The only thing I take seriously is my Freedom. And Bacon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Snowy Turnpike, A Cursing Medic, and A Lesson in Tragedy

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. C.S. Lewis
The snow had been falling since 7:00 a.m. We placed our bunker gear in the ambulances and filled up on coffee and ate our breakfast as quick as we could. I had oatmeal, Ray ate powdered doughnuts, and Sam filled the station with the buttery smell of fried eggs.

We sat around the kitchen table making small talk, our eyes constantly drifting to the windows watching the dizzying dance of fat wet ice crystals.

It would be a lie to say we didn't feel excited; it's not that we longed for blood and wreckage; we longed for the challenge that nature often presented; the frantic race against time, against the elements; the test of our skills and knowledge; the battle between life and death. Being able to look at the Face of Darkness, do battle with Him, and defeat Him, was the ultimate high for us. It's what made the long days worthwhile. Death and destruction made us feel alive.

The first call came around 8:30. Accident with injuries on the turnpike. I was the second out unit that day so I kept reading the newspaper and eating my oatmeal.

Ten minutes later, the first out rig called us to assist them. They weren't on scene yet, but there were reports of several vehicles involved.

This was before I was a paramedic and before funding for EMS was rationed. We had three on our crew: one medic and two EMT's. I was still an EMT at that point, wide eyed and content to take directions. My medic career was at least a good year or two away.

Even with the chains on the tires it took us a good twenty minutes to get to the turnpike. I sat in the back, watching the white world fly by. I remember thinking how stunning nature could be.

As we approached the scene, our medic said, "Holy Shit."

Cars and car parts were littered across the highway: a fender here, a headlight there, shattered brake lights everywhere. Various people were rushing around the scene: Troopers in their plastic covered tented hats, victims in their winter coats, EMS in bright blue bunker gear, firefighters in bark colored bunker gear.

Drew, the medic in the first out rig, was yelling for someone to assist him. Drew rarely yelled. He was one of our best medics: He rarely yelled.

"I'll go," I jumped out and slid on a patch of ice. I was able to right myself before I toppled over.

I opened the side door to 108-1 and climbed in.

"Bag him." Drew's forehead was soaked in perspiration. He handed me the ambu bag and unrolled his intubation kit. I took over breathing for our patient, hyperventilating him as Drew instructed.

The patient was a young guy; 18 or 19. His clothes had been cut away in order to search for injuries. There were no visible cuts or bruises. His legs were long and muscular. His chest broad, his arms well defined. He had a mass of shoulder length chocolate hair with just the slightest curl to it. He was beautiful.

Our Chief was on board with us, trying to start an IV line. Another EMT was helping Drew. Before Drew attempted to intubate, he checked the patient's eyes with a penlight.

"FUCK."

Drew never swore.

The patient's eyes were fixed and dilated; he had a severe head injury.

It's often said there's little hope once the pupils no longer react.

I don't pray often. Not sure who's ever really listening. But as I squeezed air into this dying man's lungs, I silently pleaded for someone to give him a chance.

"Please, please, please," became my unspoken mantra.

The helicopters were grounded. The trauma center, on a good day, was 20 minutes away.

"You drive," Drew barked.

Me. Drive. In a raging snowstorm. We were facing northbound in the southbound lanes. I knew the nearest spot I could cross over to get in the correct traffic lane was at least five miles up the road.

The Troopers rarely shut down the turnpike, but today, today they offered to put up roadblocks and to give us a police escort.

I knew not to argue with Drew, even though I was scared shitless at the thought of navigating through snow and ice. I quickly shed my bunker gear and jumped to the driver's seat.

"Please, please, please," continued to play in my head. Please let the patient be okay, please let me get him to the hospital safely, please let me get everyone to the hospital safely, please stop snowing.

It took 50 minutes to get to the trauma center. The patient's "Golden Hour" had come and gone. It's drilled into our heads that in a trauma situation, every minute of the first sixty is golden, and for the best outcome, the patient must make it to a trauma center within that hour.

After we turned over care of our patient I went outside to grab a quick smoke with our Chief (who had given up the habit).

"He was on his way to go skiing with a bunch of his buddies from college," Chief said as he lit my cigarette.

"What do you think?" I asked. Will he live?

"It would be a miracle."

A week later, we were back again at the hospital with a cardiac patient. We stopped in the trauma unit. Asked to see him. They don't usually allow non-family members in, but they turned a blind eye.

I stood at his bedside watching his chest rise and fall with the aid of a machine. I touched his long white fingers. His skin was pale, almost translucent.

A month later, his family took him off life support.

The word Mirage comes right after the word Miracle in the dictionary: Mirage; something illusory and unattainable.

Sometimes I think we kid ourselves, thinking we can pull one over on the Prince of Darkness; after all, He works hand in hand with the most powerful force on the planet: Nature.

And yet, what we fail to see is the warning that nature gives us time and time again, a catch phrase we often say, but rarely heed: "Life is short. Make each moment count."

In the dictionary, miracle comes before the word mirage.

Though my prayers weren't answered that wintry day; I still see the beauty in a snowfall.

I still believe in miracles.

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