Sucker punched and bleeding. Do you know how you’ll respond?

I just stepped out of the administrative building at medical school and hear a big commotion. I look over and see an elderly male slouched on the ground bleeding profusely from his mouth and nose.  Blood is soaking the front of his collared shirt and pooling on the ground. Bystanders are making a scene and not sure what to do.

I drop the items I’m carrying and calmly approach the man and state to those around we need to hold his head up and don’t let him move. While standing behind him, that’s when I notice the huge laceration in the back of his head and him bleeding out a lot.

I then ask if anyone has gloves (HIV, biological fluid concerns). No one has anything so then direct someone to run to the intersection and try to flag a police officer (I’m located in New York City). Then I ask for towels, napkins or anything because I’m going to have to apply pressure to his wound.

Someone hands me a bunch of napkins, and I apply pressure to the wound. At the same time, I’m trying to keep the man still as he is becoming combative and wants to stand up. I tell him I’m a medical student, and I need you to remain calm and try not to move too much.

It is only then that I learn from the bystanders the guy was “sucker punched” and fell to the ground, hitting the back of his head.

I ask for more napkins or anything to compress the wound, and luckily someone has a roll of gauze that I gladly take. As I’m applying pressure to the wound, my fear comes true: I have blood on my hands. At this point, I’ve been exposed and nothing I can do now.

Another bystander is on her phone with a 9-1-1 operator who is saying to apply pressure to the wound and I relay to the caller that I’m already applying pressure, and the patient has a severe head laceration.

The police roll arrive, but they do not get physically involved in the situation as I explain to them I’m a medical student and bystanders are telling the officers the man was hit by some random guy.

Finally, EMS arrives, and I hand off applying pressure to the wound with a medical personnel who actually has gloves. With things getting under control, I head over to the second ambulance crew that has arrived.

I approach saying I’m a medical student and need sanitizer because I got blood on my hands mainly my wrist while helping. I do a thorough cleaning then grab my items that I dropped and continue back to campus to study.

The aftermath

When I first walked out the building I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to get involved but when I saw the amount of blood already on the ground and no one was applying pressure to the wound I immediately got to action and took control of the situation. This thought process was not one of minutes rather it was a split second decision.

My biggest concern for myself was having blood on my body. This is 2015 and on the streets of New York City so you never know what you will encounter or what a patient may have. Therefore, I was gravely concerned about being exposed to something.

I share this story not because it was an act of heroism. But because from the day you enter medical school, you may be called upon to put your training to use whether in the confines of a hospital or on the streets. This incident actually occurred no less than two weeks after receiving my ACLS training so the timing could not have been any better.

Often as medical students, if things are not directly related to our grades or board prep, it does not take on the significance that it should. But this goes to show each and everything one learns in medical school matters. Some would think they only need to be prepared for emergencies while dressed in the white coat or scrubs, but now, most emergencies will occur outside of the hospital.

As students, do you know how you’ll respond when witnessing an incident, or to the question, “Is there a doctor available?”

Jason Spears is a medical student and founder, DoctorPremed, where this article originally appeared. He can be reached on Twitter @DoctorPremed.


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