This is the tale of my very first call as a fully registered and licensed Emergency Medical Technician. I had literally received my certification in the mail the day before this call occurred.
On the volunteer fire department we were discouraged from responding directly to the scene of the call. Usually the local PD would respond and arrive to assess the situation before the FD got there. It didn't make sense in most instances for somebody to go to the scene without all of the equipment and supplies on the ambulance or fire trucks. The only exception was if it was on the direct route between your home and the fire station or was one of your immediate neighbors.
It was around 4:30 in the afternoon and I had just gotten home from my boring office job. I hadn't even changed out of my business casual attire of cheap Dockers and button down shirt when my FD pager went off announcing a possible heart problem in the apartment building right next door to mine. I figured I could at least get a history and record the patient's vital signs so when the ambulance arrived they could just package them up and head to the hospital. Besides, like 80% of these possible heart calls turned out to be bad bologna and not a real cardiac issue.
I grabbed my sphygmomanometer (fancy name for a blood pressure cuff I was forced to learn in my EMT training) stethoscope, badge and identification and headed next door on foot. I arrived at exactly the same time as the police officer. We were greeted by a 70+ year old woman who informed us that she thought her elderly aunt was suffering a heart attack. I asked where the patient was and she directed me to the bathroom.
I discovered her 90+ year old aunt lying on the floor with her pants still around her knees. I introduced myself as being from the fire department and told her I was just going to check her pulse and blood pressure. She was very disoriented and barely acknowledged my presence. Her pulse was rapid (150) and very thready. I slapped the BP cuff on her and started to inflate it and before I could even begin to deflate it she let out the most awful gasping breath that lasted about 10 seconds and then ceased respirations. I jabbed two fingers onto her carotid artery and confirmed what I already feared. Her heart was no longer beating.
I hooked my hands under her arms and dragged her frail 100 pound frame out into the living room and shouted at the cop, "Get on the radio and tell the ambulance to step it up because we are starting CPR!" The cop did as he was told and then told me he would do respirations since he had his one way valve mask with him. I started compressions and felt two or three ribs crack on the very first set of 5. It was only about 2-3 minutes later when the ambulance crew arrived and packaged her up and headed for the hospital.
I wish I could tell you that being there to initiate CPR right away saved her, but she didn't make it. It doesn't haunt me or anything because at 90 something it was just her time. In the course of my service as an EMT I saw multiple dead bodies and worked on people who were alive, but died soon after we treated them. This was the one and only time in my life that I have witnessed somebody drawing their very last breath and I will never forget it.