• -Natalie

Dialing 911: The Reality

It was the day before Christmas Eve, and I really needed my safe cheese because I had just run out. When my husband and I got there, we couldn’t believe how crowded it was, but I guess that was to be expected.


We walked straight to the back of the store where the cheese was. We also grabbed some bagels, eggs and water bottles. That’s it, quick trip to Costco, we were ready to leave, we have a lot of work to do today.


It was aisle 306. We were walking past aisle 306, but there were just too many people with too many carts and for a brief moment, we came to a full stop. There was a lady serving samples, and next to her an old man hugging an old woman. Except that he wasn’t hugging her, she was collapsing and he was trying to hold her up. He was yelling for help but with so many people, no one noticed.


I told my husband “go now, she’s falling!”. He left the cart in the middle of the chaos and ran over to help the man who couldn’t support his wife. She was a small lady, but the man was small and weak himself. I ran over and it was obvious that she was having a seizure. “Lay her down on her side” I screamed.


My husband was supporting her head so it wouldn’t be on the ground, the husband was holding her hand, and I dialed 911. No one else stopped to help.

I told the operator my location and he quickly connected me to the nearest fire department. The paramedic got my location and told me help was on the way. Great help is coming, the woman had finally stopped seizing but she was completely unresponsive. I was instructed by the operator to lay her on her back and check if she was breathing.


Finally, a couple more people came to help, but they didn’t know what to do so they just kind of sat there looking at me. I’m not a doctor, I told them, I don’t know what to do either. A few Costco employees finally noticed and blocked off the aisle with caution tape. The woman wasn’t breathing anymore. I was instructed to start CPR.


More than 5 minutes have passed since I dialed 911.

I was certified in CPR 10 years ago, and I unfortunately have to admit that I don’t remember how to properly administer it. So I stood up and yelled “does anyone know CPR?” There were at least 10 people crowded around the woman, and another 15 standing right behind the caution tape. No one answered. I panicked - I can’t let this woman die! The operator told me he would walk me through it.


But then the woman’s pulse started fading and I was instructed to use a defibrillator at this point. So I stood up again and yelled at the two Costco employees standing in front of me “where is the defibrillator, please bring it”. They were in so much shock that it was as if they didn’t even hear me even though we were standing just 5 feet away from each other. I yelled again “Costco employees! I need to use the defibrillator where is it?!” Finally they sent someone to go get it.


More than 10 minutes have passed since I dialed 911.

I’m laying next to this woman, calling out her name trying to wake her up but she’s unresponsive. At least 100 people must have passed this aisle on a busy day and it’s really hard for me to believe that not even one was a doctor with medical training. I’m feeling hopeless. I’m feeling so sad that I don’t know how to help this lady. The operator just keeps asking me if she’s breathing, and it was really hard to tell.


Finally, two employees from the fire department happened to be walking by outside Costco and an employee pulled them in.


It has now been 15 minutes since I dialed 911.

They decided to use the defibrillator which finally made it‘s way to us. I stood up and took a step back.


The operator disconnected since the fire department was here. But these employees weren’t even the ones that were dispatched to the scene, they happened to be walking by. I walked to the cashier, in a daze, shocked. When it was finally my turn to pay, I saw the paramedics bringing in the gurney.


It has now been more than 20 minutes since I called 911.

They were walking what looked like casually which frustrated me a bit. I am pretty sure that this lady has brain damage by now due to lack of oxygen. I walked out of Costco, and there was the ambulance right at the entrance with it’s sirens, but the lady was still on the floor in aisle 306.


This story isn’t about why no one else stopped to help. It’s not about what ended up happening to the poor lady (although I really hope she’s okay and that I’m wrong about any brain damage due to lack of oxygen). The only thing I could think about once I was able to gather my thoughts was: if I had gone into anaphylaxis in aisle 306 of Costco, would I make it to the hospital in time?


The paramedics took 20 minutes to reach her. Let’s remember that we are not talking about a rural area, we are not talking about a gated community that’s hard to get to and difficult to enter, we are talking about a very busy center in Los Angeles. A Costco aisle that is towards the front of the giant store, not the back. What if I had forgotten my EpiPen or my EpiPen had failed? Would the paramedics get to me in time before I passed out and even died?


I am now very confident to say that if I ever forget my EpiPen, no matter how far away I am from home, no matter if I am not eating, I will drive back to go get it. I am now very confident to say that when I go into anaphylaxis, calling the paramedics will be the last thing on my mind - I will first use my EpiPen, take all my medications on my action plan, and then make a decision as to whether it’s faster to have someone drive me to the hospital or to call the paramedics.


This incident really shook me up. Not because seeing sick people in that condition makes me uncomfortable (some people had to step away because they felt they were going to pass out or throw up), but because of how long it took the paramedics to get to such a central area.


Moral of the story: ALWAYS use your EpiPen first!! Then asses the situation.

Do you have experience with calling 911 during an allergic reaction?

Tell me what it was like in the comments below.


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