To save one life is as if to save the world.

- The Talmud

No Stray Bullet

Jerry Vauk Jr., Austin, TX – 38 at the time of the event (2008)

Jerry VaukSaturday morning, Jerry sets off to test the bike route to his new workplace, two miles from home. He never got there. He doesn’t know why. In fact he can’t even remember the Friday before. He’s lucky to be able to tell the story. So very lucky, now he’s a survivor of the nation’s number one killer. He had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. He was found collapsed, under his bike, half on the sidewalk, half on the road.

Two men in a truck saw him and called 9-1-1. A nurse on her way to jazzercise class saw their truck blocking the lane and stopped to help administer CPR. No one else passed by while they waited for the emergency services.

The EMTS were having breakfast just down the road. The call came in four minutes after Jerry collapsed. They nearly took the wrong turn, as they weren’t sure exactly where Jerry was. No pulse, grey pallor, agonal breaths; they thought he might have been hit by a car, but there was no damage to his helmet. To be safe he was put on a backboard and given a neck-brace. They also checked for a gunshot wound—in Texas they have stray bullets!

He was loaded into the ambulance and for 21 minutes they worked on Jerry before they moved an inch. It took six shocks from the defibrillator to get a pulse. The EMTs used a special type of IV employing an intraosseous needle, drilling a tiny hole into his leg bone where they could get access to the excellent blood flow of the bone marrow.

Jerry also received the latest arrest survival technique: fast continuous chest compressions and induced hypothermia, once stabilized in the ER. It worked. Although he did end up with a nasty bout of pneumonia, which took a week to recover from, still intubated and sedated.

When the EMTs visited Jerry in the hospital, his first words were “What the hell did you do to my chest?” He was told, “If you don’t hear the cartilage popping and cracking, you’re not doing the compressions deep enough.” (He was also made aware of how strong and powerful the fire-crew member was.) They respond to around one arrest per week, and were ecstatic that they had saved Jerry.

It soon became apparent that Jerry was delirious—from the sedation, not the elation. He couldn’t recognize his family members and was hearing voices from the TV. Jerry recalls his attempted escape from hospital, “I thought people were out to get me.” He only made it half way down the corridor. The hospital staff were not surprised, and suspected he probably hadn’t gotten any REM sleep for the whole week of sedation.

Despite these odd behaviors, Jerry’s cognitive ability was unimpaired. Nevertheless the doctors quizzed Jerry relentlessly, asking him to subtract sevens, and spell words backwards, until they were certain. He was back to work within weeks and lives a full life with his private, personal EMT crew in his breast. His ICD is ready and waiting, and he’s grateful, since he can be there for his two sons. He could not imagine leaving them without a father. The words of his three-year-old still ring in his ears, “Daddy, me miss you when you were in hospital.”

-Jeremy Whitehead