Play money poker, real life life-savers
At first, it seemed like everything was going to be okay. She had a wound on her leg that started bleeding, and she was having a hard time getting it stopped. Her blood pressure spiked. She tried to calm herself with some yoga breathing. That's when it all went south.
Her blood pressure was dropping and dropping way, way too fast.
From thousands of miles way, her friends watched it play out in the chat box of a PokerStars game.
"79/65," she typed in the chat box while the poker hands played out on the screen above.
Meanwhile, two men on opposite sides of the country ignored the poker and focused on the woman's reports.
Poker forgotten, the chatbox friends began imploring her to get help immediately.
"Call 911," one wrote.
"That is not good," wrote another.
"Your bp is not stable."
"You are close to passing out...CALL 911."
"Tell us that you have called them."
"I'm praying for her."
"She needs to respond."
But she didn't respond. She was gone.
In an age when it seems like most online poker is about the money, it's almost easy to forget how many people just play for the fun and camaraderie. In the United States where the only option is Play Money poker, there are still lots of people who still play regularly, and some have formed a community that is about more than cards.
One of those players explained it like this:
"I have played on PokerStars since April 2006. The group with whom I play has been around a while. I chat quite a bit, tell jokes. Finding a group that does that is not easy. I discovered this group simply by scrolling through tables, looking for friendly chat. They adopted me after I had joined them for about a week. That is generally how all of this group's players came to know each other. We play nights, most days of the week."
At least two members of this group know more than a little bit about medical emergencies. One is trained in search and rescue as a civilian member of a group that helps the US military. Another is a Vietnam veteran. Another has significant experience specifically dealing with online medical emergencies.
All of them were staring at their screen and knew they had to do something.
They mobilized within seconds.
"I copy pasted the chat to an email and sent it to Support, with the subject heading 'EMERGENCY, Medical Issue.'"
The player who emailed firstname.lastname@example.org offered his emergency training experience and asked the support staff to look up the woman's contact information and call 911.
"Time was critical," he said.
The request made it to the PokerStars support team who did just what they player had asked. They found the woman's address, called the local emergency authorities, and asked for a welfare check.
As it turned out, the woman with the emergency had managed to make it to a phone and call 911, so by the time support called, the emergency responders were already in action. As far as the woman was concerned, her play money poker friends were heroes.
"They saved my life. My cardiologist said so - and I know it," she said. "Without my heroes, I surely would have would have been unconscious, and we wouldn't have been able to stop the bleeding."
By the next night, all the friends were back online together.
"She told us that EMS was able to stop the wound from bleeding and stabilized her blood pressure. She apparently takes blood thinners that made the situation worse. She made the point that if we had not told her over and over to call 911, things might have been different. We told her Support also contacted her 911 system. So, she had a back up, in case she couldn't have made the call."
One important thing to point out: PokerStars Support should never be treated as an emergency service in a moment where every second could make a difference between life and death. Relying on support staff maybe thousands of miles away to open an email would be very dangerous - if our players have real-time concerns about a medical emergency we would always encourage them to contact the relevant emergency service first if they know where to call. In this case, the players had no idea which 911 to call, so they relied on PokerStars as a back-up. That will apply to any game you play on PokerStars, no matter whether it's for big money or no money at all.
In this case, it was a community of people who play simply for the sake of playing and spending some time with friends. It may be play money poker, but it's still real life, and as far as one woman is concerned, a real life-saver.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis.