ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Western Baptist Hospital RN Beth Taylor answers calls at the hospital's call center. The nurses take health-related calls 24/7 to advise people whether they should go to the ER, see their doctor or if they can be treated at home.
ALLIE DOUGLASS | The SunRN for Western Baptist Hospital Beth Taylor answers calls at the hospital's call center on Tuesday afternoon. The nurses take health-related calls 24/7 from people in the area and advise them whether they should go to the ER, see their doctor or if they can be treated at home.
It was exactly five years ago this month that faint chest and neck pains prompted a swift rush to the emergency room for Dennis Rittenberry in the back of an ambulance.
A 30-year veteran firefighter and emergency responder for Concord and Lone Oak fire departments, Rittenberry already had a sneaking suspicion of cardiac troubles, but it wasn’t until fellow EMT Faron English began administering nitroglycerin as a preventive measure did Rittenberry’s condition become clear.
“In the back of my mind I’m thinking I might have a heart condition, and in a few seconds I thought I was going to be sick,” Rittenberry said. “He turned around to get a container and turned back around and I was gone. Then he went to work.”
Rittenberry suffered a kind of heart attack that emergency responders often refer to as “the widow maker” — when blood doesn’t pass through the left ventricle — and life-saving treatment literally came down to a race against the clock.
Wheeled in through the emergency room doors of Western Baptist Hospital, Rittenberry can’t remember much after medical staff began their operations, but woke up two hours later in the hospital’s intensive care unit with an entirely new perspective on life.
“That whole day’s just something you don’t forget,” he said.
Today, the 59-year-old can vividly remember the one action that saved his life: when minutes mattered the most, Rittenberry made the most important phone call of his life to Western Baptist’s Health Line call center.
A conversation worth having
The 24/7 medical call center, staffed by registered nurses, provides a unique health inquiry service to the community, completely free of charge to callers.
“It is there to help get people to the right level of care, at the right time,” said Marchita Sutton, Health Line program manager.
Anyone suspecting a heart attack or serious medical conditions should call 911. In Rittenberry’s case, where he was unsure of his status, the call helped make him aware of what could be happening to his body.
“The nurse was able to convince him that his condition was serious enough for the emergency room, but he was by himself and she was able to talk him into calling 911,” Sutton said. “Had he tried to drive himself, he would’ve had an accident.”
The Health Line service also provides additional advantages, in that callers can phone in a question and receive advice based on their symptoms, without having to schedule a doctor’s appointment or visit a clinic. While the Health Line nurses do not diagnose, they do suggest the best course of action to take, which in some cases could be simple home remedies.
“We get a lot of calls about bug bites and sunburn, and those can be serious if let go, but they can also be treated easily at home,” Sutton said.
The call service also provides a follow-up with patients after they’re discharged from the hospital to check if they received their medications or have additional questions or concerns, providing a helping hand in sometimes-confusing times.
In addition to the Chest Pain & Stroke Hotline and the general inquiries Health Line, the call center also fields questions specifically involving the newest additions to the family with StorkLine. The 24/7 perinatal line allows mothers to ask questions about themselves and their babies, especially immediately after giving birth.
“It just makes us feel excellent to provide this type of help and getting someone to the right treatment,” Sutton said.
As he has every year on the anniversary of that fateful day when medical workers restarted his heart, Rittenberry returns to the Baptist Heart Center to celebrate his second birthday with the people that kept him ticking.
Marking his fifth second birthday on Aug. 7, Rittenberry invited staff from around the hospital — emergency room, intensive care unit, cardiac care unit, radiology, Angel of Mercy, physicians, Heart Center and call center — to a small celebration in the Heart Center’s auditorium. About 100 people attended the festivities thrown purely for the sake of saying thank you.
For Rittenberry, one simple gesture made a world of difference, and there’s no reason why people should overlook the vital services provided by the call center.
“I don’t care who your doctor is or what hospital you go to, you know your body and if something is going on that’s not you, you need to call immediately,” he said.
“Definitely calling the help line saved my life.”
n Contact the Chest Pain & Stroke Hotline at 1-800-575-1911, for immediate advice about stroke or heart attack symptoms.
n Contact the Baptist Health Line at (270) 575-2918, for general medical inquiries.
n Contact the StorkLine at (270) 575-BABY, for immediate advice about newborn or perinatal care.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.