18 November 2010

Does The Job Require A Strong Stomach?

I'm never asked that question directly.
Instead, folks will say something to the effect, "I'm not sure I could do your job."
When I started I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it either.
Me and my crews see some ghastly things.
An example:

About the time I started the job we launched late one Fall night for an accident scene. This was "back in the day" when weather reporting was MUCH sketchier than it is today, and when we got away from the heat island of the city the temperature dropped and I began to notice fog rapidly forming and spreading beneath me. I called the waiting ambulance and informed them I was aborting the flight, and asked if they wanted to drive the patient to us somewhere that fog wouldn't be a factor. They declined and said they'd just transport the patient to the nearest facility for care.

I then called my dispatch and told them we were headed home, and why.
They responded, "We have another flight for you. Can you make it to ********town? "
(This was on high ground and would be no problem.)
"Yes, we can do that. Go ahead with your report."
"Your patient is a pedestrian, struck by a car. He has severe facial trauma. Your ground contact there is Unit ****."

State troopers closed each end of the highway and allowed me to land immediately behind the ambulance. My crew walked our stretcher over while I secured the aircraft controls, then walked over to watch them work.
Ya can't prepare yourself for this...
The guy was drunk, walking home. He passed out ON THE ROADWAY, just over the crest of a hill. The vehicle that hit him may not have even seen him. It struck his face just below the eyes, destroying his nose, mouth, and jaw, and the tissue there looked exactly like the ruptured abdomen of an opossum or raccoon lying in a heavily trafficked roadway.
Conscious now, his eyes were pleading... "I can't breathe!"
My crew was frantically trying to find his airway in this mass of destroyed tissue so they could insert a breathing tube. They failed.
I watched as the life slowly drained from him.
It's the stuff of nightmares. It bothered everyone... later.

But people are gonna continue to hurt themselves in strange and wonderful ways. I've been at this job 24 years now, and I'm still amazed that our ingenious customers can find new scenarios in the "self destruction" repertoire.
And when they get hurt, someone has to have the stomach to transport them to the help they need. That's our job. Most of the time it's not too bad. But sometimes (like with kids), you have to tell yourself, "Do the job. You can cry later."

Could you do my job?
Yeah, I think most of you could.
'Cause someone has to.


cj said...

There are too many nights (or days depending on shift) when I can't sleep because of the images that won't go away.

This time of year it's the young man who was shot and killed on opening day of deer season by his uncle who had gone into the woods in the middle of the night and then took a sound shot.

I watched a family disintegrate that night and there was nothing I could do. It wasn't my case; I was just the first town they came to when looking for help.

Don't need those memories...

But as you said about the job - someone has to do it.


Anonymous said...

One of my most memorable Medevacs in Iraq was a contractor who did a face-plant off of conex, at a little compound on the Iran border. Severe facial trauma, and hypothermic, but he was still holding onto consciousness and breathing. Flying him to the nearest CSH, my stomach was in a knot, but I continued assisting my medic as he worked quickly to keep the patient's airway clear. I've heard of some crew chiefs not helping their medics, when the customer is in bad shape. I didn't want to do that to him or the patient.

After we got back, my medic complemented me on staying with him the entire time. I told him that I didn't know how he could do it; I was fighting nausea the entire time. My medic just said "me too, man."

Even after that, there were missions where I didn't think I could do it. I did, because I didn't want to let my crew down.

Thanks for posting.


The Old Man said...

What Aaron said. We do what we do because our people depend on us to do our jobs.
You must have self-respect and the respect of the pack.

camerapilot said...

A fair amount of filmcrew are killed or injured every year. You'll never hear about it or read it in the credits.
I had a front row seat to an event-
A painter was atop a scissor-lift, a big one that could extend 40+ ft. He had stood up on the handrails so that he could reach out to the backing he was painting.
He lasted 7 hrs. after he hit the stage floor. He had done the instinctual thing as he slid over the railing and into the air. He extended his arms like an Olympic diver.
I've never seen glistening shattered bone, had the smell of blood in my mouth. A figure moved over to him and tried to reassemble the piece. I told him to stop.
After the medics had taken him away I went back to the set and continued until someone said the last thing you'll hear on a set, "That's a wrap!"
I see the painter every day, he's with me on every stage.

Radio Patriot said...

So-o-o good to know there are competent folks like you out there, capable and ready to help. Bless you and the work you do.


emily said...

We have a few non-EMS pilots who are transitioning into the HEMS world. They are absolutely part of our "medical team" as their extra set of hands (gloved of course!) frees us up to do one more thing. Without them, I would be lost on most flights. And that is even before we lift off the ground.

We all struggle with the "I don't know how you can..." factor, but as you all have said, we just do.

Timothy Frazier said...

GB, and all your colleagues, you have no idea how much you are appreciated. Yes, anyone with the right training and physical talent might be capable of doing your job. What is inspiring and special is the folks like you who willingly keep doing it.

Lot's of folks think they can, but after the first day or so of the academy, or the ride-along, or the first dismembered body, they find they may have the ability but not the will.

I saw enough murder victims, accident victims, assault victims, and suicide victims in my eight years as a cop to know it takes something special to hang in there when it comes to high risk jobs and emergency responders.

Don't sell yourself short.

camerapilot said...

By the way GB,
Thank you for what you have done all around. We'll never forget.
Have a loving Thanksgiving. I personally will hide from all the women in the family and take shelter in my darkroom, he,he!!
Good luck and see you on the open road on yer bike. Look for my black dyna street bob.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

In 35 years of copdom I've seen things no one else will see -- likely some of them YOU have seen in terms of tissue trauma, however. I've seen a homicide resulting from an argument over who got to keep the two C batteries in the TV remote; I've seen a cop wife empty all 6 rounds from her husband's .357 magnum into his back because he cheated; I've seen a fugitive leap from a second story window, brush himself off, and run away; I've seen a fully naked, huge (6'8") black guy cower into the corner of a walk-in closet with his eyes into the wall thinking he couldn't be seen; and more.

When in the streets as an FTO I would tell my trainees: "Remember these two things: if it is politically or fiscally expedient you WILL be sacrificed by the administration, and no matter how bizarre, no matter how perverted or gruesome or disgusting an action, it's already been done by humans and you'll likely see some of it to the point where if you tell your friends, they'll call you a liar."


Greybeard said...

No doubt you've probably seen more tissue damage than most, BZ. I guess I should have titled the post differently. As a Deputy Sheriff of three years I had now-and-then occasion to see some of what you refer to myself. But there's a difference between looking at an out of suffering corpse and being amazed at how a .357 magnum can completely empty the bowl your brain once sat in, and trying to deal with someone dying before your eyes, pleading for your help, isn't there?
The emotional stresses are tougher, and it's why we finally realized "de-briefings" are a necessity.