When you’re a paramedic, you’re never on vacation.
In Cancun with his wife, Grand Island firefighter/paramedic Tanner Greenough responded when he was needed July 19.
He played a big role in saving the life of a fellow tourist, who suffered cardiac arrest. The man from Newtown, Pa., who’s in his 50s, was staying at the same resort as the Greenoughs, the Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya.
Greenough took charge of the situation and accompanied a doctor and paramedic in an hourlong ambulance ride, while wearing only gym shorts and a robe. After a lot of trouble getting a ride back to the hotel, he returned seven hours later.
He and his wife, Rebecca, went to the resort to celebrate their fifth anniversary.
At about 2 p.m. , the Greenoughs were in their room. He was in the Jacuzzi. Rebecca had the door open, so he could clearly hear a woman yell for help. She said, “He’s not breathing!”
Greenough heard the sincerity in her voice, so he knew it was serious. He put on his gym shorts and a robe — leaving behind his shoes, cellphone and wallet — and ran to help.
He thought his destination was another hotel room. “But it was actually the hotel’s doctor’s office.”
Inside the office were a young doctor and a woman who had the word “paramedicine” on her back in Spanish.
“They were doing CPR, and I thought, ‘Hey, I can help with this — two people working a code,” Greenough said. That expression refers to medical professionals responding to a patient with cardiac arrest.
He knew he could help with chest compressions or something else. When they paused in their chest compressions, he noticed they were using a monitor “just like ours. It’s a Lifepak 15.” The only difference was the buttons were labeled in Spanish.
When Greenough recognized that the patient was in ventricular fibrillation, or Vfib, he urged the other two to shock the patient.
After resuming compressions, they took the man by stretcher to an ambulance that had pulled up.
The doctor grabbed Greenough by the arm and asked him to come along. The patient’s family also asked him to make the trip.
“I think they kind of saw that I had kind of taken charge at that point. By me saying, ‘Hey, shock him, this is a Vfib,’ they kind of saw that I knew what I was doing.” In Mexico, a hotel physician probably doesn’t have the same level of expertise that a full-fledged physician does.
In the ambulance, one of the medical people handed him a bag containing airway equipment.
“So I assume they wanted me to intubate him,” Greenough said. That means sticking a tube through the patient’s vocal cords.
He couldn’t find a stylet, a wire that goes down the center of the tube. Then he noticed they had an LMA, or laryngeal mask airway. It is an advanced method of intubation.
He stuck it in, inflated it and checked the patient’s lungs. It had been successfully placed.
Greenough, who speaks very little Spanish, had to use sign language, or as he calls it, “playing Charades,” to communicate with his fellow medical professionals.
When the crew shocked the patient a third time, they got ROSC, which stands for return of spontaneous circulation. In other words, “we got a pulse back,” he said.
At that point, they were met by another ambulance. Two men departed their vehicle to join them. “They knew what they were doing. You could tell,” Greenough said.
The new arrivals were happy the trio had gotten a pulse back. They had to sedate the patient because of the tracheal tube.
The trip to the hospital seemed to take about an hour. Upon arrival, medical professionals retrieved the patient quickly. There were doctors rushing around “just like an ER here,” Greenough said.
The man’s family met the ambulance crew at the hospital. Doctors knew the man had to go to the cath lab. But the family had to come up with the money first. Greenough guesses the fee was about $35,000.
The man then had two stents and a pacemaker put in.
Then came another challenge for Greenough. He approached the ambulance personnel and said, “Hey, can you take me back to the hotel?” They said no.
“OK, here I am in the middle of somewhere, in Mexico. No shoes, a robe and gym shorts, and I don’t know how to get back. I don’t have my phone. I don’t have money,” he recalled. “I have nothing,”
He still doesn’t know the name of the hospital, or the city in which it’s located. He was so busy attending to the patient he doesn’t even know which direction the fast-moving ambulance traveled.
The hospital receptionist called him a taxi. But the taxi broke down on the way to the resort.
Greenough compares the highway to the Autobahn. It was like Interstate 80, but the drivers were “crazy,” he said.
“If I had opened my door, it would have been gone.”
He started to worry about his safety. “Is this dangerous, like you hear about? You watch the movie ‘Taken’ with Liam Neeson. I’m thinking something like that’s going to happen.”
Finally, Greenough got back to the hotel, but he couldn’t get in his room. The concierge let him in, but he couldn’t get any money because his wife was in the restaurant waiting for him.
He approached the front desk and asked for financial help. “Your doctor took me with. Can you pay for this taxi? It’s 60 bucks,” he said.
They said no.
Fortunately, his wife appeared and they paid the taxi driver. By that time, it was 9 or 9:30 p.m.
Looking back, Greenough calls the whole adventure crazy.
“I mean, I’m a combat veteran,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for seven-plus years. And this is one of the craziest things I’ve ever been a part of.”
Greenough was a Marine for four years. During that time, he had two deployments, one of them to Afghanistan. An Aurora native, he has been a Grand Island firefighter/paramedic for four years.
His fellow firefighters have told him, “This would only happen to you.”
But Greenough said any of his co-workers would have done the same thing.
“We’re firefighters. We run into burning buildings. If somebody needs help, I’m going to help them,” he said.
Greenough, 31, has stayed in touch with the Pennsylvania man’s grateful family.
He does not agree that he saved the man’s life. All of the responders played a part, he said.
Greenough also gives credit to the patient. He deserves much credit for his pulse coming back.
Still, the people involved were glad to have a Grand Island firefighter on the scene.
A Go Fund Me account has been started to pay the man’s medical bills. The page is called “Bringing Mr. Cannon Home.”