A knock on the door interrupted my lunch.
“Soapie? They’re calling downstairs. Someone can’t breathe.”
Standing up, I swallowed my last bite then flew down the stairs.
Sweat dripped down his pale face. His chest heaved up and down, as if he were struggling to carry a boulder in his arms.
“Hi… what happened…and can you sit down?” I asked. I scooted a chair behind him to catch him if he fell.
“I… can’t…” he panted.
I grabbed a pulseoximeter, a device to check how well oxygen was flowing in his blood, and clipped it onto his finger.
85%. (The normal is 95-100%, anything less than 90% is critical in a healthy person.)
My legs rushed towards the portable oxygen tank and wheeled it back to the room.
“You need oxygen, you’re breathing is not good…” I ripped open a nasal cannula, connected it to the tank, placed it on his face, and turned the tank’s nozzle on. “If your breathing doesn’t improve, you have to go to the Emergency Department (ED),” I explained.
“I’m not… I won’t… go,” he gasped.
“If your breathing doesn’t get better, you could die,” I pressed.
The doctor bolted in the room. As she assessed him, I prepared the nebulizer machine. We tag teamed, working together swiftly like two runners in a race, passing the baton to one another, running against time. When she stepped out, I stepped in. I started the nebulizer to open up his lungs. After it finished, she hurried back in.
She listened with her stethoscope. It sounded like a child trying to blow through a broken kazoo- some high pitched whistling, but not enough air going in or coming out. “Let’s give him another treatment.”
“I feel a little better already,” he whispered.
“The medication may wear off and you could get worse. So you still might have to go to the ED,” I warned, as I prepared the 2nd dose and gave him pills to swallow. I decreased the flow of oxygen on the tank to see if he was improving.
He replaced his lips on the nebulizer mouthpiece. The machine turned the medication into twirls of mist, delivering relief to the tightened passageways of his lungs.
I rechecked his oxygen level. 91%.
The doctor ordered a 3rd dose. I returned to the room.
No longer sweating, his eye brows and facial muscles had relaxed. He reclined in the chair, leaning against the wall. “I’m okay now,” he offered.
“Still.. one more…” I resumed his treatment.
After completing the last dose, I turned the machine off. Listening to his lungs, there was less wheezing, and slightly louder breath sounds. I removed the nasal cannula from his face and turned off the oxygen.
97%, on room air.
My coworker nodded in approval over his quick recovery. “You responded well. Take the medicine, and go for the xray,” she handed him the order. “Come back in 2 days for follow-up, but go to the ED if you feel worse and can’t breathe again.”
He stood up and smiled. “Thank you, doctor, I will.” He walked out the exam room and opened the main door to exit the clinical area.
Just as the door was closing behind him, he threw his arm up high in the air and waved at me from the waiting room.
“Thank you for saving my life!”
In the hospital, my patients never said that because they were too sick to talk. When they couldn’t breathe, I had to wheel them to the ICU with a breathing tube in their mouth, bagging them down the hallway, mechanically squeezing air into their limp lungs.
This was the first time I heard those words, since working in the clinic.