An AED could save your life in the poker room



Omaha players understand not to overly value middle or bottom set. It’s just too easy for someone holding four cards in their hand to run you down or to have a better set. In hold’em, however, most players feel a flopped set must be a monster and are only too glad to get it all-in on the flop. Unfortunately, if your opponent happens to have flopped a higher set, you’ll find yourself so thoroughly dominated you’re almost drawing dead. You have two streets left to hit a one-outer. Your survival chances are about 5 percent. Dismal!

It turns out your chances of surviving a cardiac arrest in your poker room are only slightly better, around 6 percent. But I’m going to tell you a few things you could do to improve your chances about four times, like having four outs twice instead of just one.
Last month I told you a blocked artery in your heart starves the heart muscle of oxygen, but it also might irritate your heart’s electrical system so much that the electrical pulses become disjointed and quivering. The medical term for this is ventricular fibrillation or V fib. The lay term, “Sudden Death” is unfortunately all too descriptive, the ultimate bad beat.

I mentioned some risk factors for this condition. Some of them you really can’t change, such as your age, gender and family history. Sorry, gender-switching surgery probably won’t help much. To reduce the other risk factors, you should resolve to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise and take whatever medications your doctor prescribes to control your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

But there’s another key thing you could do to improve your chances of surviving Sudden Death. Ask your poker room manager to buy an Automatic External Defibrillator. These devices are remarkably easy to use, relatively inexpensive and easily available online. Having one nearby dramatically increases V fib survival rates. At least one poker room in my area has one. Another, at my suggestion, is considering it. But others have no clue.
Tell your poker room manager you and others like you who play in his poker room may have heart conditions and you’d like the room to get an AED. If you’re told they have one, great! Ask to see where it’s kept. Mounted visibly on a wall is good. Locked in the office downstairs is bad. If the “Big One” hits, you have five minutes or so to get your heart shocked before your brain begins to turn to mush.

At the first sign of chest pressure, arm pain, sweats or difficulty breathing while you’re playing, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get someone to call 911 while you get yourself close to where the AED is kept. Pointing to it and saying something like “Help me. I’m having chest pain,” is totally reasonable. If you collapse and someone nearby has the sense to turn on the AED and follow the simple instructions, your survival chances skyrocket at least four or five times.

Now, some info for the poker room managers. AEDs are not expensive and, for a poker room, the lowest price models will work just fine. The Web site lists four for less than $1,300. I recommend you spring an extra $50 for the business package, which includes an attractive wall cabinet, a 3-D sign, a cool decal for your front door and some other nifty stuff. And please, mount it someplace visible. On the wall next to a big-screen monitor is good. Underneath the cashier’s counter is bad. You usually arrest players who try to reach under the counter, don’t you?

Contact your local EMS authority and they’ll happily send someone to give you the brief, ridiculously easy training. (Basically, turn it on and follow the voice instructions.) Some states such as Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana require you to get a physician to sign off on your AED. Others such as Florida and Tennessee don’t. The Web site is loaded with state-by-state info. Again, just contact your local EMS and they can advise you and probably get a doc to sign you off for free.

Finally, no need to get all lawyered up to buy one of these lifesavers. Good Samaritan laws in all 50 states make it pretty hard to sue you or your room if you can’t save someone. It’s actually far more likely for you to be sued for not having an AED on site.

Conflict of interest disclosure time: Medtronic makes AEDs and I own some Medtronic stock. I wouldn’t advise you to buy their model, however. At $1,700, it’s way too expensive. The Philips Model illustrated is extremely reliable and, at $1,218, the cheapest on the market.

So, there you have it, two ways to increase your survival in your local card room. Ask the manager to buy an AED just in case the “Big One” hits and don’t put all your chips in the pot on a one outer.

— An avid poker player, Frank Toscano, M.D. is a board-certified emergency physician with more than 28 years of front-line experience. He’s medical director for Red Bamboo Medi Spa in Clearwater, Fla. Email your poker-health questions to

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