Tragic health situations can be a wakeup call to saving lives

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 3, 2006

None of us want to see a loved one become sick, suffer or die. But sometimes these disasters can bring an alert awareness to these situations and save many lives in doing so.

Last weekend, there were several major health disaster reports in the news, with informative advice for prevention; but one caught my attention, since what happened to the victim could have happened to me or my late husband.

Channel 13 gave a report on an Illinois woman named Beatrice Vance.


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In July, Vance, 49, suffered chest pains that were accompanied by shortness of breath and nausea. Her daughter rushed her to an emergency room in that area, and after she arrived, she saw a nurse briefly, who learned about her symptoms and left her waiting to be treated in the emergency room. The wait lasted two hours. When her name was finally called, she was slumped over in her chair dead from a massive heart attack.

Christianne Kline, conducting the report, said that the American College of Cardiology says that patients like Vance should be placed on a cardiac monitor immediately and given an EKG within the first 10 minutes.

According to Dr. Richard Keller, the coroner interviewed on the program, Vance’s daughter told him that she recalled going up to the desk and asking the medical staff to take care of her mother at least five times. Keller also verified that the autopsy revealed that Vance had died of the massive heart attack, exactly what her symptoms predicted. He said that this improper action of the staff was more than just a tragedy, it could be a crime, because she was only a few feet away from medical help. An inquest last week has already declared this incident as a homicide.

Now Vance’s death has brought attention to what some are calling a crisis in our country’s emergency departments.

The reason this report caught my attention was that I have had three experiences with chest pains in my family that required treatment in the emergency room. However, the Louise Obici Memorial Hospital staff (the name of the facility at that time) seemed to be on the very top of things. Two situations involved my husband and one involved me.

When James suffered his first mild heart attack in 1993, and we arrived at the hospital and approached the desk, as soon as they learned what we were there for, he was rushed to the examining area. Not long after that he was monitored, given the EKG and a blood test. He went through the same process with the same speed in 1997, when he complained of chest pains once more.

In 2000, after attending church one Sunday, I experienced some chest pain, and when I arrived at the hospital, I was immediately rushed to the examining area and given an EKG. After being asked certain questions by a nurse, to see if I had any other symptoms pertaining to a heart attack, I was given some white pasty medicine that caused me to belch many times. The pain subsided and I went home. In all three cases, we were given immediate attention by the hospital staff, even when the emergency room was full.

For those who may not get the same attention, Kline said that the average emergency wait is a little over three hours, but there are steps that you can take if you or your loved one thinks that you are in an emergency situation.

(1) First, you can talk to a triage nurse or the emergency physician on duty. In other words, be a pest until you make them see your need for immediate care.

(2) If you are put in an area and are not receiving immediate attention, you can ask for a call button. This button is a direct line to the nurses’ station.

(3) Make sure that the doctors and nurses know who you are. Learn and call them by name.

(4) Learn to forget about privacy and leave the curtain to your area open so the medical staff knows you are there.

The Vance family said that while they can’t bring her back, they hope that no one else has to die for the same reason.

Let’s just hope that this column is the beginning of a domino effect in relaying that message so that Vance will not have died in vain.

Wall is a former News-Herald reporter and regular contributor to the Town Square Page.