Reddit post sends Dunedin woman an ambulance from the other side of the world
An American woman who watched her fiancee have a seizure over Skype managed to get an ambulance to her Dunedin flat - through Reddit.
A Kiwi user of website Reddit called emergency services after seeing the desperate call to help posted from the other side of the world. Paramedics briefly hospitalised the woman, who has suffered from epilepsy in the past.
But getting paramedics to the Otago student took a lot more than just a phone call. The story of her rescue exemplifies the benefits that our increasingly connected world brings - along with its deficiencies.
Anna Messner and Melody McClelland have been dating for a year and a half, despite the extreme distance between them - Messner lives in Tennessee, while McClelland studies in Dunedin. They recently became engaged, and Skype regularly.
The two were talking on Tuesday afternoon (NZ time) when McClelland starting having a seizure.
Messner watched in horror.
"We were having a random conversation about stuff that was going on in our lives. All of a sudden Melody goes silent, starts breathing unnaturally," she said.
"I ask her what's wrong, she's unresponsive. Then she lies back on her bed and her mouth starts foaming, and her breathing is irregular.
"At this point I'm terrified. I keep asking her to turn her head because I don't want her to choke on her saliva.
Messner asked her brother David Neal to call an ambulance.
Neal looked up the Dunedin police number and attempted to call on his cellphone.
"I have $2 of international minutes - but apparently that just means North America," he said.
"I called 911 - our version of 111 - and ask if they can get a message to New Zealand. They say they have no way of getting in touch, they can't do international calls either.
"So I go to my Facebook to see if there's anyone I know in New Zealand who might be online.
"Then I think wait a minute, I know a place where a lot of people from NZ would be online.
Neal posted McClelland's address on Reddit's New Zealand subreddit just after 4pm (NZ time), along with a plea to call an ambulance.
"A friend of mine at [address] in dunedin is having a seizure, please call 111 and get someone over there.
let me know when it is done
I am in the USA and do not have international calling"
A minute later he posted again - "Help".
Reddit is a gigantic discussion and news website, with hundreds of thousands of small communities centred around "subreddits".
The "newzealand" subreddit has over 61,000 subscribers and is known for, among other things, convincing wayward Americans that gardens are illegal in New Zealand.
Soon the post was being discussed on an IRC chatroom associated with the subreddit.
Users did not immediately jump to call an ambulance as they were unsure if the post was real.
Emergency services are often involved in elaborate online pranks, such as "swatting", where people deceive highly armed SWAT teams into invading other people's homes.
Reddit user Jana Hayes, 24, of Christchurch, eventually called 111.
"At first I sat there for a while, wondering if it was real. I didn't want to get a fine from the ambo for calling in something fake," she said.
"But the guy's profile was really old. It wasn't a new account or anything."
"First I called the number for the police station, then I just dialled 111 straight. I was worried they would think it was a joke.
"I had to play it off, say it was mutual friend who had alerted me.
All the while, Messner and Neal watched in horror from Tennessee. Finally, paramedics showed up.
" I heard someone knocking her front door asking if she was alright. She was unresponsive so I started yelling as loud as I could that she was in her study," Messner said.
"I just kept yelling help, help."
McClelland regained consciousness, but was confused. She went to her window, where the paramedic was knocking, then opened her door.
"They took me to ED, gave me a blood test, checked out fine," McClelland said.
"When I was young I was diagnosed with epilepsy, so I'm assuming that's what it was."
Messner was immensely relieved.
"I just vividly remember her lips turning blue and her mouth frothing. I just can't get that image out of my mind.
"Melody's my whole world, I love her so much. I was so scared.
"I'm just happy that I had her address."