Blood Pressure: Zero
Leonard R. Schaer
Rewind to 1951: It was the second half of my freshman year in medical school. Located at 24 High Street in Buffalo, the building has long since been destroyed. We were about to have our first taste of actually dealing with live bodies, a great relief from the cadaver in anatomy class. Having tried, only partly successfully, to rid our hands of the aroma of formalin, we donned our newly purchased, well-starched short white coats and headed to Buffalo General Hospital a couple of blocks away.
We had been practicing taking blood pressure readings on each other, and now it was time to do it on unsuspecting hospital patients, on the charity ward, to be sure. We each paired off with a patient, mine being a kind old lady. A brief introduction and we pretended we were real doctors—a white coat and a stethoscope can do wonders as a disguise.
I greeted my patient and began wrapping the cloth neatly and snugly about her upper arm. I carefully placed the head of the scope in the proper location of her elbow and proceeded to pump the cloth tightly, releasing it slowly to listen for the heart beat sound coming through the artery—nothing! I pumped again: same thing—no sound! Now, I knew she was alive as she smiled and felt warm. I switched to the other arm. One more trial: still no audible evidence of anything.
Then, with that lovely smile, she softly said, “Doctor, aren’t you supposed to put those curvy things into your ears?” Yikes! I quickly did and, yes, she indeed had a blood pressure, while mine sank to zero.
Leonard R. Schaer received his B.A. in math in 1953 and his M.D. in 1955 from UB.