That Time a Paramedic Treated Himself Because he was Having Heart Attack

That Time A Paramedic Treated Himself Because He Was Having Heart Attack.png

David Watson, 52, after suffering a crushing pain in his chest, applied the ECG in his ambulance to himself, then drove himself to the hospital for treatment.

“Physician Heal Thyself.” -The Bible (Luke 4:23)

It's one of the most famous quotes in the western world, but it never had more meaning than when David Watson realised he might be suffering a heart attack.

It was around 4 pm. He was on call for work at the time, about 400 meters from the nearest hospital.

Watson, who is otherwise fit man for his age, was about to workout. He was just getting into the warm up when a sudden chest pain and arm tingling informed him there may be a problem.

  [caption id="attachment_5923" align="aligncenter"]r0_0_1980_1318_w1200_h678_fmax[/caption]

Watson is a paramedic, and a good one apparently, so good he was able to be his own medic in this case.

Related reading: So You Want to be an “Ambulance Driver”?

When Watson felt the signs, he hurried to his ambulance to check it out.

He told the 3aw radio crew in a recent interview:

“I was just warming up to do a workout, and just got the sudden onset of crushing chest pain and tingles down both arms, so I quickly rushed in, grabbed the heart monitor from the ambulance, put myself on it and thought, uh oh, that's not right.”

For anyone who’s administered an ECG knows that it’s an otherwise simple process, but there are several parts which require a somewhat steady hand. Watson, who was no stranger to the process, proceeded without hesitation, but by this point, he was sweating profusely

The printout from the ECG was not good, so Watson jumped into the driver’s seat of his ambulance and “popped over,” in his words, to Casterton Memorial, where he checked himself into the emergency department.


Speaking for the rest of us, the 3aw breakfast crew asked Watson if he drove to the hospital with the lights and sirens blazing.

“No, kept that quiet,” he replied.

Related reading: Footprints: Run Your Ambulance on Trash

While this was going on, Watson’s wife was at a footy game, unaware that he was at death’s door. To be fair, Watson didn’t yet know how bad was the situation. It was possible he was overreacting or misreading his equipment.

The intake crew at Casterton performed a quick intake of the patient self-presenting with complaints of chest pain. After getting him to a bed, they treated Watson for angina with aspirin and called the team manager and doctor on call.

Watson recalled to the 3aw crew how he behaved at that point:

“I kept my mouth shut. Nurses don’t like that–paramedics telling them what to do–paramedics don’t like being told what to do either.”

When the doctor arrived they administered Heparin Thrombolysis, along with pain relievers. The doctor confirmed that Watson was having a massive heart attack, then arranged to transport him to Geelong Hospital via helicopter transport.

  [caption id="attachment_5913" align="alignnone"]d00547f5ad1382fb1de7729677d5220c[/caption]

By this time, Watson decided it was time to contact his wife. She was driving home from the game at the time, so he asked her to pull over for the news.

The last thing one wants to hear is bad news about a loved one, but at least her husband was in the best place he could be. He promised to keep her updated with his progress and whereabouts.

The helicopter crew arrived 20 minutes later, recognised Watson as one of their own, and whisked him away.

When the helicopter landed at Geelong, the staff there had the angiogram and stent ready to go so they could start his surgery immediately.

Per the Heart Foundation:

  • Over 400, 000 Australians have suffered a heart attack at some point in their lives.
  • Every year, around 54,000 Australians suffer a heart attack (one every ten minutes).
  • In 2015, heart attacks took 8,443 lives or 23 a day.
In 2017, David Watson was not one of them.   54308f43b24ad7dcfa4a1164d863a2d7  

You can exhale now. Watson survived, but as a matter of his own actions.

With a massive heart attack, chances of survival increase with quick response times. About half end in death within an hour of the attack if the affected person does not get to a hospital.

Making it a hospital in time drops that mortality rate to less than 10 percent, more if one is lucky. In Watson’s case, he couldn’t have been luckier.

As it turned out, the clot was in one of Watson’s large coronary arteries, which would have surely killed him has he not responded quickly.

 Signs of a heart attack from the Heart Foundation:

“Discomfort or pain in your chest– This can often feel like a heaviness, tightness or pressure. People who have had a heart attack have commonly described it as like “an elephant sitting on my chest”, “a belt that’s been tightened around my chest” or “bad indigestion”. 

The discomfort may spread to different parts of your upper body.

Discomfort in your arm(s), shoulder(s), neck, jaw or back

You may have a choking feeling in your throat. Your arms may feel heavy or useless.

  • Other symptoms may include:
  • > short of breath
  • > nausea
  • > cold sweats
  • > dizziness or light-headedness
  • > A feeling of general unwellness or “not quite right”.

Symptoms can come on suddenly or develop over minutes and get progressively worse. They usually last for at least 10 minutes.”

So, the big question still on your mind… who won the footy game?

“I can’t remember if her team won,” said Watson to the 3aw crew, laughing at the question.

Laughing at the preposterous after your own near death experience, especially when one has administered his own treatment has got to be the best medicine in the world.

Watson is taking two months off from work to recover from this ordeal, but happy to be alive.


Previous article What are Self-Isolation and Social Distancing? And What Do They Mean for Healthcare Professionals?