Snatched from the Jaws
by Ray Fowler, MD
Copyright Jan 1, 1995

(Time in Space Home)

            This guy came to see me in the emergency room one day when I worked in another town, when I was much, much younger. The deal was, he had chest pain, the family had gotten nervous, and they all came piling into the ER to get him looked after. I was across the hall looking at a kid with an ear infection, so I called to the nurses to go ahead and get an EKG and I would be right there.

            Suddenly I heard, “Dr. Fowler, come here quick!” I literally jumped across the hall, leaping into the cardiac room, stepping onto the EKG leads, pulling the monitor leads off. So, of course, I did not know what the cardiac rhythm was at that point. I saw for the first time the look of a patient who had just gone into cardiac arrest. Nowadays I know the look from a half mile away. At that time, for a moment, I just stared.

            The man was having a seizure, but almost unlike any I’d ever seen. His whole body had stiffened, rising up in the middle off of the stretcher. His head was thrown straight backward, and his legs and arms were stiffened in a decerebrate posture, but not moving. And, most strange and unlike any “seizure” I had ever seen, his color was changing: From pink, to pale, to gray, and on to blue.

            My description of this makes it sound like it took minutes, but the whole scene was evolving over about twenty seconds. When the man began to relax, and when I could finally get my fingers onto his wrist to check a pulse, I could find none. I saw then that he wasn’t breathing. Then, an even stranger thing happened.

            Time began to slow down. Have you ever had a dream where you were running somewhere, maybe away from something in fear, and your legs wouldn’t move, as if they were suspended in molasses? Certainly I have, and for the next few moments, I saw that we were all acting like the clock had been slowed down by about 75%. I turned to the monitor and reached for the paddles. I fumbled for the paddles’ monitoring setting. I slowly reached my hand out for the electrode pads which, of course, wouldn’t tear open, and when they did open, they fell out onto the floor.

            Then, so gradually it seemed, I turned to the man, pulled open his shirt, and put the paddles on him. Turning back to the machine I saw, of course, that he was in ventricular fibrillation. I twisted the knob to 200 joules and turned again to the man and buzzed him. He stiffened as usual with the shock and converted on first “pop”. After that he stayed in bigeminy for what seemed like a long time, gradually regaining consciousness, and presently, with multiple drips hanging, he was wheeled out the door to the ICU. Later, I was to find out that he went on to the referral center for a coronary bypass. I should add, this was way before the days of TPA and Retevase, when all we had was oxygen, nitro, blood pressure control, some beta blockade, and pain control.

            The event was soon forgotten in the busy practice of emergency medicine, I a young guy green around the gills, working 24 hour shifts, living hard in between, rocking and rolling in my new career.

            One day about a month later the secretary up front in the ER said that there was someone in the waiting room to see me. A man in his late 50’s was shown into my office in the ER, and presently I was able to go see him. He introduced himself. It was the same guy that I had defibrillated, and who, I might add, had taken a few years off of my own life by scaring ME half to death in the ER. He was about a month post bypass surgery, doing well, still pale and tired, but had come by to “meet the man that saved his life”, he said. Well, I had hardly done any such thing, I tried to say, rather that I was just following the standard protocol that any physician, nurse, or medic would have done. Nonetheless, he just wanted to shake my hand and say thanks. We gave each other a hug, and he went away. Needless to say, I was flattered and grateful, first that he was alive and doing well, and second, to feel that something I had done had really made a difference to someone.

            About a month later, an event transpired that has stayed with me now for twenty years. Once again, the secretary in the front said that there was someone to see me. And, once again, the man was shown into my office. This time, though, he had with him his wife, his daughter, and the mayor of his town. In his hand was a plaque that said, in essence, that because I had allowed myself to be a conduit of mercy, God had acted through my hands and applied a healing touch to a person special to so many people. And, for that, the mayor of the town had declared it “Ray Fowler Day”, and all the folks in the room had signed the plaque.

            I was absolutely speechless and started to cry. I’m a pretty emotional guy anyway, and such things really strum my heart strings. They could see that I was a pretty blubbering kind of guy, and that I had work to do, so they decided to excuse themselves and let me get back to work.

            The last to leave was the man I had resuscitated. He turned to me, and again we gave each other a big hug. Then he said something that has affected my life ever since. He said that he remembered going unconscious that day, and he said that he had felt himself rise to the ceiling of the room. He saw me put the paddles on his chest and saw his body move. He said that he felt no pain. He also said that he remained in this state for some time, and he heard our discussion about the bigeminy rhythm and how worried we were. Then, he remembered waking up and seeing my face.

            He looked at me, both of us pretty tearful. He said that he was sure that he had been resuscitated for a reason, including to be a better witness for God. He said that his life had changed and new energy and purpose had been restored to his middle age. He thanked me again and turned away. I never saw him again.

            I put the plaque on the wall of my office and see it every day as I pass through. It helps me remember that within every gown, on every examination stretcher, in every home where someone cries out in distress, a wounded heart lies calling out for care. Our opportunities to bring solace to the sad of heart and the needy can have far-reaching consequences that we would never imagine. We just have to give them a chance.

            We have to do the right thing. We have to give them a chance.