Sunday, February 22, 2009

A world so small, a heart so large

A few days into the EMT-B class, our instructor suggested that we get a scanner so we could listen in on medical reports, and learn from them. We get relatively few calls out here in the middle of nowhere, so we need to learn from as many sources as we can. Listening in to the radio reports, and especially the flight medics, we could hear how they give the reports, what interventions they have done, and a variety of other details not readily available elsewhere.

One of the first things we learned is that the flight medics are fantastic. They give their reports by the book, head to toe, easy to understand and follow. A good model for us, to hear that pattern over and over, the rhythm and flow of the report giving us a mental template to use in acquiring the information to give our own patient reports.

Another thing we learned early on is that we can recognize the voices of most of the ambulance personnel, so we know who is going on the call. This does a couple of things. One is to give us further information about each of them, their ability to be focused and calm, the clarity and completeness of the information they provide, adding to the level of trust we have in them when we work together. It also lets us know who to worry about, sometimes, depending on the situation they are going into- or on the road conditions.

We also hear a much wider variety of situations than we've gone to ourselves.

We have gotten into the habit of turning the scanner on when we hear someone get toned out for something that sounds like an interesting EMS call. We run through the call either in our heads, or sometimes, if we're both listening, with each other. Does the location of the call give us any information? Is this somewhere they have been before? What would you do first? What should we be concerned about, with that mechanism of injury? We'll visualize and/or verbalize the assessment we would do if we were on scene. It's decent practice for us, and more than once, we've ended up with a similar call relatively soon after hearing one on the scanner.

So last week, when we heard a call for someone who fell from a tree, we turned the scanner on, and followed the incident as long as we could.

My first thought was that I was glad that I didn't know anyone that age who lived in that location.

I was concerned for the patient. It didn't sound good. They called for a helicopter before arriving on scene, to get the flight team going and ready to fly. Called in an engine to set up a landing zone nearby. This is a common precautionary measure, but this time, it sounded like it might be necessary. There are so many injuries possible with a fall.

We don't get a lot of detail on the scanner unless we pick up a flight medic; since the radio system was upgraded a few months ago, the local ambulances give their reports on a frequency we can no longer pick up. This time, it turned out that the helicopter couldn't fly due to bad weather, so they had to transport by ground. Once they were loaded to go, we didn't get any further information over the radio. All we knew was that the suspected injuries were serious.

As we turned off the scanner, our thoughts and hearts were with the patient, hoping things would go well and he would be okay.

They didn't.
He wasn't.

Usually, we never know how EMS calls turn out. Privacy laws prevent us getting further information, unless we happen to know the patient personally, and hear things through friends or family directly.

The thing is, I don't actually know where every person I know around town lives.
And I definitely don't know where they all work, or where they might be at any given time of day.

Turns out that this patient was someone I know.
The husband of a woman I've known for many years.
A prominent figure in the local activist community.

I found out the next morning that he did not survive.
He leaves behind his wife and their four daughters. Three of whom I've watched grow up, and the youngest of whom I remember when she was born.

My daughter and I attended his wake today. There was an outpouring of community support which was nice to see, but it's a bit sad that it takes something like this to bring everyone together.

As it always is, it was a reminder that none of us know how long we have left. That death comes suddenly and surprisingly. That no one is prepared, but everyone somehow goes on.

In an odd way, I feel like I was there when it happened. I wasn't; I was only listening in on the radio, hearing just enough to know someone was in trouble, but not enough to know who, or to suspect how it might affect me personally. I wish I had been, if only to be able to give my friend some understanding of what happened and how. She is struggling to make sense of something that makes little sense.

Today, she was surrounded by love, by friends and community, by an outpouring of grief to hold her close, to hold her up while she mourns. She greeted everyone who came in, with a hug and a smile, and not a few tears. It must have been difficult, even while affirming the man she knows her husband to have been.

His burial is tomorrow.
Most of the people who were there today will fade back into the background.
My friend will somehow go on, having lost her partner, her love, the kind and gentle man she has spent most of her life with.
She will raise their daughters to remember him with love, and to honor his memory by continuing to work for the causes so near to his heart.
How she will do this, I don't know. Just that she will.
My heart goes out to her.

For Ellen, I wish comfort and grace, hope and love, family and faith.
For Peter, I wish the peace he has worked so hard towards.



Spartacus Jones said...

Sorry about your friend.
He was a good man and stood up for what was right.
There's no better thing that can be said about anyone than that.


GreenJello said...

Life is short. It is sad when some folks' lives are shorter than others. :(

Greybeard said...

Thank you for sharing this.

When I started flying helicopter EMS my mentor related these brutal truths:

1. Some days are not good days for being critically sick or injured.

2. It makes no sense to kill three people while trying to save one. (Not to mention destroying a multi-million dollar machine that can then no longer be used as a tool to help anyone.)
He then added that patients were safely transported in trucks LONG before they were flown.

I too hate the Hippa laws that make it so difficult to follow up on a patient's progress. It's frustrating, particularly with kids, to not be able to hear how you may have improved their chances to live normally.

I've linked to you so my readers can read "the rest of the story."

hilinda said...

Greybeard- I know the medics who were on scene are sad about the outcome. I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that the flight team is equally sad. It must be extraordinarily difficult to have to say "no," knowing someone's life hangs in the balance- as does your own.

In this particular case, and I'm sure in many others, there is no way to know whether better weather would have made a difference.

It's just sad, and difficult, all the way around.

Michael Morse said...

Sorry for your loss, Hilinda, and thanks for the rant on RP, I appreciate your support.

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Oh, geez, Linda. I'm sorry.

Perspective. For me.

You know what I mean.