Monday nights are generally pretty paltry when it comes to EMS calls, and since that’s my night at the ambulance base, I usually get to enjoy a relaxing evening and a good night’s sleep. (When the crew and I don’t stay up ’till 2AM watching cartoons, of course!) Except for a few bursts of activity – like our baby delivery in October ’03 – we’re pretty laid-back.
Last night broke this pattern.
We were toned (savvy-speak for ‘dispatched’) a few minutes after 8PM for a two-vehicle motor vehicle accident. My partners Jason and Kay (and I) rolled one ambulance, while other-partner Phil waited in quarters in case a second was needed. About 1/4-mile down the road, we received word from the dispatcher that a second ambulance would, indeed, be needed – so Phil rolled another bus alongside our chief, Mark.
Jason, Kay and I arrived at the scene a minute or so after the fire department, and met one of our EMTs who had just arrived in his own truck. We split up to manage the three victims – two shaken-up occupants of a Ford Explorer, and the driver of a Dodge Intrepid who was in significantly worse shape.
The driver of our sedan was only alert to his first name, but couldn’t tell us the current month or give us any of his history (such as allergies, medications, etc). Hearing this, we opted to start a MercyFlight helicopter to airlift the driver to the hospital. Hoping they’d still fly despite a strong thunderstorm that just moved through the area (knocking out power sporadically around the town), I radioed in the request.
Ten minutes later, the MercyFlight ‘bird’ touched down in a nearby field. By this time, the non-critical patients were on their way to the hospital aboard Phil’s ambulance, and our sedan driver had been extricated by the fire department. As I gave a report to the flight paramedic and flight nurse, the rest of the crew started an IV and splinted a possible leg injury.
The flight crew opted to do a “hot load”, where the patient is loaded into the helicopter with the engines running and the rotors turning. It’s a dangerous procedure, since propwash tends to kick up ground debris, and the tail rotor poses a self-explanatory hazard – but it also cuts minutes off the transport time.
A crew of six – myself, partners Jason and Kay, the two helicopter crew members, and one fire fighter – rolled the patient to the waiting helicopter on our gurney. The pilot stood by to keep everyone safely clear of the tail rotor as we ducked under the copter’s boom. It took a few seconds to slide the patient in, and I stopped for a moment to look around. The rotors and jet engine drowned out every other sound, and there was a strange dissonance created between the low rumble of the top rotor, the whine of the tail rotor and the shrill 15,000-RPM idle of the engine. The rich-smelling jet exhaust washed down over us, reminding me of the airport and that distinct smell that inevitably kicks off vacations and business trips.
After the patient was loaded, I guided my crew out to the helicopter’s right side. The flight crew locked in the gurney and closed the bird’s belly hatch as we walked away with the empty gurney. We stood back, standing on the road not far from where the crash happened, and watched. The pilot spooled up the engine and – in one smooth motion – pulled up from the ground and nosed toward the hospital.
We headed back to clean up and start the paperwork… The patient would land at the trauma center before we ever left the scene. The system worked like clockwork – it was beautiful. It was life-saving as art. It was the reason why we all do what we do.