When you are in school to be an EMT, they teach you all kinds of things. Most of those things go right out the window s soon as you get your job but, there’s one thing I carry with me everyday.
A very wise man once told me, People will call you into their homes, and into their lives, on the worst day of their lives, and they will trust you to make it better. You have the power to take pain away. Even if you can’t do anything else for that person, you can take away their suffering.
One late night when I was fresh out of EMT school, I was on my way home from my job in fast food.
I was driving around a corner when I saw a vehicle that had been wrapped around the bottom of a bridge post. Immediately I got an adrenaline rush and as I was pulling over I saw a man standing outside talking on the phone.
I then began thinking about how lucky he is, he had wrapped his truck around a giant cement post and was walking around, virtually unharmed.
I got out of my vehicle and began walking back towards the accident when I heard the man on the phone saying that someone wasn’t moving. My ears perked up when I heard him say that, and that’s when I heard it, the moan of a dying man.
I began to run over to the vehicle and found a man in his 20’s laying back in his seat. He was covered in blood and was moaning over and over again. I sprinted back to my car where I turned my vehicle around and turned on my brights to see the scene.
As I ran back to my car I saw an ambulance driving the opposite direction on the freeway beside us, and knew they were on the way.
I got back to the man and began to assess him and I noted how he had multiple facial fractures and lacerations, and I began talking to him, attempting to keep him awake. I wasn’t able to touch him and I knew I would be powerless if anything was to happen to him because I couldn’t even get to him.
Every time I would speak to him and use my cell phone light to look at his face he would moan. The bystander on scene then asked where we were so he could tell the 911 operator. I told him where we where before he asked for my phone number.
My phone began to ring when I got a call from the 911 operator asking where we were at. I told her our location and I asked her to advise the Fire Department and the ambulance that they need to expedite the response because he is showing signs of shock and he will have a prolonged extrication time. I told her to advise them that they will have one red patient and she began telling me that I needed to speak positive around the patient. Infuriated, I hung up on her. I can do nothing without extrication equipment and she wanted to argue over the phone!
As I hung up the Fire Department arrived and I grabbed a pair of gloves from the Fire Engine and waited for them to complete the extrication. The ambulance rolled on scene a few moments later when I recognized the crew. I informed them of my findings and they began to prepare the stretcher and when the Fire Department had extricated the patient they loaded him into the box and I asked if I could help. I was told I could, so I jumped right in and became apart of what I like to call the symphony of hands.
It’s not often you get to witness it, but it is an amazing thing. You have 3-5 people all moving separately but together, with a purpose. Everyone is focused and knows exactly what their part in the symphony is.
While the paramedic was attempting to obtain an IV, the patient kept pulling his arm away, so I held his arm down and told him what was happening and why. The young man grabbed my hand and for the fist time, I could feel how scared he was. I wasn’t, until this point, able to focus on his emotional needs. He squeezed my hand tight and I explained everything that happened and everything that was happening to him as it was happening. He squeezed my hand tighter and tighter with tears rolling out of his eyes which were so swollen he couldn’t even open them.
I was invested. Emotionally invested. That’s the cardinal rule in EMS, be there for your patient, but remain distant.
The paramedic pushed a sedation drug so the patient could be intubated and I felt him slip into unconsciousness, his hand going limp. I squeezed it one last time and placed it by his side. The paramedic declared it was time to transport the patient to the hospital and I exited the ambulance.
On the drive home I began to question why this had happened… Why a young man, who reminded me a lot of me, had to be in this accident…
For the next few days I had imagined a reunion between us, where he would have recognized my voice, and where he would thank me for being there to hold his hand through the worst day of his life. A moment, where I could have told him how happy I was that he made it out alive.
I later found out that he had died in surgery a few hours after I held his hand and told him we were doing everything we could for him.
Another young life that was ended to soon.
I found his name and looked him up. I found out that we had a lot of the same friends, worked in the same places and that we grew up less than a mile apart.
I want you to know, you still keep me awake at night. I still think of you often.
I need you to know, I’m so very sorry I couldn’t do more for you.
I mourned for you. I was invested in your survival. I needed you to make it.
But you didn’t.