The phone call came at 3:48 a.m. It was like the thousands (millions if you ask my wife and children) that came during my physician career. But I haven’t practiced in several years, so this was a surprise. And as our parents told us when we were going out as teenagers, nothing good happens after midnight.
The call came from my hometown of Edna, and from my oldest friend, Johnny Dugger.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Johnny. We have played, hunted and fished together. He has a scar on his chin from not being the bucking bronc he should have been at age 6, when it was my turn to ride.
Sometimes we fought. We have fired BB guns at birds, rabbits, neighborhood enemies and sometimes each other. Other times, the weapons were rocks or dirt clods. But whether ally or enemy of the moment, Johnny and I have been friends forever. However, I live with his threat made 60 years ago: being months older, he’s certain that I will die first. He plans to come to my house after I’m dead and shoot my BB gun.
As much as we are alike, we are also different. Our family moved from Edna when I was 14, and his never left. I have as much formal education as possible. He graduated from Edna High School on the condition that he stop peeling out of the parking lot in his 442 Oldsmobile. He never set foot in a college.
And I never want my IQ compared to his.
The phone was not in its cradle when the call blasted us awake. I found it, and Johnny’s name on the caller ID. I immediately called him back. Johnny’s voice was unlike anything I had heard from him before and he asked repeatedly: “What do I do?”
He had been awakened by a sound his wife, Kathy, had made, then he literally witnessed her cardiac arrest in their bed. (Previously, Kathy had been a healthy 62 year old.)
Immediately, I told him to hang up, call 911, and I’d call back. He did and I did, about 15 seconds later. EMS was inbound.
Again: “What do I do, Bill? The 911 dispatcher wouldn’t tell me.”
Me: “Where is Kathy?”
Him: “In bed.”
Me: “Get her on the floor, on her back.”
I then instructed him to locate the lower sternum (breast bone), how to place his hands properly, and to deliver 100 compressions a minute until help arrived and don’t bother trying to breathe for her. Then I shouted: “DO IT!” and hung up.
He saved her.
Any trained person knows that doing 10 minutes of unassisted CPR is a herculean physical feat, but he continued relentlessly until help came.
EMS arrived at 3:59 and documented ventricular fibrillation, a lethal finding. They delivered one cardioversion shock and restored a normal heart rhythm. Kathy was transported to the hospital where she was kept sedated for two days. When she woke, she knew nothing of the previous two days, but everything and everyone else. The odds of this amazing result are infinitesimal.
Kathy is now back home with her family and has an implanted pacemaker/defibrillator. She and I laughed when I told her that, other than saving her life, the best part was that I got to shout at Johnny and he couldn’t shout back.
The EMS dispatcher in Jackson County was not trained in CPR, so could not have given instructions. I have spoken with a Jackson County official and hope those folks can make necessary changes.
As an important aside, I found that here in Erath County, when 911 medical emergencies are called to the sheriff’s office, dispatchers are not only trained in CPR, they are also certified in Emergency Medical Dispatch. This training enables the dispatcher to quickly triage the emergency and give the caller appropriate instructions. Certification is by education and testing and is required every two years.
Johnny and I have spoken frequently since the incredible call that night. Our last conversation ended something like this:
Me: “You saved her life, Johnny. That’s absolutely heroic.”
Him: “I saved mine too. I can never repay you for helping me.”
Me: “Yes, you can. You can give me a hug next time, and you can promise to stay away from my BB gun.”
Him: “I love you, Hodge.”
Me: “I love you too, John. Goodnight.”
Bill Hodges is an Erath County resident. He writes a column on occasion for the E-T. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.