On Thursday, October 22, I was born again. At the baggage carousel in Toronto Airport I suffered a cardiac arrest and was dead – as good as. An air hostess who was standing next to me took a defibrillator from the wall and brought me back to life. I regained consciousness in the ambulance and there I found out about my miraculous rescue. Or maybe it wasn’t so miraculous after all?
In Germany around one in three of an estimated 100,000 people a year who have a cardiac arrest are brought back to life. They, like me, are lucky to have somebody nearby who is willing and able to apply cardiac massage swiftly and correctly. Sudden cardiac death is otherwise the third most frequent cause of death in the Western world. Fifty percent of cases occur in the domestic environment, 50 percent in public.
Compared with the rest of Europe, Germany is something of an also-ran. In Norway, where cardiopulmonary resuscitation is taught at school, the success rate is over 70 percent. In Canada, with around 40,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest a year, the chance of success naturally depends on the region. In Germany, rescue services must be on the spot in between seven and 12 minutes. In the vast expanses of Canada’s provinces that is not a feasible target. And that makes it all the more important for people to intervene resolutely.
That was what happened to me. I was lucky that my heart stopped beating in an industrialized country – and that it happened at Toronto Airport. I was lucky that a well-trained air hostess was standing next to me and responded correctly and immediately: check, call, act. I was also lucky that my friend Mark Miller, with whom I had an appointment that October 22, rushed over to me in hospital and arranged so much for me. Probably more than I realize. For that I owe him a debt of eternal gratitude. I am also grateful to my loved ones, who flew over straight away from Germany and the U.S. I must also thank Elke Ritschel and Stephan Michels, who from Germany initiated everything that was required to enable me to recover and to expedite my recovery.
But I also experienced the inadequacies of Western healthcare in the arbitrary example of its provision in Toronto. On the way to hospital I had to give the driver his directions from my smartphone because his navigation device was not working or he had entered the wrong address. The list of my medications was useless in Canada because hospital personnel there were not familiar with the product name and I didn’t know the name of the active ingredient off by heart. My insurance company’s consent to bear the costs was not recognized; real money first had to flow before bypass surgery could take place.
That is not a Canadian problem; it is a global problem. In our wonderfully connected world we allow ourselves the luxury of a large number of uncoordinated national healthcare initiatives. Partly for reasons of data security we dispense with a swift and interruption-free flow of information between healthcare institutions. And we are unable to define uniform global name codes for vital medications.
We are working on the Internet of Things, yet we neglect progress on the Internet of Lives. When machines can communicate better with each other, that helps save human lives. But we must take even greater care to ensure that people cooperate when human lives are at stake.
I would like to thank everybody who has helped me over the past few days with friendly, encouraging words. All of them have wavered between two sensations: the feeling of shock at how fast “fate” can strike and the feeling of relief that “luck” stayed on my side. Let those of us who are in a position to change things work to help ensure that luck stands a chance in healthcare and in life in general. You don’t first need to suffer a cardiac arrest…