Trying to Meet My Maker

Trying to Meet My Maker

 Today started out great. Everything was going great. I was in the zone. When I got to work, I found myself working with who else, Jon. Now, though, I had time on my side. I have been around for over 3 months, everyone had given me glowing reports, so now, no one could say that I can’t ride. Jon stayed to himself, as I caught a quick shower; track practice had run long after class, and hopping in the shower would’ve made me late. The water cascaded down my face as I kept my eyes closed, trying to center myself. I only had to be there until midnight, only seven hours, fifteen minutes, and thirty seconds. I slowly washed up, the warm water keeping my blood pressure down. Noises wafted in from the crew room; I could hear Jon entertaining one of his Medic Bunnies. She was a creepy broad who had more tattoos than teeth. When she introduced herself as “Tiffany” and said it was nice to see someone else who was under 25, I wanted to ask her how many times over had she passed 25. In those days, sex at the station was common-place. Whether it was the appropriate significant other was a different story. I can’t count how many times I had to be on the look-out for a wife/babys’ mamma while my partners were otherwise entertaining.

I loudly announced my emergence from the bathroom; by flinging the door open. I wanted to interrupt Jon in the worst way. He gave me a dirty look as he zipped his fly. “Tiffany” straightened her top.

“Sorry guys, didn’t mean to interrupt..” I said with a cheeky smile.

“Whatever…” The two got up and retired to the supply room turned axillary crew room; it was too small to even hold a bed, all it held was an old, reclining chair and an old rolling hospital table that substituted as a night table. The tube tamer rapped on the old wood door as it was hung on the doorknob, and the loud roar was dimmed down to a small whisper of noise. Every so often, we’d hear a thump, but that was the worst. As I dried my hair, I looked at the bay. I saw a brown head of hair passing back and forth in front of the door, and I didn’t recognize the person. Sauntering out into the bay, I put on my best smile, using the best voice I could.

“Hey there, ya lost?” He turned around, and I went weak in the knees. His dark green eyes gazed at me, and he laughed slightly as he closed the ambulance doors.

“No, ma’am…” He pulled a cigarette from his pocket and went to hand me one. I shook my head and he shrugged, then lit it, pulling the butt to his lip. Never had I ever wanted to be a cigarette more in my life than that moment. “What’s your name, darlin’?”

With the sweetest southern drawl I had ever heard, he made it even harder to stand up straight. I found the back step of one of the other ambulances, and I sat down, pretending to tighten the laces on my boots.

“Shao, Shao Trommashere…”

“Pretty. I’m Keith, pleasure is mine…” He deftly tipped his hat as he took my hand. It was gentle, not the hard shake I had become accustomed to. He held my hand as if it would break if he held it any harder. He tipped his hat, a black cowboy hat, and I just had to laugh.

“I’m guessing you aren’t from around here…”

“Nope, moved here about six weeks ago from Dallas, what gave it away…?” I looked at his hat, listened to his voice, and just smiled, “Your personality…” Keith and I walked around the trucks, getting to know each other. We did the dinner run for the evening, and we kept talking with no end in sight. I looked up at the clock, noting that it was after ten, I was to be going home soon and we had no calls. As we cleaned from dinner, we heard the police get dispatched for a motor vehicle accident. We went quicker, knowing where they called the accident at was known for fatalities. That stretch of road was known for accidents that left bodies broken and no lives to save. In the log book, when you looked for the road name, all you saw was “DOA” written after it. We went to the truck, making sure there were enough electrodes and c-collars. Multiple calls were being dispatched for the same location; two vehicles, three people laying on the road, one big car, one little car. Each phone-call seemed worse than the last. We heard the cops get on scene, and we waited. Even Jon, who never seemed to get excited about any EMS call, had come out to the truck and the look in his eye even showed a bit of an excited twinkle.

Then, the radio silence was shattered.

“County! Send me everything! We got two cars, SUV versus Sports car, we have six victims, two have self extricated, two have been thrown, and two are still entrapped. Get me as many birds as possible!”

We didn’t even wait for the dispatch. Several other local crew-members heard the initial dispatch, and had come out just in case. We had three, fully stocked ambulances ready to lock and load, and my truck was the first out. Jon hopped up in the front seat, the door barely closed before we zoomed from the garage. Quickly, we cleared the small city, and we bounced along the back roads. Jon handed me a Fire Fighting helmet.

“Put this on…”

“Why…?”

“You’re the smallest one here…if I need you to, you’ll have to get in the car…they taught you that, right?”

I nodded quickly, strapping the helmet on. I spiked bags, clipped electrodes onto the leads. The plastic IV bags swung like pendulums from the ceiling, one filled with Normal Saline, one filled with Lactated Ringers. I tore one inch wide pieces of tape into half inch wide strips, hanging them off the ‘Oh Shit’ bar on the ceiling. Facing backwards, I couldn’t see the scene coming up, but I heard Keith as we screeched to a sudden stop.

“Oh Fuck…” He didn’t excuse himself like he had earlier, so I looked out the windshield. No one moved. The scene was eerily lit by flashing red, white, and blue lights. Something that, not even generously could be called a car, laid off to the side of the road. A big gas-guzzling car was feet in front of us, the front end demolished. The engine block looked as if it had been shoved backwards at least six inches, if not more. We got out, surveying the damage. Nothing could’ve prepared me for this. Car parts, body parts, everything was just chaotic. The silence was eerie. Vehicles that normally made a lot of noise were silenced. Keith grabbed me by the arm, snapping me out of my haze.

“Come on, we got patients…” He lead me around a pile of fabric, a large beach towel laying haphazardly on top. I saw a hand sticking out from under.

“Hey! We got something!”

“Shao, don’t…” But before he could stop me, I whipped the towel off and receded back, my hand over my mouth. The pile was a broken body, the legs bent at mid thigh. An arm was missing, the head deflated. A river of crimson moved lazily from the body. I moved back, my back pressing up against Keith’s’ chest. The silence was broken by the groan of generators starting up.

“I’m…sorry, kid. Wish you didn’t have to see that…” Jon came running up, shoving medical equipment into my hands, “Come on, they’re about ready to tear the car apart, we have two kids in there. You need to put collars on them and put them on oxygen. You’re the only one who can fit, even past the shoulders.” He looked down at the ground and he winced. It was obvious even he was affected.

“Come on, we gotta job we hafta do…” We hurridly moved to the red car, the sports car. It was destroyed. I could barely tell what was the front and what was the back. From the police report, we found out it was a two-door late model Mustang. The engine was pushed back almost into the drivers’ compartment. I noticed that, everything where the hood was supposed to be was smoking. Everyone seemed more concerned about those in the car than about the smoke, so I left it alone. As I walked past it, I got a good whiff, and I started to cough. The smoke tasted like rubber, but no one else seemed to care about it. I looked into the car; two kids, not much older than myself were twisted in the wreck. I wasn’t even sure if they were sitting in the front seat or back. I looked around as a Fire Fighter draped a salvage blanket over the broken windshield and he gestured to the opening.

“Ready?” I nodded, and with a little help, they got me in the windshield. I started coughing immediately. Even with the windows busted out, the smoke still wafted in and hung around. I clipped a lifeline to my belt, the large carabiner a reassuring weight on my back. I gave the lifeline a tug; it was tugged back. All I knew was, if I pulled and pulled hard on the rope, they would pull me back out.

In the car, the one kid cried weakly. I put each one in a collar. A firefighter reached his hand through the other “window” to hold C-Spine on the crying kid. I held onto the other kid, talking to him softly. All the while, I felt an…ugly sensation in my chest. As an asthmatic from what felt like birth, I felt the closing up sensation. I tried to arch myself forward as best as I could, my body naturally sinking into the tripod position. I started coughing and wheezing, coughing up weird tasting phlegm.

The air had an odd taste to it as I moved around, a fine, white dust settled on every surface. As I moved about, tending to the victims, the dust kept being kicked up. Every breath was filled with this crap. It tasted odd in the back of my throat, and after a good breath, my lungs and throat felt like they were closing even tighter. I didn’t want to get out though; all I could hear was Jon telling me I was the only one who could do it, who could really climb in the car and help the kids. My throat closed even tighter, it was getting almost impossible to breathe. The air was remarkably clear, aside from the dust, but my chest continued to tighten. I glanced at my watch, I had been in for almost ten minutes.

“How are you doing, kid!?” I heard Keith scream over the hydraulic equipment.

“F…f..f..fine!” I wasn’t going to let them pull me out of that car. I was surrounded by men, and I didn’t want to look weak.

“You don’t sound good! Let’s get you out of there!”

“No! I…I’m 10-4!”

Without warning, the entire car shifted. Black, acrid smoke filled the car. At the same time, the roof peeled back. I saw the stars, and inhaled the first clear air I had had in what seemed like years. I climbed out of the car, watching the patients being loaded onto flight stretchers. Looking out, I saw a field full of helicopters and ambulances. The patients I cared for were being loaded into the helicopters. I stood on what was left of the trunk of the car, and Keith held out his hand. I took his hand and jumped down, my knees going out from under me. I could barely breathe. My head was spinning in circles. I couldn’t even focus on Keith.

“You okay?”

I nodded. I stood up, my hands shaking. I started breathing faster, trying to suck in air. The smoke was still wafting my way, so I tried to shift out of its reach. I waved at Keith, making my lips form words. With the generators still buzzing, I wanted him to think he may have just not heard me. I gestured to the truck, and I stumbled my way there.

I never reached the truck.

I felt myself collapse into a heap on the ground. I could barely draw in a breath. Every cough brought up more phlegm. My mouth felt gritty and full of chalk. Keith made it to me first. He took one listen with a stethoscope and he started yelling for Jon.

Oh God…he’s not gonna treat me…he hates me…

 “Jon! Jon! Get over here! Jon!!”

Oh God, I’m gonna die. God help me, I don’t want to die…

 I started fighting, I didn’t want Jon to touch me. After our first shift together, I didn’t want him near me. Keith picked me up, throwing me into the truck. I bounced on the stretcher, and I tried sitting up, but I had no energy to do so. My uniform shirt was ripped off, and I had a small moment of modesty where I tried to weakly cover up. Keith whipped out the Trauma Shears, cutting my sleeves off. He stuck the electrodes to my chest, and I heard the machine beating wildly. I rolled my head towards it…

140?

 My eyes started to close; I was tired. I just figured a quick nap would make this go away. I felt my cheeks being slapped. I opened my eyes, trying to lift my hand to move the hand away.

“No, come on, Shao, stay awake…” I shook my head, then I realized something was on my face. I reached up, feeling the mask of a BVM enshrouding my mouth and nose. I saw the bright red semi-circle of a nasal trumpet sticking out of my nose. I suddenly realized; I was screwed. Nasal Trumpets and BVM’s were tools that were only used on very sick people, people who couldn’t breathe. I felt my arm start to burn, and I started to cry. Jon grabbed my hand, looking in my face. I could see his eyes, the furrows on his brows deep with worry, dripping with sweat. His other hand cupped my cheek, his voice ringing above the din of the noise.

“Shao, listen to me, focus on my voice. Take slow, deep breaths. You’re going to be fine, I promise. Just breathe with me, in and out, that’s a good girl…”

With that, I breathed with him. The man I hated, the man who, months before, told me of his loathing of me, how he couldn’t stand me, and now, he was going above and beyond the call of Paramedic by literally coaching me to breathe.

“We’re here!” I heard a voice call out. Jon looked over at Keith, “Last vitals?”

“BP 88/40, pulse 130, pulse ox, 72 percent.” I felt the stretcher being pulled from the truck, and watched the stars in the sky go by. The ER docs, along with several other Medics and EMTs were waiting; news had gotten around that they were bringing in an EMT, and everyone wanted to help. I heard my mum call out to me, but she was quickly lead away by someone else in a robins’ egg blue shirt. Hands flew over my body, cords were tugged and pulled. I felt myself lift in the air, then I felt myself land. I let my head drift off to the left, and I saw my IV tubing. My last memory was of hearing a Doctor talking to a nurse.

“This isn’t good…”

Suddenly, my body felt warm and tingly. I no sooner received the Versed before I was asleep.

 I’m watching the clouds go by as I am being driven back to work. The hospital released me after three days. I still have a bad cough, but I could be worse. I looked at the little puncture marks on my arm; my forearm still sore from the doses of Epinephrine. For some reason, I had a reaction to the effluent from the airbags; my throat started closing and I was having a severe asthma attack at the same time. I didn’t want to go back to the station, but I had to sign all the paperwork for the incident, and everyone just wanted to see me. I was still tired; the Prednisone was kicking my ass along with everything else.

As we got to the station, I saw people outside cleaning the trucks, scrubbing them tenderly as if they were their children. I slowly climbed from the car as people came up to me, hugging me happily, glad I was okay. Keith came over, tipping his hat to me, then he wrapped me up in his long arms, kissing me on the forehead.

“You gave me a scare, darlin’, glad to see you on both hooves.” I smiled at him, thankful for his presence. I went to saw something when I saw the sea of people part behind him. Keith turned and moved to the side. There stood Jon. He looked me over slowly while no one said a word. Everyone had, by then, heard of the drama going on between us. He took a step closer, smiling at me.

“Good to see you up, kid. You scared the shit outta me…” He wrapped me up in a bear hug, and I hugged him back.

         It took me nearly dying for me to see the big picture; it wasn’t that he didn’t like me. Yes, he was an ass, but at the same time, he had seen more in his career than I could’ve ever thought to have seen. Car accidents were no longer the fun, trauma filled, exciting moments, but moments of terror; lives shattered in an instant. The more interventions he did, the worse off they were. He wanted the days of peace and quiet, and it took me seeing it for myself before I got the picture. Nine years later, I hear a car accident go out, and no longer do I run to the truck, excited to see broken limbs and to do fun treatments. I go and pray it’s nothing more than someone with a seat-belt bruise and someone who is covered in dust, coughing from the effluent.

Failure is an option.

Today I had a bad day. I was taking a physical fitness test for my new job and I failed…badly at it. Back spasms have plagued me since I got between a 300lb man and a Stryker stretcher. He was trying to jump off, and some how I thought I was going to stop him. In the middle of the sit-up portion, my back locked up tighter than a virgins’ legs and I couldn’t sit back up. I tried, but my body betrayed me at the worst time. My emotions got the better of me, and I stormed off, being followed by Medic Dolphine.

I lived by the creed: “Failure is not an option.” Ask any one of my friends and they’ll tell you that I don’t take failure well…at all. It is not in my genetic structure to fail. I sat and stared at the running track that I was supposed to be running on after doing the sit-ups, and I realized that, failure had become an option in my life.

I knew that failure sucks big eggrolls, and it’s not something I like to do on a regular basis, but because of EMS, failure was an option. It just depends on how we look at it. The sit-ups: There was nothing I could’ve done. My back locked up on me, my feet went numb, and I couldn’t see through the white hot pain. I’ve trained for this day for months, almost six now. I had done countless more push-ups, sit ups, and running than I had to do today, but it was not ment to be.

Years ago, I would’ve fought, argued, and whined my way to never trying again. My mentality was, it’s not me, it’s them. After losing several patients over the years though has taught me that, no matter how hard you try, if it’s not supposed to work, it’s not going to work. I was not supposed to get in today for whatever reason, who knows why.

We as Medics and EMTs put a lot of blame on ourselves when things don’t go right and our co-workers help that process by reminding us of our failures. What we don’t remember are the times the shit went right. Yeah, my back may have spasmed today, but thank my lucky stars it didn’t when I had help get a kid out of a mangled car and I was contorted into a position I hadn’t seen since my Cheerleading days. I stayed in the same spot for almost an hour, yet my back didn’t betray me until I bent to pick up a piece of plastic on the ambulance floor during clean up after the call.

I remember all the large bore IV’s I missed and I think about them constantly, but I don’t pull up the fond memories of sinking 22′s and 24′s on little old ladies who would be poked and prodded into the night because of people rushing to get the line.

I’ve “failed” many arrests, hell, I speak of one in one of my posts. I remember dates, times, places, faces, what have you of the “failed” arrests, but I can’t even remember the name of my very last arrest. While she wasn’t a techincal save (walking out of the hospital), we “saved” her to the point that she was perfusing so her hand was warm when her husband of over 50 years was able to hold her hand and say good-bye while she was “alive” in her husbands’ mind.

I walked to my car, feeling dejected, but at the same time relieved. The spasm abated not too long after it started, keeping me from hours, if not days of bed rest and medication. I was given permission to retest; the instructors figured that I wasn’t lying about the back spasm because of the look of sheer pain on my face. They saw me trying, so they gave me information to reschedule.

I also think my mental shift came from reading. I had been voraciously reading a book by A.J. Jacobs called The Guinea Pig Diaries. In it, he does various experiments about his life. Outsourcing EVERYTHING he did during the day, even reading to his kids, to doing everything his wife asked him to do…no matter what. One section that caught my interest was when he spoke about how he makes a note every time he’s in a fast moving line at the store or at airport security. He’s right; we only notice the bad shit. Sure, for this particular section he researched a Harvard Psychologist (Daniel Gilbert and his book Stumbling on Happiness, but the take home point in all of it was that, we remember the bad stuff well, but never the really good stuff.

So, as I doff my cap to Mr. Jacobs, here is my “mental list” of everything that went right today:

I woke up and the Earth was still here.

I felt great considering my nervousness.

The drive to the hotel we stayed at and even to the test was uneventful and we found the place with lots of time to spare.

I was able to help motivate the girl who was before me into punching out her last few sit-ups; she made it.

I don’t have to get a prescription filled for a steroid because of my back; the spasm went away on its own and I just feel stiff, but nothing too bad.

I didn’t have to run in the extreme humidity which would’ve set off an asthma attack which would’ve been worse than the spasm.

I now know what I’m looking at and I’ll do better next time.

Now I’m going to lay down, get a few hours of rest, and start my process over again.

Have fun and Be safe!
~M. Trommashere~