How The Economy is Literally Killing People

At the very beginning of our shift, we received a transfer from the telemetry floor; a 50-something-year-old woman who was admitted 2 days prior with chest pain and elevated cardiac enzymes.

And, at the time, that was all the information we had. She arrived to us having 10/10 (worst pain imaginable, per patient report) chest pain, she was vomiting, diaphoretic (sweating), and so short of breath that she could barely sit back in the bed long enough for us to get a 12-lead EKG. Her EKG showed major ST changes and her blood pressure was quickly dropping to 62/34.

By this time, multiple calls had gone out to the cardiologist and he had scheduled her to go to the cath lab at 10 a.m. (it was 9 a.m. at this time) and he was given all the same assessment information that we had in front of us.

We were doing everything we could (via ACLS and other MD orders) to keep this woman stable until the cath lab was ready for her to go downstairs. We then received a call from her husband calling to check on her (not knowing anything was wrong) and he was told that she was having a heart attack and he should come into the hospital.

He told us he was in California, but would leave at that moment. When we asked for a cell phone number to contact him, he said he didn’t have one… and that was the end of that conversation.

The cath lab team came to the ICU to pick up the patient for the procedure and just a few moments after she was on the table and prepped, she coded (her heart stopped effectively beating).

They took a look at her coronary arteries and her Left Main (the most critical vessel that feeds the heart) was 100% blocked and they weren’t able to pass the blockage with the guidewire. They called time of death and brought her back to the ICU for her body to be prepped.

Her husband showed up at the hospital a few hours later, unaware of anything that had happened and was escorted into a conference room with his wife’s nurse and the charge nurse to be informed that his wife had passed away (the physician is usually the person with that responsibility, but he had left the hospital).

The husband lost all composure, was barely able to speak or sit straight in his chair when he started telling this story: He and his wife had both lost their jobs a few months ago and unable to pay their bills, lost their car and house, forcing them to travel in search of work.

Just before they left, his wife had a heart attack and had stents placed in her coronary arteries, but couldn’t pay for the medication the doctors prescribed when she was discharged (Plavix- the medication essential to keeping the stents from re-occluding the coronary arteries).

They traveled around the valley, still unable to find work, started hitchhiking west to California. She began having chest pain and was brought to our hospital in a helicopter, but he did not have a way to get back to the valley to be with her and ended up begging a stranger to drive him to the valley when he was told his wife was critically ill.

While in tears and inconsolable, he kissed his deceased wife on the forehead and said “I’ll be with you tomorrow” and left the hospital. (with no friends, family, home, vehicle, etc, where he went is still anyone’s guess). Unable to pay funeral costs, his wife will be cremated by the county and laid to rest in an unmarked location.

It’s these stories that should make us all re-evaluate ourselves, our lives, our views of our lives. I know it’s forced myself and many of my coworkers who were involved in this day do so. We all go through hard times, but there is still so much to be grateful for.