Sunday, April 6, 2014
Wear Your Seatbelt
Yesterday, another quiet Saturday evening disrupted by the bleating of my pager. It was a motor vehicle accident. A pickup that had flipped and rolled, ending up on its side in a ditch. The lone occupant was partially ejected through the rear window. An excellent public service announcement for the need to always wear your seat belt. From the moment of my very first call I knew that it was not my place, nor my inclination to judge any of the victims, my patients, these people who may very well be having the worst day of their life. How they got to need our help is not what is important, but how kindly we treat them is. Once again, I found myself cradling, protecting, a bloody head. Talking calmly, quietly. Reassuring this once-stranger that we were doing everything and anything to get him out of the truck and onto a life flight helicopter. I am good at this. At least this one aspect of it. Staying calm and kind in the midst of a certain level of organized mayhem. Flashing lights, power tools, metal being wrenched apart by freakishly powerful cutting tools that make cutting metal as easy as slicing a piece of pie. I find that half of my brain shuts it all out and focuses strictly on the entity and life form in my care, while the other half of my brain keeps tabs on the comings and goings of my fellow First Responders. An interesting thing about motor vehicle accidents; the paramedics are not allowed to approach until the patient has been extricated. Only firefighters in the proper protective gear are allowed to be hands-on at the scene. We are fortunate to have a number of very qualified people in our organization. My station has several EMTs, and one paramedic, who happened to be first on scene. I was in the second vehicle on scene, oddly, in the officer's seat. I directed the guys in the back seat to set up traffic cones and then I was immediately put in charge of head and neck stabilization. Once you are in that particular job, you stay there until it is done. It is a critical, though narrow, duty. And one I take very seriously. It may not be as glamorous as attacking the vehicle with the Jaws of Life, or shearing through steel with power cutters, but it is what I am good at. Once the roof of the truck was removed, and we carefully rolled the patient (who was doing far better than one might have expected) onto a backboard, carried him to the waiting gurney, then and only then could I relinquish the job to the Life Flight paramedic. I stepped away. One of my cohorts gestured to me, suggesting I shed my turnout jacket. I looked down and realized I looked like a walking biohazard. Oddly, it didn't bother me as much as it might have. I was doing something I am good at, and if it was a bit messy, then so be it. I know a day will likely come when I walk into a scene that is far gorier, with a patient who is not doing so very well, and it will be shocking and disturbing. I will likely come face to face with death from a multitude of causes. All I can hope is that when this happens, I will still be able to speak calmly and kindly, reassuring my patient that we are doing everything and anything we can to make sure they get where they need to go as quickly as possible. I do love this job.