WHEN SOMEONE WALKS or rolls into the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles with food stuck in their throat, the ER staff calls someone like Brennan Spiegel. As a gastroenterologist, food-pulling-out is something he’s uniquely equipped to do.
So when he got the call one day to see a young man admitted with something caught in his esophagus, he was already mentally preparing for a trip to the operating room. But when he arrived, there was something off about the way the patient was beating his chest with his fist. “This guy’s not choking,” Spiegel thought, “he’s having a panic attack.”
So rather than calling for a gurney and an OR transfer, Spiegel reached for a pair of virtual reality goggles, pulled them over the patient’s eyes, and dialed up a scene of a beach in Hawaii.