How a Stranded Nurse Saved His Own Life During a Heart Attack

(Image credit: Gfycat)

What do you do if you're in the middle of nowhere and you have a heart attack? If you're a nurse alone in Western Australia, apparently the answer is, save your own life, damn it.

A case report published March 8 in The New England Journal of Medicine tells the harrowing tale of a nurse who did just that. The unnamed 44-year-old man was the only nurse on duty at a small post more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Perth and about 90 miles (150 km) from the next nearest medical facility. [27 Oddest Medical Cases]

All by himself, he attached the leads of an electrocardiogram to his chest and sent the results by email to an emergency physician. The results showed that he had a "complete heart block, right bundle-branch block, hyperacute T waves in the inferior leads, and reciprocal ST-segment depression in the anterolateral leads," the researchers wrote in the paper.

In other words, much of his heart had stopped responding properly to nerve impulses telling it to beat, and other parts of the heart were beating poorly. It was a significant, life-threatening heart attack.

Nursing skills kicking into action, he inserted needles into the blood vessels on the insides of both his elbows and administered a cocktail of drugs designed to get his blood flowing, his heart beating and his pain within a manageable threshold. It included everything from aspirin to nitroglycerin to opioids.

He also attached "his own defibrillator pads" and got ready to dose himself with adrenaline and other drugs designed to kick a heart back into rhythm.

Eventually, Australia's Royal Flying Doctor Service arrived and airlifted him to a hospital in Perth. There, doctors found a severe blockage in his mid-right coronary artery, and he underwent surgery. Forty-eight hours later, he was released.

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Staff Writer
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.