This piece was also published in Australian Doctor.
I’d never done the doctor in public thing. That’s not true, I’d popped back a dislocated shoulder at the gym. I’d been waiting for a cardiac arrest on a long haul flight, but in fact it came one prosaic lunchtime Sunday.
I was in Washington, D.C, and I went for a burger. I sat in a booth and had just ordered when a man in the next booth with his back to me started violently shaking. I looked over the top of The Oxford Very Short Guide to Monasticism and met the eyes of his horrified friend, sitting opposite him and facing me. I realised it wasn’t a joke.
The unwell person had by now slid down between the seat and table and was having his seizure in an uncomfortably small and irregularly shaped space with lots of sharp edges. I climbed in after him. Someone yelled “grab his tongue!” I remember reading about a factory where the workers had to have a giant safety pin on their lapels in case they had a seizure, so someone could pin their tongue to their collar to stop them swallowing it. I contemplated both the logistics and the visual of that process, and thought maybe it had actually been a Quentin Tarantino movie. “You first with the tongue, buddy,” I thought, and told them to call an ambulance. Then I said the thing to myself, “Airway. Breathing. Circulation.”
He was turning that concerning blue colour and blood was frothing from his mouth so I instructed my team of terrified waiters to pull his legs so we could slide him out onto the floor. His head was smashing into the tiles with each spasm, and I called out, “Does anyone have a jumper or something we can put under his head?” They stared blankly at me. I said it again, a bit frustrated at their inertia, but in retrospect it was probably because they didn’t know what a “jumper” was. Eventually someone brought a packet of hand towels. His friend leapt out from the booth and I subconsciously noted that he had on the tightest pair of shorts I’d ever seen over the most cosmetically enhanced buttocks I’d ever seen. I asked him if the seizing person had diabetes, or a known seizure disorder. He quavered that they had just met the night before.
Anyway, by now I had the principal person of concern in the recovery position and he was still blue, spasming and not moving a lot of air. We were pretty much stalled on Airway. His friend was sobbing. I utilised the jaw thrust (on him, not me), which resulted in slightly more breathing type noises, distressing everyone else but making me much happier. The waiter brought their first aid kit, which contained a few bandaids and no airway equipment, obviously. Time passed horribly slowly. I thought about how much I’d under appreciated bottled oxygen, airway equipment and rectal midazolam, kind of like when you wake up with a hangover and stumble to the bathroom and mumble to the crisp, cold water as you gasp it from the tap that you’re sorry you ever neglected its simple bounty and let’s never be parted again.
The spasms slowed, and he turned more of a magenta colour. I turned around to look for an ambulance. No ambulance, but my bison burger was sitting placidly on the table, obviously delivered by a conscientious waiter while I wrestled with the body on the floor. I vaguely thought that the burger would get cold, as I perched on the tiles on my knees balancing a twitching man. I also reflected that he must have been seizing a while – the burgers were made fresh.
Four large ambulance officers eventually appeared, but by now he had opened his eyes. I mean, they were rolling around, but things were generally on the improve for all of us. The paramedics politely took over after I explained that all I’d actually done was organise his excavation from under the table and he was semi-alright now.
I washed the blood and vomit off my hands, returned to my booth and started eating my burger, which felt a bit weird with the four ambulance officers and the person on the ground right next to me. But what else could I do? Then I had to stop because the Large Buttocked Man came over to weep on my shoulder. Then I had to pretend to be a neurologist to convince the patient to go with the ambos to the hospital. Then I had to tell the waiter that I had ordered an iced coffee with my burger and it hadn’t come. Eventually the four giants took him out, nodding “thanks Doc,” to me, and the waiter told me my food was “on the house,” and the Big Buttocked Man suggested I follow him on Instagram and I sat there feeling like the COOLEST PERSON ALIVE. I didn’t tell anyone I hadn’t really done anything.
Then I had a bit of internal conflict because I’d been planning to order a dessert but I didn’t know how to navigate that with the free food and everything. So I left without dessert. And that’s the end of the story.