Category Archives: My experiences

“It’s Not Your Fault”….I Lied….

Wow, is this powerful….The video in the link below describes a scenario that probably almost anyone who has spent a few years on an ambulance can understand.

While I don’t remember any specific time I told this type of lie, I am quite certain that I did. How can you not? “It’s not your fault…..” “It’s not as bad as it looks….” And any number of little (or big) white lies we tell to comfort the patient or the family……

And our selves……

Here’s the link to “It’s not your fault”

I do not belive I ever told the lie he describes, although I dealt with at least my share of SIDS. However, I was in a very similar situation – the only difference was that Mom already knew….and lying to her would not have changed anything……

(I have written about the emotions surrounding my experience and how it effected my for years, here, , if you are interested….)

 

 

 

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An incredibly humbling experience…..What do I do with it??

Tonight at a neighbors Christmas party, I had the honor to spend several hours talking with Randy and Gary. Both served our country in Vietnam.

Gary served one year “in theatre” as a Sargent in the Army. He told me stories about how he and his fellow soldiers were assaulted day after day – by Americans. Guys would pick fights with them  just because they “looked military”. I’m happy to report that Gary and company were undefeated in bar room brawls.

Gary told me about friends who were “messed up” when they got home, but insisted he was fine. Yet, with eyes watering, he shared story after story about how he and his friends were attacked and forced into fights they never wanted – at home. It seemed as though Gary was more effected by what happened after he returned than what he saw when in combat.

Randy, a small and soft-spoken gentleman with intense eyes, made the biggest impression on me. Randy spent three years, two tours, as a Marine in Vietnam he re-enlisted shortly after a field promotion to Sargent when his superior, and most of his team, were killed in action. He wanted to go back and, with an intensity in his eyes that I have never seen before, told me that he “made good – two for one”.

Almost six years ago, Randy was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer – an aggressive and incurable form – and given less than five years to live. He has gone through many rounds of chemo and stem cell transplants. Today, he looks very healthy, but moves rather slowly and speaks very softly. He says, at this point, no one knows how much longer he has left. As he shared this information with me, Randy took a sip of his beer, looked me square in the eye and said “I don’t know how much longer I have left, but I’m not done yet”.

Randy honestly believes he was exposed to something, perhaps Agent Orange, while in Vietnam that lead to his diagnosis. However, he does not cast blame. Randy feels that, while it really sucks, this is just part of serving his country.

Randy, Gary and I spent the evening talking, drinking, laughing and sharing stories. Through the course of the night, I eventually told them about my “past life” as a fire/medic. Most of the stories we shared involved “off-duty” partying, but certainly we all shared some of our more intense experiences. For the record, my stories did not hold a candle to what they experienced.

At the end of the night, both men shook my hand and thanked me for a great evening. Randy, however, held my hand. He looked me square in the eyes with the intensity I had seen earlier and said, “Thank you for letting me share my story with you”. He said he does not very often get the opportunity to talk with someone who is willing to listen and who understands his background. An incredible compliment from an unbelievably strong and brave man.

This filled me with pride, satisfaction, gratitude, and humility. This is a true American hero – thanking ME for simply talking to him……

And then, still firmly gripping my hand, with a firm thump on the shoulder and a renewed intensity in his eyes, Randy said to me: “And thank you for your service and what you did for our community”……….

With that he turned, waved to the host of the party, and walked out the door……

Wow……..completely speechless…….

A Look Back: The Bookends of a Career

It occurred to me last night as I was laying in bed trying to fall asleep, that this week marked a major anniversary for me. On July 30, 2000, I ran my last call……

That call was not the “worst” call of my career – far from it. But it was quite memorable. Intense.

I spent 20-ish minutes in the back of an SUV that had been broadsided and rolled onto the passenger side, trying to protect and treat a young woman while the rest of my crew cut the vehicle apart around us. As I tried to start an IV (yes, I was successful)  and administer oxygen, I remember her repeatedly trying to punch me in the head – she had a significant head injury – and all of the dust and debris blowing through the car as Flight for Life landed on the road behind us ….Oh yeah – she was also seven months pregnant.

As we watched the helicopter fly out, the A/C on scene gave me shit about not shaving that day. I told him to F-off and then told him I quit, but agreed to finish the shift. Of course, he knew it was my last shift anyway, so we all laughed. Then went back to the station for lunch.

That was my last call…..

I ran my first call on January 19th, 1988. A commercial plane crash. I was a college student who had signed up for the county search and rescue team so I could learn how to rock climb. I obviously had no idea what I had really signed up for…..

I was studying for an accounting exam when I got the call. It was about 830pm and we were in the middle of a “mild” blizzard. The plane simply hadn’t shown up at the small, mountain airport as expected. Radar had it until just a few miles out. So, we did not know exactly where to look – only a general flight plan to go by and a lot of unpopulated mountainous terrain to search.

So, here I am…..a college student with no clue, snowshoeing through the wilderness, in the middle of the night, during a blizzard looking for a plane crash. We found it – thanks to footprints left by a survivor who literally hiked out to a nearby farmhouse. Over the course of just a few minutes, the scene went from dark and quiet – only the sound of a handful of rescuers trudging through the snow and their headlamps – to a level of commotion and controlled chaos that I had never before experienced. Flood lights and generators appeared very soon after, followed quickly by all the tools of the trade – axes, pry bars, the “jaws of life”……

We worked through the night extricating people. Half the people on the plane survived – the other half did not. Only one of the survivors was seriously injured – the rest pretty much walked away from it. Literally and figuratively.

After many hours, the first crew on scene, us, was relieved by the next crew. I sat down in the snow with a few others not too far from the plane, but out of the reach of the lights. We ate sandwiches that had been brought in…..Then we hiked back out. About two miles, if I remember correctly.

The trip back was again dark and quiet. But, as we crested the last ridge, we were inundated with noise and light. As the first group out, we were immediately attacked by TV reporters looking for a story.

By lunch time the next day, roughly 5 or 6 hours after leaving the plane, I was back in class listening to classmates and professors recount the stories they had heard on the news about the crash. None was very accurate. I passed my accounting exam – but only just barely…..

Both of these calls shared one very obvious characteristic – surreal. I think most of the really “bad” calls share that trait. Surreal. Many times I remember going straight from an especially nasty call to the grocery store to get food for the next meal……..Just 30 minutes earlier I had someones life in my hands and now I’m standing in line to buy lunch meat……Surreal. Towards the end of my career, the surreal-ness of it all became more and more apparent. Impressive even. Towards the end, it even bothered me at times. How could we move on so quickly from the most horrific things imaginable and get back to a normal day? I just pronounced that guy in his living room and had to tell his wife – but man am I hungry! Oh hi old friend who I haven’t seen in a couple of years…..What’s new? How are you? Oh, and by the way…..your mom and your dad are both upstairs in their bed – both dead. Looks like one shot the other but I can’t tell which one did it….But it’s great to see you…..

Yes, that actually happened. No, the conversation did not go exactly like that….but, believe it or not, it was very close. Surreal.

Maybe, as things became more surreal, I should have noticed and realized something was happening. Something was changing. Maybe that was a sign.

I think it is quite safe to say that my struggles with PTSD started with the plane crash. I remember going back to my dorm room and trying to get some sleep before class…..All I could hear was the very loud hum of the generators and tools. And all I could smell was the jet fuel that had been spilled all over the mountainside. I won’t go into what I saw when I closed my eyes….

My struggles however did not end with my last call.

During the years between my first call and my last, I saw and dealt with things I could never have imagined. The kids are what really got to me. I don’t know if I saw more pediatric horrors than any other medic – several medics have told me I did – but I did see more than I could take.

As I look back at that part of my life, at that career, it was an amazing experience. Every moment of it. I loved it! And I learned more about myself in those years than I ever would have had I pursued any other career. However, it did take its toll. I continue to work every day to win the battle with PTSD. I am succeeding. Everyday.

My only regret – I did not recognize the signs that something was wrong before I left an incredibly rewarding career that I loved. If I had known, if someone I worked with had known…….I would probably still be doing the job.

What do I want you to take away from this post? It all adds up and compounds starting with the very first call you run. And every single one of us is susceptible to PTSD.

Every. Single. One.

So, pay attention to yourself. Pay attention to your co-workers. Learn about the signs of PTSD and don’t be afraid to talk about it. Share what you learn with your co-workers. If you see someone who is struggling, step in and help. Most importantly, be open to others helping you.

The career you save may be your own……

 

It’s OK to talk – People will listen….

Tonight I had dinner with an old friend and former co-worker. I worked a lot with this guy when I was new in the business. He was very influential in my decision to move from private EMS to a fire/EMS service. I have always considered him a good friend and a real “fireman’s fireman”……Fourth generation in fact.

He also worked with, and knew very well, the two friends who took their own lives recently. I asked him to meet with me so we could talk about the cultural problem facing not just our department, but all fire and EMS agencies. He is in a position now that he can play a large role in making changes – I wanted to share my story with him and make sure he and the rest of the command staff see the issue at hand.

I was very nervous to share my story, even though he is a good friend. He is still part of the culture that turns the other cheek and hides emotions, after all. I wasn’t sure he would “hear” me and I just didn’t know how he would react to me and my emotions.

Two great things came out of our long conversation. First, and most importantly, he told me about the department’s plans to change the culture. They acknowledge that there is a problem and understand that it is not just about education. They understand that this type of cultural change will not, cannot, happen overnight but that it will take time and dedication to the cause. I left truly feeling they are on the right track and fully “get it”.

Second, he did hear me. He listened. He was sympathetic and understanding. He did not judge me or look at me differently. Our friendship did not change. His respect for me as a person and as a fire/medic remains the same. This all means a lot to me – I have always been worried about what “the guys” would think if they knew about my struggles. Turns out – it doesn’t change anything.

So, if you are like me – struggling in silence for fear of other people’s reactions – please believe me when I say, the reaction will be positive. I have told a lot of people in the last week or so and have experienced nothing but support and understanding. You do not have to tell the world, but it may help to talk to someone. And they will listen….

They will never be the same…..a repost.

In the days leading up to the anniversary of the Aurora shootings, I intended to re-post this on “the day”, but, I guess fortunately for me, I was distracted by happier things and spending time with my family so I did not get it done. This does not make the anniversary of that horrific day any less important to me. What this distraction indicates though, is the progress I have made in the last year. Previously, an anniversary like this would have made me an emotional mess, even though I was not directly involved with this particular tragedy. But not this year. I am proud of the progress but know there is still a long road.

I do still feel it is important to remember all of those effected. That is why I have decided to re-post this piece. It was actually my very first blog post – a year ago tomorrow. I had been in therapy working to deal with my own PTSD for a little more than 6 months. At that point, I really did not feel like I had made much progress. I was an emotional mess in the days after the shootings. Writing this post truly helped me identify and get a handle on some of the intense emotions.

This is the original post – I have not changed it or edited it at all.

 

They Will Never Be the Same……..

It may seem odd that this is my first post. Honestly, I have been planning to start this blog for months, but just have not done it. I will discuss my reasons/hesitations in another “First” post. But right now I thought this was important to share. I wrote it the day after the movie theater shootings in Aurora, CO.

They will never be the same……

I have spent most of the day looking for words to put to my feelings about the tragedy in Aurora last night. It has been difficult, but here is what came to me. The first part may seem obvious and cliché, but hang in there with me and let me work through it……

Last night 12 people suddenly lost their lives. The families of these 12 people will never be the same.

Last night 59 people were wounded or injured – some quite seriously. These 59 people will never be the same. Many of their close family members will also be affected and may never be the same.

All 71 of these people had only one thing in common – they went to a movie. Sharing this night that should have been fun and entertaining with these 71 were dozens of others with the same thing in common – they went to a movie. These witnesses experienced what no one should ever experience. Many of them will never be the same.

As we move through the coming days and weeks, as more details about the events unfold, as criminal proceedings progress, we need to honor and remember the 12 people who lost their lives. We need to honor and support the wounded and injured. We need to honor and help the witnesses.

This is what we should do. This is what we will do. But, if this is all we do, we are falling dreadfully short. If this is all we do, we are forgetting about another, more discreet group of people who were also directly, equally, and irreparably affected. Another group of victims who will never allow you to call them victims…..

As the scene unfolded in the movie theater, those who were there – the injured, the uninjured, everyone in that theater – were thinking of one basic thing: Am I going to die tonight? Sure, there were variations – Will I ever see my family again; how can I possibly get out of here; this can’t be happening….Sure, there were many people trying to help others in the midst of blinding fear. But basically there was one thought. Am I going to die tonight?

We cannot forget the others directly affected by this tragedy. They will also never be the same.

Try for a moment to put your self in the place of the first police officers to arrive on scene. Try to imagine what they were thinking. Yes, they probably thought: Am I going to die tonight? But, that was not the only thought. They were also thinking: Where is the gunman? Is there only one? How can I get to him? Should I try to get to him? Can I shoot accurately enough to hit only him and not the dozens of civilians in the area? What is the best way to get all of these people out of harm’s way? Should I try to help the victims? Should I move the injured out of the theater or hope they are out of the way? How can I best protect all the civilians in the area?

The police officers on the scene will never be the same.

Now, try for a moment to put your self in the place of the first fire and EMS people to arrive on scene. Try to imagine what they were thinking. Sure, they probably thought: Am I going to die tonight? But, again, that was not the only thought. As did the police officers, they had many thoughts and many decisions to make: How many people are hurt? Who is hurt the worst and needs my immediate attention? Who is hurt, but not hurt badly and can wait for my attention? How can I get the most seriously injured out of the theater and to the hospital as quickly as possible? How much time should I spend with one critically injured person before moving to the next? How can I help everyone who needs help? Who is hurt so badly that I cannot take the time to even try to help?

The fire and EMS personnel on the scene will never be the same.

Next, try to put yourself in the place of the ER doctors and nurses. Try to imagine what they were thinking. True, they were not wondering if they were going to die tonight. But they also had many difficult decisions: How many victims will I be seeing tonight? Should I devote my energies to this first patient, or wait to see if there is someone who is injured more seriously? What about the other patients in my ER? What about the person critically injured in an unrelated car accident – should I send him to surgery now, or wait to see if someone else comes in who needs that operating room more desperately?

The hospital staff will never be the same.

This may sound cold, and I do not mean to diminish anyone’s loss, but the families of those killed, in some ways, have it easier. They have closure. They can lay their loved ones to rest. No, it won’t be easy. But they can move on.

Those who were injured or just witnessed the horror may be able to move on at some point. Their physical wounds will heal. The emotional wounds will take time, but eventually, with the support of friends and family, will also heal. They were able to answer the ultimate question: Am I doing to die? They did not die. They did what they needed to do and survived. These people will be able to move on – in many cases, with help.

For the other group of victims, it is not so easy. Why? Because tonight they are back on the job. They are back making similar decisions. Wondering if they might die tonight. Wondering how best to help the next victim. There is no time to heal. No time to grieve.

The police officers, fire and EMS personnel, and hospital staff will never be the same.

This one event will affect many of them for years to come. It will affect their families. It may affect their careers. There will be no closure. There will be only critique: Did I do the best job I could? Did I make the right decisions? If I had made better decisions, could I have saved even just one more life?

These people will never be the same.

As you reflect on this horrific event in the coming days, honor and remember those killed. Honor and support those injured. Honor and help the witnesses. But please do not forget to honor the first responders who put everything on the line to help in the most unimaginable circumstance.

None of these people will ever be the same.

 

Can’t stop for accidents

Earlier this week, while driving to work during a moderate snow storm, I came up on an accident that had just happened. I did not see it happen but it was obvious that it had occurred just a minute or two earlier – traffic was not backing up yet; no police or EMS on scene; and only a car or two had stopped.

It looked like a pretty bad accident. A single car had rolled down a very steep embankment a good 30-40 feet. I’m sure the car had to roll at least twice, maybe three times, before coming to rest at the bottom. I did not see anyone out of the car yet.

So, what did I do? With my paramedic training and more than a decade of experience? What did I do? I kept driving….

I could not stop. I had to keep driving.

By the time I got to work about 10 minutes later, I was shaking and on the verge of tears. I felt horribly guilty for not stopping. I still do. It rips me up to think that someone could have been seriously injured – maybe even on the verge of death – and I could have helped them. Or maybe prevented someone with good intentions from doing something to cause more damage. But I didn’t. I kept driving.

I was overwhelmed with memories and emotions from my experiences working as a paramedic. It has been more than 12 years since I ran my last call, but looking at the car at the bottom of the hill brought me right back to it. It was a roll over accident. A pregnant woman with a head injury trapped in the back of an SUV. I spent an eternity in the back of that vehicle with her punching me while the rest of the crew cut the car apart to get her out.

I have no idea what happened to her – it was truly the very last call of my career. Now, I have no idea what happened to the occupants of the vehicle I drove by last week. Of course, my emotions tell me the worst possible outcome is the only possibility.

How did I go from thriving on jumping head first into the worst of the worst, to driving by without hardly slowing down? I spent years doing every thing I could to help people – now, thanks to PTSD, I can’t.

Will it be like this from now on? Will I ever stop for another accident? Will my kids, knowing what I used to do, insist that I stop to help? What will I do then? Will I stop? What will they think of me if I don’t?

It is a feeling of true weakness.

 

Feeling very selfish….

My wife is truly amazing. She has stood by my side, held my hand, and wiped my tears as I’ve worked through this overwhelming journey. She has always been there for me.

This past weekend, she needed me. She is dealing with some pretty heavy, emotional family stuff and really needed an ear and a shoulder. It is nothing horrific – she and her family will be fine. She is just feeling very overwhelmed right now and is trying to make sense of some unexpected news and events. She needed some support – just like she has provided me time and time again.

She didn’t need much. Just needed me to be there for her and with her. But I wasn’t. I was wrapped up in my own head. Again.

You see, I had two separate triggers gang up on me. They got me pretty good too. The worst part – Neither of the triggers were directly related to anything I have experienced personally. The first one got me just driving through an area where I know something horrific happened. The second one hit me while watching a stupid reality TV show. And yes, I do mean stupid. It was not the type of show that you would ever even begin to think something like this would come up. But it did. Out of the blue. No warning. These triggers were completely unrelated, but both dealt with the exact same terrible type of event. The murder of a child.

I know they got to me, at least in part, because I was with my daughter both times. Just tore me up. While I never had to deal with this scenario on the job, I did deal with a lot of kids and unthinkable accidents. And even parents who murdered their own kids – which is slightly different, although still horrific. But still, why did these two hit me so hard?

More importantly, why could I not get my act together – even just for an hour or two – so I could help my wife??

I already feel like my PTSD has dominated our lives for the last several years. I have already asked too much of her. Taken too much. At some point, I need to give back. I need to be there for her. And for my family. But I can’t. At least not all the time.

This is one ugly, nasty road. I do not regret how I got here, but I sure hope I get back to a paved highway soon….

 

 

On the turning away….A trigger, a flashback, an incident at church, a sermon, and a Pink Floyd song…

Written just over a year ago, this was my first “urge to journal” and the result of a major breakdown – the worst in years. Several separate events came together to create a perfect storm of emotion. In the middle of Christmas Eve church service. Let me paint the picture, then I’ll share the writing.

A trigger and a flashback: The last Christmas I worked before “retiring” was horrible. I’ll spare you the details, but imagine responding to a brand new parents worst nightmare. On Christmas morning. Needless to say, Christmas has been rough ever since. Always very emotional for me. Always just a trigger away from a flashback and an emotional event.

An incident at church: I am not much of a church-goer, but my wife’s family has been going to the same church for decades. Through my wife and in-laws, my kids are very involved. I go any time they are performing or have something special occurring during a service. And Christmas Eve service is a must. both of our entire families go – we must have 15-20 people there.

The Sunday before Christmas my kids were singing with the choir, so I was there. One of the regulars at church is a young man with severe physical issues – very bad epilepsy among them. He has a seizure every couple of hours. Usually we are seated too far away for me to be of much assistance, but on this particular day, I was seated directly in front of him. When he had his inevitable seizure, I helped his care giver get him out of the chapel and stayed with them until he had fully recovered. No big deal. Until Christmas Eve.

At the very beginning of the service on Christmas Eve, the pastor announced that the young man with the seizure issues had been in ICU all week. There was no word on when he would be released or for that matter, when he would be moved out of ICU. The pastor told of a visit he had with the young man a day or two earlier that week. The pastor basically told the young man it was too bad he would be spending Christmas in the hospital. The young man said: “At least I get to enjoy Christmas – even if I am in the hospital, it is still Christmas.” For some reason, this hit me really hard and the flood gates started to leak.

A sermon and a Pink Floyd song: After delivering the news about the young man, the pastor started his sermon. It was an extremely unique sermon because it was based on a Pink Floyd song. He started by playing the entire song, then delivered his message. I’m not quite sure what his message was because I was lost in the depths of my own emotions. (I think he talked about not turning our backs on others in need).

The song: “On The Turning Away”. I’ve heard the song a million times and I have never really listened to and thought about the lyrics. This time, the lyrics  hit me like a bus. I completely fell apart. Left the chapel in the middle of the service in tears. Had to squeeze past every one in the aisle to escape – my wife, my parents, her parents, my kids…..I left the building and spent the rest of the service balling my eyes out in the side yard of the church. I was an emotional wreck for the next several days until my next therapy session. That week was my 3rd session I believe – very tough session.

For me, this song brought up all of the emotion surrounding the lonely 15+ years I spent hiding from my PTSD. It was not about turning my back on others – it was about turning my back on myself and hiding from my emotions and struggles. Reading this now, a year later, I see that I have made a tremendous amount of progress. I am no longer hiding and fighting alone. I still have a long road ahead, but today, I know there is hope. For the first time in more than 10 years, Christmas this year was bright and happy – not dark and sad. The memory is still there. It always will be. But I have come to terms with what happened and accepted my role. I have started to move on….Finally…….

Here is what I wrote:

On the turning away…..

He says we should not turn away…..

He says it all matters….

He is half right…..It all matters.

But sometimes, there is only turning away….

“It’s a sin that somehow light is changing to shadow”

If this is true, then there is only turning away.

Light quickly becomes the shadow

If you don’t turn away fast enough…..

“And casting its shroud over all we have known”

The darkness is there – over all we have known.

The emotions are coming….

The pain is here……The memories.

The flood is here…..

If you don’t turn away fast enough they will see.

The kids will see.

The wife will see.

The parents will see.

If you don’t turn away fast enough, they will all see….

Sometimes, there is only turning away.

“We could find that we are all alone……”

There is only turning away….

But we are all alone…..

“In the dream of the proud”

There is no turning away…..

There is no more pain…..

There is no turning away……

“From the weak and the weary”

Is this who is turning away?

“Is it only a dream that there’ll be

No more turning away?”

There was no turning away.

Now there is only turning away…..

“On the turning away…..”

Then comes the guilt. The shame.

Rushing to turn away

Instead of pausing to remember.

Turning away is so selfish. So weak. Cowardly.

You should stand up. Face it. Be strong.

But there is only turning away.

Here’s some of the good memories……

It often seems like the only memories I have are the nasty, horrible experiences that are permanently etched into my brain. The calls I wish I could forget, but know I never will…….Tonight, I am trying to focus on the positive memories. The saves. It does not seem like there are very many, but hopefully I can come up with a few.

 

A true cardiac arrest save:

A gentleman in his 60’s collapsed on the golf course. Right there on the green. His friends did the right thing and kept there even though he insisted he was fine. When we arrived, (yes – we drove right up to the green), he was awake, pale, and complaining of chest pain. We did all the normal stuff….IV, oxygen, monitor…..and loaded him into the back of the ambulance. Now, keep in mind, this was back in the mid-90’s – our monitors still had paddles and we actually yelled “CLEAR”.

As I am getting him situated and mentally devising my game plan, he suddenly goes unconscious. I look at the monitor – V-Fib. Remember, I have paddles and the defibrillator has to charge before I can use them. So, what do I do? Pre-Cordial thump. Yep – basically punched him in the chest. Just like you see in the movies. A few seconds later the monitor looks decent and he opens his eyes and tells me his chest hurts even more now. Huh.

He stays with me for the entire 15 minute transport. And then, he goes out again. At this point, we were just about to pull him out of the ambulance and the monitor is strapped onto the gurney. No way to get the paddles, so I hit him again. And it works again.

By the time I complete my report, he is stable and looking good. I don’t know what the final diagnosis was, although he had obviously had a major heart attack.  I do know he survived – I saw him in the grocery store a few years later….

 

Seven year old girl dragged under a car:

The family was getting ready to go somewhere. Mom started the car and went back inside for something. The 7 year old girl was playing in the driveway. Her little brother climbed into the car and, you guessed it, knocked it out of park.

The car drug the girl clear across the street and stopped when it hit the split-rail fence. She was in the gutter, trapped by the tire. Somehow, the car had dragged her that far, but she never went completely under the wheel – although I think if the car had rolled another 10 feet……

It took several minutes to get her out from under the car. She was gasping for air. She had petechiae – tiny little blood blisters caused by extreme pressure – all over her face, chest, and arms.

She was very critically injured but I know she made a full recovery…….a few months later I received a thank you note with her school picture – which was taken several weeks after the accident.

 

The toddler and the grape:

We got called to a two year old choking. As we pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex, a police officer came running out carrying a limp child. We put him into the ambulance and immediately went to work. His mother told us he had been eating grapes and started gasping for air and then passed out. We tried everything we could think of but could not get the grape out. We decided to make a run for the hospital, which was only a few minutes away.

I figured out that if I manipulated his jaw just right, and my partner held a mask at the perfect angle, we could provide enough oxygen to keep him awake. If we lost the angles, he would quickly lose consciousness. As long as we kept him perfused, he was awake – and he would just lie there very still and stare into my eyes. I am pretty sure I could see his panic and his gratitude – as if he were saying “I know you got this….but don’t quit on me”.

When we got him to the ER, the staff went through all the same things we did. Finally, after several minutes, one of the docs grabbed the kid by the ankles and held him upside-down. The grape dropped out. Why didn’t we think of that????

By the time my report was done, the kid was flirting with all the nurses and was about to be released.

 

There were probably more, but these are the three that I occasionally think about. I sure wish these were the ones that wake me up in the middle of the night…..

 

The Overwhelming Burden of Empathy

The events in Colorado last week have really stirred up some very strong emotions. A 10 year old girl was abducted as she walked to school. She was then murdered. A horrific crime committed against a young girl and her family. How does anyone not feel for this family? For these parents?

During the course of my career, I had to look into the eyes of those parents a multitude of times. The eyes of disbelief. Utter devastation. The immense grief. Searching for something. Some kind of answer. A different answer. But I didn’t have a different answer.

I don’t know if I ran more than my fair share of calls involving kids, but I ran a lot. More than I ever thought I would. These are certainly a very big part of the reason I am no longer in the field. The kids always got to me. I also felt so badly for the parents. The family.

But there was one specific call that affected me more than any other. By far. To this day, I still think about it almost every day. And it happened more than 15 years ago. It was the most horrific accident you can probably imagine. No one did anything wrong, really. Just one of those tragic stories. And a family lost a little boy in an instant.

I won’t go into graphic detail, but the scene was right out of a Hollywood horror flick. The amount of blood was unbelievable. We worked frantically. Did everything humanly possible. Under the circumstances, the call ran well.

As I knelt on the floor, working on this poor kid, all I could hear was his father. Screaming. Crying uncontrollably. Begging us to save his son. To do more. I could see him in my peripheral vision – pacing back and forth. Still screaming. Complete and total agony.

I knew almost as soon as we began what the outcome would be, but I wanted to help this father. I wanted to give him something. Something. Some hope. Some string to hold onto. Something. I could not stop working as long as I heard him crying.

The child never felt any pain. But I could feel the father’s pain. I still do. Or at least as much as I can – I know that what I feel is nothing compared to what this family experienced. Yet the pain crushes me every time I think about it.

I wonder about the family. How are they now? Was the father ever able to recover and move forward? Did my efforts provide him some solace? Did he understand that there was truly nothing we could do? Or did my actions make it tougher on him? Should I have made the horrible decision right then and there that nothing could be done? It eats at me.

Today, I am trying to release that burden of empathy. It is not easy. I know that I made the right decisions at the time. I did what I thought the father and the rest of the family would want – I did everything I could to save his son.

Even now, as I type this, the emotions are strong. The tears are flowing.

What would I say to the father? I want to tell him how sorry I am. How hard I tried. How badly I wanted to reverse what happened that beautiful, spring morning. That awful, horrible spring morning.

What would he say to me?

To the family of the girl in Colorado, all I can say is: I’m sorry. I have looked into your eyes many times before and, while I cannot fully comprehend the depths of it, I know and understand your pain. I feel it too.

ThePatientTeacherRN

Health Teaching from a knowledgeable, experienced RN

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