THE FIRST CPR AT MGH
by Steve Goldfinger
The year was 1960, and an astounding report from Johns Hopkins had just appeared in a major medical journal. The authors described reviving patients who had died before their eyes by starting external chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing, so-called cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Prior to this, the only maneuver that ever worked was to cut open the chest, reach in between ribs, grab the dying patient’s heart and start squeezing it. A ghastly way to usher out a life, as was usually the case. But now, there was something new.
An intern, working alone on a floor upstairs, I was called from the emergency room by a resident. And he sounded totally different from his usually unflappable self.
“You won’t believe this,” he began. “A woman was brought in by her children a few minutes ago. We took her to a back room and, just as we began to take a history, she died. Right in front of us. No pulse. No heartbeat. Eyes rolled up. So we began to push on her chest and breathe into her mouth. Like we read about. And we got a pulse back! She actually looked at us! Seemed not to know what was going on. Lots of moaning. I know we broke a few ribs when we were pounding on her chest, but we couldn’t help that. She’s very old, pretty frail, sick looking, but her vital signs are stable, and we’re sending her up to your floor. She’ll be there in a few minutes. Wow…we saved her! This is a first at MGH!”
She was indeed frail, very frail, I noted as she was wheeled into our open ward, her son and daughter-in-law trailing close behind. As the attendants began to transfer her into a bed, I took the two aside to tell them about the miracle that had just happened and to take a history. Tears came to their eyes as I explained the new maneuver and how it had brought her back to life.
But they were not tears of joy.
“You don’t understand, doctor,” the woman’s son said. “ She has end stage cancer. It’s all through her body, and it has moved into her bones. We brought her here to die. We wanted her to be comfortable at the end.”
After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!