“Doctor! Doctor! He’s stopped breathing!” the stout woman shouted, clutching at my white coat.
It was 1953, and I was a first-year resident responsible that night for the patients on the medical ward–including those in the four-bed room the woman pushed me into.
There I saw a melee taking place around a seventy-year-old man with chronic lung disease.
The man had been examined and admitted that evening by my colleague, who’d given me what little information he had before leaving for the night.
The man had been too absorbed in his breathing to talk much. We’d hooked him up to an oxygen tank and started an intravenous infusion of the bronchodilator aminophylline, which brought about modest improvement. We couldn’t think of anything else to do and agreed that his prognosis was poor.
Now I found him unresponsive and surrounded by frantic family members. Someone had knocked a vase off the nightstand, and the floor was littered with broken glass and roses.
Listening with my stethoscope, I thought I could hear heart sounds, but his chest wasn’t moving. And my informant was correct: He wasn’t breathing.
But, I thought, he is not dead. I had to try to revive him.