When Minutes Count

August 10, 2022 Constance Martin

Lives are saved every day at the Providence St. Joseph Emergency Care Center. Here’s how to know when you should go.

In November 2020, Thomas Tomocik had a pacemaker implanted in his chest to regulate his heart rhythm. The procedure went smoothly, but four days later Tomocik, 77, began experiencing severe chest pain. His daughter, Michella Gaspar, took him straight to the Emergency Care Center (ECC) at Providence St. Joseph Hospital, where it was determined that the device had dislodged.

Because he was on anticlotting medication, blood had built up in the sac surrounding his heart, crushing it and causing him to become unresponsive. Emergency medicine specialist Melissa Rudolph, MD, immediately performed an ultrasound and then a procedure, called pericardiocentesis, to remove the blood. Tomocik’s blood pressure quickly normalized, and he was sent to the operating room to have a drain placed to prevent a recurrence.

Swift action on the part of Tomocik and his daughter, as well as immediate attention from the highly skilled and experienced ECC staff at Providence St. Joseph, saved his life. “From the moment we came in, we were treated with respect, care and patience,” Gaspar says. “Everyone explained every step and procedure, and when I spoke up or asked questions I was always taken seriously.”

“Medical emergencies can be frightening, and it can be difficult to know when to seek care,” Dr. Rudolph says. But when in doubt, don’t hesitate. “The ECC can evaluate people of all ages for symptoms that could be life-threatening and time-sensitive,” she adds. “We can immediately assess all patients who come to the ECC with labs, electrocardiograms, imaging like X-ray, CT scans and ultrasounds and much more. After a thorough history and exam, we decide if patients require additional testing, treatment or hospitalization.”

Symptoms You Should Know

Two of the most time-sensitive emergencies are heart attack and stroke. The ECC is a dedicated Cardiac and Stroke Receiving Center, which means that specialized staff and equipment are available to diagnose and treat them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as a delay of even minutes can mean the difference between life, permanent disability and even death.

Call 911 if you or someone else experiences chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, pain in the arm or jaw or fainting, which are common heart attack symptoms. The same is true for the symptoms of stroke, which include facial droop, weakness on one side of the body, difficulty walking, seeing or speaking, or confusion, according to Dr. Rudolph.

When in doubt, be safe rather than sorry. “You shouldn’t let fear or embarrassment over what you think might be a false alarm keep you from seeking immediate attention,” says Tomocik, who has fully recovered from his medical emergency. “If you have any concerns, get seen right away like I did.

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