Emergency Situations: Does Anxiety Help or Hinder?

Merely Me Health Guide
  • Several weeks ago I found myself in a situation I had never experienced before. Paramedics had to come to our home because our youngest son Max, who has autism, appeared to be unconscious and not breathing. My husband was helping my eldest son with his algebra. I was upstairs putting away laundry. Then I hear my husband yell to my older son to call for me and to also call 9-1-1. When I raced downstairs I arrived in the middle of an incomprehensible scene. There was blood on the floor, on the living room chair and on my husband and son. My husband had laid Max, on the floor and he was not responding. My mind had literally seconds to process the images before me. Was he unconscious? Was he breathing? What was all this blood? Was he having an allergic reaction? (My son has anaphylaxis to peanuts).

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    Time seemed to slow down to an imperceptible dimension. You know those movies where they do slow down the film and people are moving frantically, their voices are muted, but the camera is still? This is what it felt like for me...like some sort of dream sequence. As my mind grasped for some sort of anchor I kept repeating, “What happened? What happened?” I began to cry and whimper. But there was little time for explanations. This was a time for action. My son who was on the phone with 9-1-1 was yelling out instructions: “Tilt his head back to clear the airway.” I had done this a number of times on a practice CPR dummy but never on a live person and certainly not my son. My husband was at the ready to perform CPR but then we heard him breathing and he even put his hands out to resist and was mumbling incoherently. By this time the paramedics had arrived in full force. They acted quickly and efficiently covering my son with EKG patches to assess his heart and then his blood sugar was assessed. My son was out of it, groggy, and confused. Despite all the people in the room doing these tests upon him, he was wanting to curl up and go to sleep. When it was determined that he was breathing okay, his heart was fine, and his blood sugar levels were normal we all sighed with collective relief. This is when I regained my composure and my rational logical side kicked in. I took charge in collecting information for the paramedics.


    It was then that I heard the story from the beginning that my eldest son had heard Max making strange gurgling noises from his throat, a sound he had never heard before. When my husband came in to check on him it appeared that his breathing was very shallow or non-existent. Suspecting some sort of anaphylactic reaction he retrieved my son’s epi-pen and plunged it into Max’s leg. But as he never did this before, he seemed to have missed the best spot and blood spurted from the force of the puncture. Max was also turning a shade of bluish-gray and was unresponsive to my husband picking him up or shaking him. Even the stick of the epi-pen produced no signs of arousal until about a minute later. We checked the area for any signs of peanuts and there was none. No rash or hives. My son’s mouth and throat were clear of any obstructions.


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    The paramedics guessed that one possibility was that my son had a seizure. My son is an adolescent with autism and so the risk of seizures is increased. I have seen and dealt with many seizures at my prior work with people having multiple disabilities. In that type of work setting I was trained and had immediate help from co-workers to know what to do. But in this instance with my own son I felt vulnerable and helpless. I walked into the middle of a situation which made no sense to me. It was a terror I hope to never experience again. When I saw my son lying there so limp and unresponsive my mind began to go into denial as in “This can’t be happening.” I did the right things and took action but my panic was threatening to take over to paralyze me.


    In contrast, my husband used his adrenaline to react swiftly. He told me that he kept focusing on what he could do in this situation. He consoled me that we all played a part in helping Max and that I was at a disadvantage because I didn’t know all the information. Yet I keep replaying that scene and wondering how I could have been better. My own fright scared me if that makes sense. You always like to think of how you would react in an emergency situation. I have faced many of them and clear thinking has helped me through. But you honestly don’t know how you will be until you are actually in that situation. I wonder how emergency personnel deal with their emotions. Do they ever feel panicAnxiety? Stress? Surely they must. How do they cope with these human emotions so that they can do their job?


    Epilogue: Max made a full recovery after his episode. He gave no signs that he remembered anything of the incident. He will soon be given an EEG to assess him for seizures.


    This isn’t exactly a “Thanksgiving post” but I did want to say thank you to the many EMTs and paramedics who work to save lives every day.  I also want to thank Health Central staff, my fellow writers, and others who have been of such great support to me and my family. Thank you for all that you do.  I feel so fortunate to work at a place where people are compassionate and understand about medical concerns and also know what to do.  You are true advocates in every sense of the word. 


    We would love to hear from you now. Have you ever been in an emergency situation? Did anxiety get the best of you? Or did your anxiety fuel necessary action? Tell us your story. We want to hear it.

Published On: November 23, 2011