Quick-Thinking VA Radiology Team Saves a Veteran’s Life

Four health care workers crowd around a computer

Tim Lanigan, Carole Mee (seated), Rebecca Bittner (standing) and Mary Hannah (foreground) teamed up in August to get urgently needed help to an elderly Veteran living alone in a remote rural area.

Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

Carole Mee might agree. On Monday morning, August 4, she arrived at work in the radiology department of the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City, Ore., ready for another day’s work.

She was unaware of the drama awaiting her.

“I was calling my patients, scheduling them for their appointments,” said the radiology technologist. “I called this one gentleman — he’s 84 and lives by himself — and asked him how he was doing today. He said, ‘Not so good — I think I’m having a heart attack.’

“I said, ‘Sir, I think you need to hang up now and call 911!’ He told me he didn’t think he could do that. He seemed confused, and short of breath.”

To make matters worse, 250 miles separated Mee from the elderly Veteran she was trying to help.

“At that point, my co-workers started gathering around my desk,” Mee said. “We all work together in fairly small area, so they could hear what was going on. I put the gentleman on speakerphone, so everyone could hear, and kept talking to him. I needed to find out exactly where he lived so we could get help out to him. But he just wasn’t able to give me any information. He couldn’t tell me his address.”

 I needed to find out exactly where he lived so we could get help out to him. But he just wasn’t able to give me any information. 
— Carole Mee, White City VA

The Good, the Bad and the Worse

Mee said that while she continued talking to the Veteran, she was able to pull up some information on her computer screen.

“My day went from bad to worse,” she said. “There was no street address for him, just a post office box.”

At that point Mee’s co-workers — Radiology Clerk Mary Hannah and Radiology Technologist Tim Lanigan — began making calls to the Veteran’s next of kin.

“He has a sister and a daughter,” said Lanigan, an Army Veteran who served in Iraq. “So we were trying to reach one of them. While we were doing that, Carol stayed on the line with the gentleman, trying to talk with him and reassure him that help was on the way. But he was responding to us less and less. He kept drifting off.”

After a few minutes, Radiology Clerk Mary Hannah was able to make contact with the Veteran’s daughter.

Last House on the Left

“I told her what was happening,” Hannah said. “She told me she lives about 150 miles from her father and that he doesn’t have an actual street address because he lives in a very rural area. No streets. But she was able to give me the name of his county and a description of where he lives: down a long dusty road, in a brown and white house. She said there were a white picket fence out front and an American flag flying in the front yard.”

It wasn’t much to go on, but it was something.

“I called our local 911 here in White City and told the dispatcher what was happening,” said Dr. Rebecca Bittner, chief of radiology at the White City VA. “She connected me directly to the 911 operator in the county where the gentleman lives. Luckily, they knew exactly where his house was, because they’d been out there before.”

While all this was happening, Carol Mee was trying desperately to keep the Veteran on the line with her.

“I just wanted to keep him talking until we could get someone out to him,” she explained. “I asked him about his family, about his time in the service. I was able to keep him on the phone at least 20 minutes, but then the line suddenly went dead. Fortunately, by that time, Dr. Bittner had already contacted the 911 people where he lives, so we knew they were on their way out to him.

“He’s OK now,” she said. “In fact, he has an appointment with us coming up soon, so we’ll get to see him.”

Mee said she learned something very valuable that morning.

“I learned I could never be a 911 operator,” she said, smiling. “I don’t think I could handle the emotion that goes with a job like that.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/September/Quick-Thinking-VA-Radiology-Team-Saves-A-Vets-Life.asp


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