his mouth. After a few brief moments, his talking stopped, his eyes widened and he grabbed his throat, just like the girl I saw in the cafeteria that day. After a few seconds of me wrapping my mind around what was going on, I knew I had to do something. I jumped off my bed, forcefully swung my friend around so that he was facing away from me, placed my arms around his torso and began the Heimlich. I’d never been trained, and had only seen the maneuver in real life that one time before. Two thoughts kept racing through my mind. First, I kept imagining what my back up plan was if I couldn’t get him to breathe again. My only option was to go into the hallway and start screaming for help, but I knew that that wouldn’t aid him immediately. Second, I imagined his body going limp and him dying in my dorm room. This thought horrified me, pushing me to do everything I could to get my friend breathing again. After a few blurred moments passed, my friend coughed up the stubborn piece of candy and was gasping for air. I knew he could breathe again. I wrapped my arms around his chest and hugged him, feeling his chest move up and down, affirmation that he was OK. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Not many people have the occasion to save someone, and I’m glad they don’t. It’s scary. However, going into medicine, I know I’ll be facing life or death moments like this again one day. I learned from watching my teacher quickly respond to that situation in the cafeteria that day. Her calmness and control of the situation ineradicably marked my mind. If it wasn’t for her example and having such an influence on my life, I don’t know if I would have responded the way I did that night in my dorm. We learn from teachers, sometimes even when they aren’t meaning to teach us. I can only imagine the mark my professors, attendings, and peers will have on me while in medical school, where our education will happen not only in the lecture hall, but in a clinical setting, and maybe even sometimes when it’s unexpected.
About Weston Eldridge
Weston Eldridge is a graduate of Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi with a BS in Chemistry Medical Sciences and Biomedical Sciences. He is a first year medical student at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in Jackson, MS. He grew up in Flora, a small town in central Mississippi. He is a Mississippi Rural Physician Scholar and he plans to practice rural medicine one day. While not studying for his classes, Weston enjoys spending time with his wife, writing, and reading. He is the author of the book Sundry Reveries and he hopes to continue writing for the rest of his life.