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Death Gurgles

Updated on December 2, 2009

You Can Make a Difference

All of my life, I have wanted to be a hero.  I watched “Emergency!” and wanted to be a paramedic.  As I grew older, my dreams changed, but I still always imagined that one day I might be a hero...


On Tuesday, January 8, 2008, I had briefly stopped by my brother-in-law’s home in Deer Park, Texas.  I had gone there with my mother to take something to my nephew.  While waiting in the car, someone shouted that my brother-in-law was dead.  I ran inside.  He was lying in bed, and his body was cold; his face was turning purple. 


Remembering my CPR and AED training I had taken over the years, I checked to see if he was breathing.  His chest was not moving.  He was making sounds like small snores, though.  I then checked his pulse, and was glad to find that he had one.  It was much stronger than I expected.  HE WAS ALIVE, but he was not breathing. 


My nephew and I placed him on the floor in case we needed to start compressions.  I placed a suitcase underneath his feet to increase the blood pressure to his vital organs.  I started rescue breathing.  His exhalations sounded like snores.  I had not expected this.  At first I thought he was coming around, but then I continued, realizing that he probably snored normally. 


I started thinking about my training while I was performing the rescue breathing.  “Make sure the mouth is clear.”  I hadn’t done this yet, so I did so.  Nothing there...Good.  I noted how difficult it actually was to do the clearing check.  I continued the rescue breathing. 


The police arrived first on the scene.  They had an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) unit.  The told me to continue the rescue breathing while they hooked him up.  They had me stop long enough for the AED to evaluate the situation.  The AED said he did not need defibrillation.  I continued the rescue breathing.


Then came the moment I had been dreading.  In the last CPR class I took, we (the students) were warned that it was not a question of whether the patient would aspirate, but when.  When it happened, I knew what had to be done.  We turned him onto his side , and we did our best to clear his airway.  I nearly got sick to my stomach.  I resumed the rescue breathing.


A minute or two later the Deer Park Volunteer Fire Dept. arrived with their E.M.T.s (Emergency Medical Technicians).  Once they got their equipment into the room, my work was done.  I could only watch.  With their equipment, they intubated him and were “bagging” him.  They gave him medication and twice had to defibrillate him.


In reflection, I am not a hero because of this.  To quote Harry Potter, “Stuff like that always sounds cooler that it really was.”  It did not require courage, only focus.  I was too focused on the task to be scared or feel helpless.  The skills necessary for me to save my brother-in-law should have been possessed by all present.  Besides me and my brother-in-law, five other people were already present before I arrived.  There were scared and didn’t know what to do.  One of them even had previous CPR training, but couldn’t remember what to do.  I later reminded that person that emergency procedures need to be practiced over and over, even if only in the mind. 


My brother-in-law is okay.  He suffered no brain damage and made a full recovery.   I was once dubious of the effectiveness of rescue breathing, but not anymore.  Two days later, I learned that those sounds he was making have a name, “DEATH GURGLES.”  It is a certain sign that someone is about to die. 


My rescue breathing had made the difference.  Not that I saved him alone.  It bought the time needed for the medics to arrive.  


Are you ready to save a life?


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      Ted 6 years ago

      Great to see there are still people around that care, a true hero.