Nurses’ instructions, doctors’ vital and elaborate explanations, pricks of needles, taped on (and torn off) sensors over your chest, and the calm chaos of a crowd of hospital staff around your bed performing 100 tasks at once should be a comfort to victims of a real heart attack. I was just there to snap photos and take some notes for American Heart Health Month in February.
This story is for people like me who aren’t familiar with the process. I’ve never experienced heart attack symptoms but they are widely recognized and important to know—shooting pains in the arm, difficulty breathing, and tightness or pain in the chest.
Medical staff coached me as if I were a real victim. My medical history, prescription allergies, my activity during my hypothetical heart attack, were all subjects of inquiry while staff buzzed around the room taking off my shoes and hooking me up to machines.
The fabricated chaos was a joint demonstration of a real heart attack case by the hospital staff at Bayonne Medical Center and EMTs at McCabe Ambulance Service.
Going through heart attack procedures without a heart attack or anything at stake is far removed from the true experience. Like viewing jail cells on my Cub Scout trip while touring our local police department, I could only imagine the real experience.
Heart attacks and heart disease are major life events for so many Americans and members of the community. Retired Jersey City detective and Bayonne resident John Kilroycollapsed in the parking lot of Broadway Diner last year.He recalled typical heart attack symptoms.
“I sat down and just ordered. Suddenly it felt like a squeezing in my chest,” he recalled. He said he was having chest pains for about three weeks prior to the event and thought it was acid reflux, until he “broke out in a really bad sweat and lost feeling in my arm. I tried to make it out to the parking lot, couldn’t make it.”
Doctors, nurses, ER staff, and EMTs are incredibly well-trained and coordinated. When McCabe receives a call for a heart attack, an ambulance is immediately dispatched, and simultaneously a red phone at the ER rings, readying cardiology and staff.
“It always starts in here,” said Captain Casey McMahon, a dispatcher at McCabe who wears a microphone headset and is surrounded by screens. “We need to make sure the hospital is ready. Within a matter of minutes, before the ambulance gets [to the victim], the hospital is notified.”
Those calls go to a classic emergency-red phone sitting at the front desk at the BMC Emergency Room to initiate preparation for a heart attack victim.
One in four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. That’s 610,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local medical facilities in Bayonne have innovated over the years to better servevictims of heart attack, which in the U.S. happens every 42 seconds.
“We get a lot of calls,” said McMahon. “But we’re always here and always ready.”
“Time is very important, and we want to move things really fast.” – Dr. M. Asif.
A chaos ballet
Upon arrival at the Emergency Room, I was mobbed. They determined that my “heart attack” required a stent, so I was rushed to the cath lab. Here’s an explanation from cardiologist Dr. M. Asif.
“Time is very important and we want to move things really fast,” he said. The hospital’s goal is to get a heart attack victim from their home to the surgery table, or “door-to-balloon” in under 90 minutes because, as Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vinjay Singh said, “Every minute is tissue.Victim mortality rate goes up every minute, so you have to make sure you open up the arteries as soon as possible. So you need to be in a cath lab immediately and start perfusing [meaning to permeate with a balloon or stent] your heart again. That’s so important for us. I think that’s where the door-to-needle times are becoming more important for everybody.”
“Once we you get up here, a catheter goes into your heart and takes a picture of the blockage, then we undo the blockage,” said Asif. “Most likely, one of the arteries out of the three, usually causes people to get chest pain. It’s a little invasive, but state of the art nowadays.”
Asif said the hospital used to provide medication to unblock the artery, but found that surgery improves survival and overall heart function.
After I didn’t have surgery, I toured the facilities. Nearby the cardiology department is a gym for patients to return for physical therapy, to get their heart back in shape, and share their common experience with others in repair. A cardiologist even manages the program.
“Our goal is to keep the patients healthier outside in the community so they don’t come back to us,” said Dr. Singh, who is especially proud of the community fostered through rehab.
‘They all share a common experience,” said Dr. Singh. “And it’s a near-death experience. It’s scary. You have needles, people are running around you, going to the cath lab, needles going in and out. You don’t know whether you will make it or not. It’s very emotional. So that’s the connection here.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.