The man lay helplessly on the floor. He was disoriented and afraid. His brain was telling his body to get up and to get moving, but nothing was responding. “What’s wrong with me,” he thought. “Is this the beginning of a heart attack?” His wife slept peacefully just a whisper away on the bed. He could have called out for help, but he did not. Why? Because he knew she’d call an ambulance and he didn’t want the embarrassment and expense.
The above story is true and recent. When my husband told me about his friend’s plight, I raised a knowing eyebrow. The same thing had happened to us within the year. During the middle of the night my sleep was disturbed by an odd sound. There was a crumply thud and then silence. I reached over to wake my husband. Had he heard it too? My hand slid over an empty sheet. I called his name. Silence. I called louder. Silence. Trembling a bit, I stepped into the bathroom and found his prone body splayed on the floor. Panicking, I shook his shoulder and continued to call his name. Nothing. He was breathing, but extremely erratically. I had to make a decision fast. If I waited to call 911 and he was having a stroke or heart attack precious moments were being lost. It felt surreal, but I moved to the phone. I was shaking so badly I was barely able to punch the buttons. “Hello? My husband is on the floor and I can’t rouse him…” I began. The 911 operator was about to dispatch an ambulance when my husband began to regain consciousness. He heard me talking to the 911 operator and asked me to tell them he was fine. “Do not send an ambulance!” I began to argue, but he pleaded with me to tell them he was fine. The operator strongly advised he be checked over by the paramedics, but my husband was insistent. No ambulance. No paramedics. I acquiesced with total fear in my heart. My husband slowly sat up and took his time getting back into bed. “I just fainted,” he said. “It’s nothing to worry about.” Just fainted? In addition his head was bleeding from where he had hit the door frame on his way to the floor. Nothing to worry about?
Another friend of mine tells a similar story. In her case her husband was having a heart attack. She immediately picked up the phone to call an ambulance but he made her stop. “I’ll go to the emergency room only if you drive me.” My friend was really scared but decided she had to do something, and wasting time in a fight wasn’t going to help. She loaded him in the car and broke speed limits. The damage to his heart was bad, but he survived that time. The medical team told her how foolish she had been to drive him to the hospital on her own. If the ambulance had taken him they could have started treatment faster and the outcome might have been less severe. She told me she would never, ever, drive him to the hospital under those circumstances again. I agreed with her at the time, but when my own husband was lying on the floor begging me not to have an ambulance come to help him, I folded. Why? I suspect there is too much fear and emotion in the air for either party to think clearly. I wanted to believe him when he said he was fine, even when all evidence indicated things were not fine. Not by a far stretch.
I bring this up because the holiday season can be very stressful. Snow shoveling sends many people to the emergency room. Over-indulgences can tip the scales in a bad direction—what seems like indigestion can be a heart attack. What happened to the first gentleman I wrote about? He remained on the floor for three hours before his wife woke and found him. She took him to the hospital where it was determined he had had a cluster of mini strokes. His treatment could have been implemented sooner if he had just called out to his wife for help. I understand pride and the high-cost of ambulance service. But how much is a life worth? If it was your partner on the floor, what would you do?