While it’s part of a medic’s job description to save lives, they seldom receive the thanks they deserve.
Diane Gilliam of Alto wanted to make sure the guys on the front lines of her medical emergency were thanked properly for saving her life.
She remembers very little about what happened on the day her heart stopped and her husband called 9-1-1.
To find out whom to thank, Gilliam called Rural Metro’s corporate office.
Her call then prompted a letter from corporate to the local Rural Metro office located behind Southern Tennessee Medical Center.
The note to them reads, “The patient called in and was in tears and wants the crew that provided care and saved her life [know] how thankful she is they brought her back to life and left no bruises or broken ribs. She cannot express enough how grateful she is and they need to be acknowledged. She does not know how or who to let know, but needed to say thank you. I told her I would let my supervisor know so they can let the crew’s direct supervisor know — she made me tear up!”
Gilliam paid a personal visit on Friday to thank Paramedic Billy Ray and Emergency Medical Technician Allen Morris, and though she did not remember them, they remember very well that call on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013.
For 62-year-old Gilliam, her day started typically. She was stripping the bed sheets off to wash when a feeling came on suddenly.
“I got short of breath and my energy pooled out so that I felt lifeless,” she said. “I just laid across the bed, unable to move.”
Her husband, Bill, came in and teased her, asking if she was going to stay in bed all day? He took her seriously only when she told him to call 9-1-1. The first on the scene was Officer Chuck Stines from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
“I remember seeing the officer talking on his radio, checking to see how far the ambulance was away and I heard 4 minutes and 36 seconds and he told them, ‘Step on it, hurry up!’ The medics put me on a stretcher and that’s all I remember until I woke up eight days later at Vanderbilt.”
Ray said her heartbeat was only 30 beats per minute upon arrival and then completely stopped beating for around 7 minutes while he and Morris continued CPR.
“Every time her heart stopped, we’d do CPR, then it would start again, beating maybe 30 beats a minute,” explained Morris, “then it’d stop again.”
Morris and Ray have been working with Rural Metro for many years, and from past experience, they realized their patient’s chance of survival were slim, though they continued to work as hard as possible to save her. They intubated and rushed their flailing patient to Southern Tennessee Medical Center to be transported by helicopter ambulance to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville — all the way continuing CPR.
“I rode in a helicopter and I don’t even remember it,” Gilliam said. “It’s probably a good thing anyway ‘cause they said we hit several air-pockets on the way there, which made for a turbulent trip.”
Doctors at Vanderbilt told her husband she had only a 20 percent chance of living. She was put into a coma for six days to prevent brain swelling, then, gradually awakened. It took two days before she fully woke up.
“When I woke, it felt like five-minutes later from the time I was at home stripping my bed sheets,” Gilliam said. “I had about 19 different kinds of things going in me, but believe it or not, I felt like I had enough energy to scrub floors.”
Gilliam had a scary, vivid near-death experience while she was out, one in which she recalls a tunnel with everything seen in “high definition” — she says she never will forget. Gilliam had to learn to walk again. Her sheer determination proved to be an asset, and doctors and nurses were surprised that she was such a quick learner.
“My mind knew how to walk, but my body wouldn’t go,” she explained.
Over time, she graduated to a wheelchair, then to a walker and today she walks with the help of a cane. She and doctors are happy with her progress.
“My home health nurses tell me I’m a year ahead of what they thought I’d be,” she told Morris and Ray. “I want to thank you both — ya’ll were on the front lines — if ya’ll hadn’t done the job right and quickly, I wouldn’t be here.”
Morris told her, “Well, you definitely have a good will power and determination — I’m telling you! That was a good day for us — we had another patient we picked up that day with a heartbeat under 30 and he made it too. We don’t ever give up on a patient — only God can decide that — He just gives us the tools to try to save people. We don’t do what we do for the money or the thanks.”
Ray and Morris agreed saving people may be just the reason they were put on Earth.
“No one is guaranteed any number of days and if we’ve done our job right and helped save someone, then our lives will have been worthwhile,” Morris said, while Ray nodded.
Through tears, Gilliam related one last story of how these men have also changed another’s life.
“My granddaughter was not doing that well in school and when she came to see me as I was recovering, I told her, ‘you see, these paramedics are an example of why you need to do good in school — this is why it’s all worthwhile to study and get good grades.’ And you guys have helped change that — she is now going to Motlow to study nursing and is doing very well.”
Tears were wiped away and hugs were exchanged.