MANKATO — Phone calls at 3 a.m. rarely bring good news.
So when Paul Berg’s wife handed him the phone that day, he knew it wasn’t going to be good.
“My mother needs you,” the caller said. “ She is having problems breathing.”
So Berg, who happens to be a vice president at Odin State Bank, got up and got ready to head down the road. Then, the phone rang again.
“Mother won’t talk to me anymore,” the caller said.
Now Berg, a first responder in Odin, knew it could be a critical case. He hurried to the woman’s home and found her in cardiac arrest. He needed to start CPR, but first he needed to get the woman off her recliner.
Doing so would send Berg down a road where he’d learn a few things about his health and about his medical care providers, and prompted him to do a little soul-searching.
The records sharing that went on in Berg’s case is the kind of thing that Mayo Clinic Health System has been saying is possible for a while now. But here’s a case where they can show how it actually worked to help make a patient’s care better.
And it started at 3 a.m. in an elderly woman’s home.
Berg grabbed her ankles and heaved.
And right about then, he felt a pop in his back. Not knowing what it was, and having a critical patient on the floor who needed his immediate attention, he ignored it.
Berg stared CPR. When help arrived, they worked in tandem to revive the woman. And when the ambulance arrived, Berg went along to help in the team approach to CPR on the way to the St. James Hospital.
Finally, when they arrived and Berg could hand the woman off to a team of emergency room doctors and nurses, he sat down on the floor to rest.
“Honest to God,” he said, “I have never felt pain like that before. ... I can only describe it as if a knife had been stuck all the way through me and was being turned back and forth.”
Berg never left the hospital. He was in so much pain he lost consciousness and was admitted as a patient. They gave him pain killers and muscle relaxers and conducted a series of tests. In the end, Berg learned this: that pain he felt wasn’t a slipped disc, wasn’t his appendix. Tests revealed a spot on his right kidney that doctors wanted a closer look at. A few days later, Berg had an ultrasound where doctors diagnosed the spot as a tumor.
He was referred to a Mankato urologist. All of the tests done on Berg in St. James were available electronically in Mankato. The Mankato doctor reviewed those tests and did his own, and determined that, because of the location of the tumor, it would be best to transfer Berg’s case to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Berg was OK with that. But he wanted to touch base with a familiar urologist, the one he’s been seeing for 30 years in Fairmont. Like the Mankato doctor, the Fairmont doctor was able to view results of all previous tests electronically. After that, he was able to assure Berg that he concurred with the medical opinions of the doctors sending him to Rochester.
So he went, had the surgery, and doctors told him they were 99 percent sure they’d excised the entire papillary renal cell carcinoma (the rare form of cancer he had on his kidney).
After five days in the hospital, Berg went home.
“Do I consider myself lucky? No,” he said. “I consider it the good Lord looking over me.”
He also thinks about that woman from the 3 a.m. phone call.
She died that night. But Berg believes that, had he not gotten that call and not exerted himself to the extent he felt something pop in his back, the cancer on his kidney could have kept growing in grim silence. It could have grown big enough that a Mayo Clinic surgery may not have been enough.
He thinks about that woman a lot, he said.
“I have a greater appreciation for life now.”
But he’s not ready to hang up his first responder job. Doctors have limited his work. He can’t pull unconscious bodies off recliners anymore, but he can use his mind, and he can use his hands. Sometimes that’s all you need to help.
A limited role is better than no role.
“It bothered me a great deal,” he said, “ to think I might not be able to do it again.”