20 March 2007

Non-Combat PTSD

It used to be a Honda Accord... I'm guessin' a mid-90's model.
It's on its side, impaled and bent around a scrub oak tree.
There are two teenagers inside.
One of 'em is alive. He's the reason I'm here.

The call came at about 2200 hours...
"Can you go to the 'LittleTown' area?"

"Yep."

"Then you have a primary go... a motor vehicle accident."

My crew is upstairs resting. I grab the phone and announce the flight over the intercom, then jog to, and start the aircraft. The crew boards as I bring both engines (and the rotor) up to operating RPM.

Our Dispatch-
"Your patient is a 15 year old male, victim of a high-speed MVA.
We have nothing further for you right now. They are still extricating him from the vehicle. Your coordinates are...."

I already have the nose pointed in the general direction, the airspeed indicator showing 130 knots... (150 m.p.h.)
Ten minutes out I radio my point of contact-
"We're ten minutes away from ya. At your convenience, can you give us a description of the LZ and a patient update, please?"

"Roger. We're gonna land you in a field adjacent to the road, just South and East of the scene. We have the LZ marked with red rotating beacons. I can't tell you much about your patient that you don't already know, except that this will be a long extrication... it may be half an hour."

Using my superior piloting skills, I land the helicopter in a barely lighted LZ in a sloping pasture, a football field away from the accident scene. My crew departs to provide assistance where they can. Knowing it's gonna be a long wait, after checking to insure I'll have enough battery to restart the engines, I shut the helicopter down.

They've knocked down a fence so we can move the stretcher to the scene. I walk across the downed fence to a road strewn with small pebbles... a result of the Honda leaving the road. A State Trooper has a measuring wheel, measuring skid marks. I overhear him talking to a Deputy Sherriff... "115", to which the Deputy responds,

"115? Wow."

The car departed the left side of the road sliding driver's side first, throwing gravel everywhere. About four feet down a slight embankment it encountered the little oak. I'm always amazed... in automobile-tree collisions, even small trees always win.
The tree cut through the driver's door and about halfway through the floorboard, at which point the car rolled up on the driver's side and bent itself in a slight "U" shape around the tree.
I can see them working around our patient. The other occupant of the car, our patient's 18 year old brother, is nowhere to be seen... wrapped up in bent metal somewhere.
He'll never feel pain again.

Twenty minutes after our arrival, he's free.
Wearing his seat belt, he's in surprising condition, all things considered.
His legs are both broken and his dilated eyes indicate he has had his "bell rung good"... a closed head injury. But he's not bleeding externally, his vital signs are strong, and he is responding to questions.

He remembers his older brother saying, "Let me show you how fast she'll go", then remembers looking at the speedo reading 115 as they headed for the bushes.
He doesn't ask about his brother. He knows.

We can never know what he's experienced.
Trapped in that confined space in that little car, how long did his brother live?
Did they converse?
Was he touching his brother in any way as the life drained from him and his body cooled?

The flight to the Trauma Center takes 25 minutes.
During the flight he answers questions when asked, but is otherwise eerily calm.
This young man has been through a life changing experience. He'll no doubt suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder as if he had been in combat.

The help will be there for him when he needs it.
For that, I am glad.

3 comments:

joker said...

Everytime I read one of your blogs I am amazed at how you put the reader right there in the action. You make them feel the pain, rage, joy, etc. for whatever the circumstance happens to be. You put the reader in that situation and keep them engrossed until the end.

I think you should write a book.
I'd read it.

OlePrairiedog said...

Greybeard, you have the strength and the heart of a lion. If you have come to an understanding with PTSD, and your current profession does not affect? effect? you, then you have mastered something few can achieve. My sympathies to the young lad you saved and especially to his parents.

Now, having said that, I would remind you that there is a place, known to you, that offers counseling, unlaxing, cordiality, comfort, calmness, and conviviality. Always Open and available to those in need or desire. If your writing a book, bring it with you, I'll help edit.

Teller said...

A big part of the reason I switched careers was scenes like you described here. It's one thing to rush to the scene of an accident to help...I didn't like doing it for the sake of "good" video and "good" news. I never ceased to amaze me how relieved everyone at the scene always appeared to be when the Life Flight helicopter showed up...patients and paramedics alike. It's a good thing you do, however difficult it may be.