Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My first experience with EMS

As a Boy Scout, we had studied first aid, practicing splinting limbs, controlling bleeding, etc. I had never taken a CPR course but thought I knew enough to get by. Then one day, a real emergency happened...

Joan and I had gone to a small, local mall in Madison, Wisconsin, to see a documentary movie about Ann Frank, an emotionally wrenching experience. Instead of driving home, we decided to take a walk through to mall to stretch our legs and talk about the movie.

As we strolled down the long hallway, we could see a food court ahead. And there on a bench, was a lady slumped over, her bowl of soup spilled on the floor. A manager from a food place ran out, saying, "Miss? Miss?" We started walking more quickly toward the scene. He turned toward his counter and yelled, "Call 9-1-1!"

I asked, "Can we help? Is she breathing? Does she have a pulse?" The manager reached down and checked, "I think so!" We gently lowered her to the floor, and Joan cradled her head, saying, "It's OK. They called 9-1-1 and help is coming."

I stood there, feeling like I should be able to do something. So I said to Joan, "I'm going to see if I can find some help. Are you going to be OK?" She replied, "Go. I'll be alright."

I took off running toward the information desk, where an elderly lady sat behind the desk. "There's a woman having a medical emergency," I said breathlessly, "Can you use the PA system to ask if there is a doctor in the mall?"

She used a microphone and her quavering voice echoed throughout the mall, "Is there a doctor in the mall?" I quickly reminded her, "Tell them to come to the information desk," and she did.

Almost immediately, a man with a young girl in one arm and towing a young boy by the hand came running around a corner. "I'm a paramedic. What's wrong?" I explained the situation, and we took off at a quick trot back to the food court.

As we approached, a crew of EMS people burst in the door and started working on the woman. It was a flurry of activity we did not understand with equipment we did not recognize. We stood back and watched for a few moments, then realized we were part of a crowd watching the scene. It felt awkward and morbid, so we faded away and silently went to the car. We climbed in, put on our seat belts, looked at each other, and burst into tears. It's hard even now to recall all this.

However, we were able to help someone in the end. I called the mall the next day to find out if they knew what happened. They told us that the lady had not survived. Joan and I talked about how the lady had died alone and that maybe her family wanted to know what had happened, that someone had been with her. Also, to be honest, we were emotionally all stirred up and wanted to do something about it.

So I called the coroner and explained the situation and our desire to contact the family. At first, he was reluctant to give me the information but then decided it would be OK. I wrote a long letter to the family about what we had seen and done, emphasizing that we had comforted her, that Joan had held her hand, that she had not been alone. I sent the letter off into the unknown.

A few day later, the phone rang. It was the woman's family on the phone, calling from Milwaukee, and we all started crying. They said that they had been unable to find out anything about what had happened at the mall, that only she had died. They said that it meant so much to them to know that someone had been with her, especially since another family member had been killed a few years ago, alone in a car crash with no details. They never knew what happened to him, how he died. It helped them with a sense of closure

It was a horrible feeling, standing and not knowing what to do, wanting to help. I never want to feel that way again. It is one of the major reasons I joined the fire department and pursued more medical training. It is so important to know what you can do and what you can't do.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Right Place at the Right Time

So my partner, Rock, and I were driving to McDonald's for breakfast (him, not me... I'd already had my granola with yogurt and banana, thank you very much), down the dark roads of downtown Adrian. We pull up to a stop sign, waiting for traffic to clear, blankly staring up the road.

In the tangle of headlights and taillights, I see a set of red lights violently bounce up and down about two blocks up.

What the hell?

"Did you see that?" I ask Rock. "See what?" he responds. "I just saw some taillights jump up and down, like those pimped out cars with hydraulics," I tell him. He just shrugs as we start driving toward what I had seen.

As we get closer, we still can't figure out what's going on. Traffic is not moving; headlights are pointing the wrong way; and people are moving around in the road.

Suddenly it all comes into focus. There's a sedan sideways in the road, steaming and smoking, with a crumpled front end. There's a city pick-up truck with a crushed front corner and buckled back end. And there's another car with mild front damage, and woman looking dazed behind the wheel. Bits of vehicles are strewn all over the road.

"Oh, shit," Rock says, "That was an accident you just saw!" He grabs the radio and says, "504, we've got a MVA at Main and Butler. Please dispatch fire to our location."

We bail out and split up. Rock heads toward the pick-up driver who is standing in the road on his cell phone. I head toward the sideways car, where I can now see the driver, who is conscious. His window is broken, so I tell him to not move his head and to keep looking straight ahead. I open his door, but it won't open all the way. I put my back and legs into it and manage to bend the door past the warped fender panel. Airbag deployment, seat belt worn, no loss of consciousness, some neck pain - so far, so good.

I can hear the fire department's sirens now, so I yell over to Rock, "You OK over there?" He shouts, "Yeah, got things under control. You?" I shout back, "We're good."

I climb into the back seat and take C-spine (hold the patient's head in neutral alignment to minimize any chance of more spinal damage/injury). I start asking the patient all the standard questions about medical history, allergies, etc.

Fire arrives and shuts down the road. A swarm of firefighters appears and takes over patient extrication and packaging. I hand off C-spine to one of them and then head to the ambulance to get the cot and backboard. The young man is collared, backboarded, strapped down, bundled up, and loaded into the ambulance.

Luckily, everybody was fine, and later in the day, when we brought another patient into the ER, I ran into the guy as he was being discharged with a soft, neck collar in place. We shared details about the experience - apparently he turned left in front of the truck. He thanked us, we shook hands, and he walked out the door.