A shirtless, shoeless Grand Island firefighter and paramedic battled a language barrier to save a man’s life in Mexico.
On July 19 at a resort near Cancun, 31-year-old Tanner Greenough was sitting in a Jacuzzi tub celebrating his fifth anniversary with his wife when he heard screams for help. He sprung up, put on shorts and a robe and followed the sound to a room on the floor below.
There, he found two people performing chest compressions on an American tourist. He checked the man’s pulse and discovered he was suffering from ventricular fibrillation, a deadly heart rhythm that can be triggered by a heart attack.
Greenough looked to the others and tried to explain that the man needed a shock from an automated external defibrillator.
They didn’t speak English. He didn’t speak Spanish.
“I basically had to play charades and say ‘Bzzt,’ meaning ‘shock,’ and they got it,” he said.
The hotel’s defibrillator was the same model he uses in Grand Island, a Lifepak 15, except the wording on the buttons was in Spanish.
Greenough administered a shock, then the team continued chest compressions and helped load the man onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. The man’s relatives, on vacation from Pennsylvania, pleaded with Greenough to keep helping in the ambulance.
He took the captain’s chair, intubated the man, administered a second shock and started an IV. A third shock brought back a pulse.
It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to arrive at the hospital. Once doctors took over, Greenough watched as the American man’s family tried to figure out how they would come up with $35,000 for further treatment. The man needed two stents and a pacemaker.
Later, the family told Greenough that their father also had gone into acute kidney failure and fought pneumonia. But the man is doing much better now and is expected to recover.
Once things cooled down at the hospital, Greenough still had to figure out how to get back to the hotel. His money was with his wife, Rebecca, back at the resort. And, again, he didn’t speak any Spanish.
“I’m standing there in my robe in the middle of Mexico with no shoes and no idea what’s going on,” he said.
A receptionist called a taxi, which broke down about one-third of the way home. A replacement taxi brought him back to the resort, where he had to convince guards of his story — again using mostly hand gestures — and stall the cab driver until his wife just happened to walk past the front desk to pay for the ride.
Greenough has battled a language barrier before while working in Grand Island, but never under quite these circumstances.
“I should learn Spanish,” he said, “but it’s easier said than done.”