Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Quiet Moment in the Cab of an Ambulance

It's a Saturday, and I'm working an ambulance shift in a local city. I needed to catch up on some hours for the quarter, and I saw this open shift on the schedule and said, "What the hell..." Joan is in Ann Arbor, running a volunteer project, so I don't feel guilty about not being home on the weekend.

We were dispatched this morning to a PI (personal injury = car crash) at an intersection in town, a pretty typical, medium-speed crash. A middle-aged lady with her 85 year-old mother riding shotgun turned in front of an SUV. Broken glass and bits of car all over the road. Green anti-freeze running into the gutter. Fire trucks and police cars blocking the road. Only the mother, with rib/chest pain, was transported. Everybody else was OK.

The daughter was still in the driver's seat, her door pinned shut by the SUV, her mother still in the passenger seat. We helped her stand from the car and pivot to the cot. After covering her with the white sheet, we clicked the seat belt straps across the shins, waist, and chest/shoulders. With a "Ready? 1-2-3," we lifted the cot, letting the undercarriage drop down.

Once in the ambulance, I began hooking her up to the monitor: blood pressure cuff, fingertip oxygen sensor, and heart monitor leads. My partner successfully set up an IV as a precaution. Any complaint of chest pain is treated seriously.

The lady was upset about the crash, but more so about her daughter. "She's never had a crash before. I feel so bad for her..." We made comforting sounds as we worked.

Once ready, a fire fighter escorted the daughter to the ambuance passenger seat, and I climbed in to the cab and pushed the 'TRANSPORT' button on the computer screen. Up till now, she had been putting on a brave face for both herself and her mother, but as we drove silently down the road, her composure broke. She put her face in her hands and started to cry, her shoulders heaving. I know from being in this situation many times that there is nothing I can or should say, so I reached down between seats to find the Kleenex box. After a few moments, I simply said, "Here," and a handed her some tissues. "Thank you," she replied, then wiped her eyes and blew her nose. With a deep breath, she visibly pulled herself together and sat up straight in the seat. We didn't say anything else on the way to the hospital.

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