Answer me this:
When a person is having chest pain, within which timeframe
should you call 911?
A. After one hour
B. After 90 minutes
C. After nine hours
D. Within 15 minutes
The answer may seem obvious to you, but I became an
American Heart Association CPR instructor because we
did everything WRONG when my husband, Steve, had a
heart attack in 2007. Instead of “D,” we answered “C,” and
I became an instructor because I wanted to ensure that I had
the proper training to respond correctly the “next time.” I
want to share our story because we were completely fooled,
and it nearly cost my husband his life.
How can you NOT know someone is having a heart
attack? It’s actually pretty easy — if you’re not looking for
it. Even as an experienced Registered Medical Assistant who
had taken CPR classes, I completely missed all the clues
when it involved my own husband.
First, my 50-year-old, active, slender, non-smoking
husband didn’t look like a heart attack victim to me. You
know what I mean? Picture in your mind a guy who looks
like he’s going to drop dead from a heart attack any minute.
Who did you picture? An older, overweight man puffing
cigarettes in the parking lot? Beet red face and cramming in
two super-sized hamburgers at lunchtime? ‘Clearly,’ you are
thinking to yourself, ‘this guy doesn’t eat right, is probably
sedentary, has high blood pressure, and obviously has a
lifestyle that’s going to lead to a heart attack!’ My husband,
except for being male and having a less-than-stellar diet,
wasn’t any of those things, he was thin and active — so we
weren’t expecting a heart attack.
Second, his symptoms didn’t scream “HEART
ATTACK!” to us. Screaming would have made me call 911,
but there was no screaming. What are the symptoms you
would expect to see? A person complaining of a crushing
chest pain? Radiating pain to the shoulder or jaw? A person
saying, “I can’t breathe…I feel like I have an elephant
standing on my chest?” My husband began his ordeal by
throwing up in the middle of the night. After he vomited,
he said he had a burning, acid-like sensation running down
the center of his chest — just what one might expect after
vomiting. So he took an antacid and sat in his recliner for a
while to get that acid sensation to go away. And I went back
to bed … for two hours.
Third, there is the natural “denial” response. Even if that
little voice in the back of your head is saying, ‘Something
isn’t right — you should go to the hospital,’ you want to
believe that it’s just indigestion, it’s just a stomach bug. So
when I woke up and checked on Steve — still in the recliner
at 1 a.m. — and asked whether we should go to the hospital,
I believed him when he said, “No, it’s just acid reflux — it’ll
go away soon, I’m sure.” I wanted to believe him and so I
did. And went back to bed.
By Susan Blake
AHA CPR Instructor | Limington, Maine