29 January 2008

Death By Acetominophen

Winds- 170 degrees variable 210 degrees at 20 knots gusting to 30, peak gusts to 35.
There are rainshowers in the area.
Time to earn my salary.

"Your patient is a 57 year old man, victim of a drug overdose. He has ingested an entire bottle of Tylenol PM."
Acetominophen is a wonderful drug unless you take too much of it. In overdose, I'm told it does irreparable damage to the liver, causing a slow, difficult death.

My paramedic is slightly airsick from two previous flights in these conditions.
In an attempt to spare him further discomfort I climb to 3000' above ground level hoping to smooth some of the bumps, even though the flight takes only 13 minutes.
Elevator UP! Elevator Down!

Strong, gusty winds are dangerous with the BK117...
The main rotor is very flexible, and during startup and shutdown in gusty, variable winds can flex downward and strike
the large
vertical fins near the rear of the aircraft, rendering it non-flyable. Before we land at the transferring hospital I tell my crew, "I won't risk shutting down here or at the receiving hospital. I'll go get fuel while you tend to the patient and will be waiting on the pad for you when you return."
This crew has been around long enough to know the routine.

I land at the transferring hospital and grab the portable O2 bottle, then help my crew offload the stretcher. There is a security guard prohibiting access to the helipad, so I close the clamshell doors, climb back into my seat, and listen to Dennis Miller on the ADF receiver, emanating from WOAI in San Antonio. I'm distracted, thinking about the patient we're gonna move.

Twenty-four minutes later my crew emerges with him.
He's tubed and unconcious, a very young looking 57 year old. We find out he is a County employee... has a job where he knows full well what an Acetominophen overdose will do to him.

Why would someone sentence themselves to slow, deliberate death this way?

Patient and crew safely aboard, I button them up and do a walk around to make sure cowlings, doors, and fuel cap are still secure. Again, the takeoff into the wind is an elevator ride up to a smooth altitude. From the transferring hospital I can see the "Bigtown" skyline, but with these winds the 32 mile flight will take 22 minutes... you could almost make it as quickly in a ground ambulance! We're literally flyin' sideways... my heading is 30 degrees left of our course across the ground.

My approach to the rooftop pad at the receiving hospital is into the wind, VERY steep and VERY slow. Elevator towers and surrounding buildings can make these approaches treacherous. I'm surprised and pleased that this approach goes without a hitch. But as I land from a hover I notice the reflection of the pad lights shimmering... the pad is wet with rain.
"Be careful on the pad guys... it looks pretty wet".

Throttles back to ground idle, collective and cyclic secured, I dismount and grab the portable O2 tank on the way back to the clamshell doors. As I start to open them I look down to see a spot of blood at my feet, then another spot, and another, and another on the way to the elevator. Another helicopter has been on this pad before us but since the rain fell, with a bad trauma patient.

Together we hot-offload our patient, and when my crew is safely on their way to the ICU, I pop over to our base to refuel... once again listening to Dennis Miller, thinking how nice it would be to be on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, listening to him there, sharing a few beers with friends and loved ones.

Safely home the questions come-
Why did this gentleman, so close to my own age, find life unbearable?
Why, instead of taking a walk in the woods with a .357 magnum, did he choose this liver-killer as the means of ending his life?
Did he want someone else to suffer?

I'll never know.


Ron said...

I'm not sure a question like that can be answered. People who take actions of that sort are not in a rational frame of mind, so their actions tend be tough to rationalize.

When he wakes up, he may spend the balance of his life asking himself the same questions you're pondering.

Anonymous said...

And you must risk your life and the EMT's to try and save this man?

cary said...

ron said it, very well.

Helo Pilot said...

I do not know why people would do that or take the fast way out. But I know first hand the effect it leaves. A Neighbor/friend of mine decided on the shotgun way out. My spouse was the last to see him alive and I was the first to find his body.
It is not a good thing either way.

elay said...

hi greybeard! while reading your blog i was actually feeling more concerned about you, your crew and your aircraft flying in that kind of weather, rather than by the patient who seemed to not want to live anyway..