A riveting 9-1-1 call from the early-morning hours of May 11, 2020, captivated attendees of EMS World Expo on Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Oregon ophthalmologist Will Flanary, better known in social media circles as his comedic alter ego Dr. Glaucomflecken, recounted his May near-death cardiac arrest experience and the heroic efforts of the 9-1-1 dispatcher, Flanary’s wife, and the responding EMS crew who worked to revive him.
Flanary delivered the keynote address of EMS World Expo, a virtual event being held Sept. 14–18.
“What on Earth is an ophthalmologist doing speaking at an EMS conference?” Flanary began his talk. “Was literally nobody else available?” But it quickly became clear why he chose to address his audience of dedicated lifesaving professionals.
At 4:45 a.m. on May 11, Flanary suffered a cardiac arrest in his sleep. He shared the recording of his wife’s 9-1-1 call for help, in which a calm and professional dispatcher walked Kristin through the steps of dispatch-assisted CPR: Get the phone as close to him as possible and put it on speaker. Place him flat on his back on the floor if possible. (She kept him on the bed since he was too large to move.) Push hard and fast with the heel of your hand while gripping it with the other one.
Listeners could hear everything—the dispatcher counting reps, Kristin (who had no experience in CPR) calmly but purposefully delivering compressions, even Flanary’s lifeless body grunting in the background as Kristin pushed her unresponsive husband’s chest to keep his blood moving.
After an exhausting 10 minutes of CPR, the responding EMS crew arrived and took over. They carried Flanary's 6’4” frame down winding stairs, inserted an IV in the living room, intubated him, and shocked him six times (all while wearing full PPE during the height of the COVID pandemic).
Following transport, Flanary was admitted to the ICU. After three full days of sedation, he awoke with full cognitive function and no clue what had happened.
Before long, he was back on social media, posting TikTok videos and using humor as a coping mechanism to process the raw, overpowering emotions that linger even today. One source of comic relief was his “electric bra,” the portable defibrillator he was discharged with. “It gave me a greater appreciation for what women deal with on a daily basis,” he says. (Flanary now has a surgically implanted defibrillator.)
When Flanary met his rescue team months following his resuscitation, he wanted to stress to them the small yet vivid gestures that made such a difference to Kristin that night: The caring paramedic who first approached her and calmly reassured her it was OK to stop compressions so the team could take over. The EMS provider who took the time to gently close a bedroom door so Flanary's daughters wouldn’t see what was happening to their dad. The EMT who took the time to stay with Kristin and explain step-by-step the procedures being performed to keep her husband alive.
It made such an impact that when Kristin met the responding crew, she knew that EMT immediately, despite the mask that night. “I know you,” Flanary recalls his wife saying. “I recognize your eyes.”
Following Flanary’s talk, accolades came swiftly on Twitter:
“I still want to cry about this. It has completely and utterly rekindled my passion to teach CPR and make sure they do it right.”
“That was a moving keynote that wouldn’t have been possible without stellar work by the call-taker, medics, and his wife!”
“Humbling keynote by @DGlaucomflecken—a new perspective of family and patient remembrance of acts of kindness by 9-1-1 and responders.”
“A fantastic keynote. @Dglaucomflecken presented a great message about the human side of EMS. We care for patients with medicine and skills but we must also care for loved ones with empathy, information, and support.”
“Damn powerful story. I’m glad my favorite Twitter comedian is still here too. Mad props to [Kristin], the dispatch, and EMS.”
“Spot-on message—9-1-1 telecommunicators own the first 600 seconds of OHCA. They are a vital component to every community’s Chain of Survival.”
“I still think about what I say to my kids when I put them to bed at night—just in case I don’t see them again,” concluded Flanary. “I have a newfound immense appreciation for what you all do on a day-to-day basis. Your compassion toward family members who are experiencing the worst day of their lives is something that will never be forgotten. Let me be a living testament to the importance of what you do.”
In honor of Flanary’s appearance, EMS World is making a donation to First Descents, which provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (ages 18–39) impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions. Visit www.firstdescents.org.
Jonathan Bassett is editorial director of EMS World. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.