Friday, May 25, 2007

Car Wrecks

On the way to work the other night, my front passenger tire blew out and I ended up in the ditch. Thankfully it happened on a low speed stretch of road with only a 6-inch drop. An hour and a half later, the tow truck driver finished changing my tire and I was on my way no worse for the wear. (I'm a chick, people. Just because I can change my tire, doesn't mean I will change my tire. That's what roadside assistance is for!)

It made me think of something that happened years ago on a lonely stretch of road.........

I was living in the Republic of California, and my best friend HT and I had decided to drive to Las Vegas for the weekend. We were both EMTs working for a private ambulance company on a Medic/EMT ALS 911 response bus. I was brand new and part-time; she had just finished her first month of paramedic school. I had worked the night shift, and she picked me up after work. She was drivin', I was sleepin', and when we got to Vegas we was gonna PARTY, baby.........

About an hour into the drive I woke up to a loud, "Oh Shit! MonkeyGirl, wake up!" I looked out the window with bleary eyes and saw a huge cloud of dust going off the two-lane highway and across a field. There was a car about 50 yards off the road; it looked like it had rolled, and there was smoke coming from the engine compartment. (No, not steam, smoke. Not white, black.) Not good. We stopped a safe distance away (well, probably not really, but we thought it was) , grabbed our Gung-Ho EMT First Aid Kit, and headed for the wreck.

Climbing out of the car (which HAD rolled) was a mostly non-English speaking Hispanic gentleman. He had a HUGE laceration across his forehead from hitting either the steering wheel or the windshield, I'm not quite sure which. His wife was also self-extricated, hysterically running around in a panic screaming something at the top of her lungs. As we got up to the car, she picked up something out of the field about 25 feet in front of the car. My stomach hit my toes when I realized that it was a baby.

I headed for mama while HT headed for the car. She got the only seatbelted passenger (an apparently uninjured 5-year old girl) out of the backseat, and headed for the road with her, papa, and grandma, who had also been in the backseat, also unrestrained. Grandma wasn't moving too quickly; she was leaning on papa pretty heavily (I think she had a broken hip).

By now the engine compartment of the car is fully engulfed, and the whole passenger compartment is filled with thick, black smoke. I get to mama, and she's wailing and crying, and I'm sure she must be holding a dead baby.

She thrusts it at me, like "here, fix it!" and I swear to God, the first thing I noticed was the foxtail embedded in her forehead. The second thing I noticed is that she was still breathing. I cradled her against my chest and we ran for the road.

When we got to the road, there was a cop who had stopped and was directing traffic. HT had her 3 patients laid out on the side of the road behind the cop car, and she came to meet me with an O2 tank and an adult simple mask. It was all the cop had. He had already called for the helicopter, but they were 20 minutes out.

Right about then, we started hearing gunshots. Turns out papa had 2 boxes of .22 ammo in the trunk. For those of you non-gun nuts, there's 500 rounds in a box. 1000 rounds going off in a completely uncontrolled environment is a scary thing.

The next 20 minutes were literally the longest 20 minutes of my life. While HT bandaged, splinted and consoled the other 4 patients, I sat with a barely breathing baby and nothing but blow-by o2. I could see the deformity in her skull where she had hit the ground. She was completely unconscious, and didn't move a muscle the whole time I held her. A couple of times, I was sure that she was going to stop breathing altogether. I'd flick the bottom of her feet and she'd start again, though I had no clue if that was the reason.

I have never been so happy to hear the sound of helicopter rotors. When the first medic got to us, he took one look at the baby and said,"Oh shit!" We got her papoosed and padded, and they took off. About the time they were leaving, two ground ambulances got there, and packaged up the other 4. They weren't interested in any help from us; they basically said, "Thank you, buh-bye." So we went back over and got in the car, and waited for them to clear the scene so we could continue on our way.

As we went by the cop a little later (he was still directing traffic), he waved at us to stop; he told us that we did a good job and he was glad that we were there. And that was when it hit us- the only other person that stopped to help was a truck driver who had a fire extinguisher. It was quickly apparent that it wouldn't do any good, so he went on his way. Nobody else did anything but looky-loo on their way by. This wasn't a busy freeway, but it was a main highway, and probably 100 cars passed us while we sat behind that cop car on the side of the road. Nobody stopped.

About 10 miles down the road we stopped at a rest area to try and clean up a bit. I proceeded to cry like a girl. We didn't know which hospital they were going to, and we didn't know anything but papa's name (Jose) and baby's name (Alejandra). So on to Vegas. Needless to say, it wasn't quite the fun weekend we had planned. Reality kept intruding.

On the way home, we stopped in the big city closest to the accident and made a few phone calls trying to find our patients, but got nowhere. Not that we were surprised. We were hoping, though. I was sure the baby hadn't made it. If you'd seen her........ it was just impossible. Anyway, we headed home and resumed our daily lives. The story got told a gazillion times, and then it slowly faded away into the background of my memory.

About a year later, at about 11:00 at night, the phone rang. A man's voice asked for me. When I identified myself, he said, "This is Jose. Do you you remember me? "

Now, I was living in California. I had known a LOT of Jose's. So I said, "Umm, I'm not sure." He said, "I was in an accident, and I think you helped me." We talked for a minute more, and I realized who he was. I said, "I remember your family." He started to cry, and I thought, oh shit, he called me to yell at me for killing his baby. And then he said 5 words that I've only heard once in my life and will probably never hear again. "You saved my baby's life."

She spent 4 months in the hospital. 2 of them in the PICU on a vent. They didn't think that she'd live. But she started improving slowly. When she went home, she was 8 months old. They said she might never be a normal baby. He told me she was crawling now, and standing up with something to hold on to. She was 16 months old now and almost back to normal.

He'd been trying to find me for 6 months. He remembered my first name, and he remembered me telling him that I was an EMT. He called dozens of ambulance companies trying to track me down. He didn't know HT's name; could I tell her about Alejandra? We talked for a minute more and hung up. I called HT. We cried. Life was good.

Sometimes the shit just turns to roses. And it makes up for all the times the roses turn to shit.

19 comments:

Ambulance Driver said...

"Sometimes the shit just turns to roses. And it makes up for all the times the roses turn to shit."

Yes, it does.

scalpel said...

Awesome story. Being first on a scene helps one really appreciate what the paramedics do on a daily basis.

> ScutMonkey. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
> ScutMonkey said...

(sorry about previous deletion, commenting error)

I seriously wonder sometimes why I stopped being an EMT in a rural area and went to medical school. Of course, there are reasons, but even in the ED it is just not the same because patients show up on gurneys, with bandages and oxygen.

There is something about being first on scene that is like nothing else. The blood is mixed with dirt and smoke and the sound of people's worlds coming apart in front of them. Sometimes it is at the side of a road, sometimes it is in their living rooms and you are there, in it with them. It is frightening but it is also awe inspiring. There is something about being a part of people truly living and dying at that very moment that it is happening and in THEIR life that is different than having them brought to YOUR life.

My favorite places in medicine so far: the ED, L&D & surgery! (surprise surprise)

Lynn Price said...

I just found your site. Great post. If you were still in the Republic of California, I'd personally give you a medal for making a difference in that family's life. Will you accept a cyber medal instead?

911DOC said...

monkey girl. real tears. honestly. awesome job.

Catherine said...

A story with a happy ending for once. It was a relief to know that the baby lived.

Judy said...

Thanks for sharing.

Not often you get those roses - but they really do help.

ERnursey said...

Oh my God, that gave me goosebumps. BTW, the republic of California bit is pretty funny.

Nurse Kelly said...

Excellent story!

My first-ever peds patient as a student nurse was a baby that had been ejected 60 feet strapped into his carseat. His skull was obviously deformed and the doctors thought he was blind and would be slow (but, as the doctor said, "His brain will compensate"), but in the chart, there was a picture of the car the baby was in and it was about 3 feet off the ground, otherwise, had been smooshed down. Other injuries in the family included mom with numerous broken bones and was limping around on crutches, dad who became paraplegic, and a 5-year-old girl who had...a scratch.

Joeymom said...

When I was young, my folks had a friend I called Uncle Leroy who was an EMT. I always remember we were headed down 95, and there was an accident, and my Dad was driving, and Uncle Leroy was in the front passenger seat, and told Dad to stop, and started opening the door. Dad had no intention of stopping, but Uncle Leroy would have leapt from the car if he hadn't, so he thought better of it (and the fact that I was screaming, "Dad, STOP THE CAR!!!") and finally stopped, and Uncle Leroy actually ran back a pretty good ways to help those people.

Whenever I feel I need a hero, I remember my Uncle Leroy. He was really something.

SeaSpray said...

Wow! You did a beautiful thing.

Whenever I hear things like this - I think of Jimmy Stewart in 'It's A Wonderful Life" and all the bad things that would've happened if he weren't there to help people.

What an awesome feeling it must be to know you helped to save a life. :)

Reserved Stipulation said...

The only reason I don't stop is that I feel I'd be more of a hinderance than help in a situation like that. Plus, if there was blood/guts, I'd probably end up sitting with my head between my knees, trying not to puke. But, when I see accidents, I do call 911 and make sure they know about it.

Jack said...

Great work, keep it up.....

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NocturnalRN said...

Great job!

April said...

That's an amazing story!! Good job!

TheBronze said...

MG,

Great story. I'm wicked glad you and HT were there to help those people and save a life.

My allergies must be really bugging because my eyes are leaking...

al-shams said...

God bless you! It's such a miracle little girl had made it (while reading the text I was crying, I was sure baby passed away).

It is a pure luck to have someone calm and experienced around you when something terrible happens.

PamelaJ said...

This was just incredible. I've been reading for like two hours & it's a good one to end on. I can't believe he found you. Amazingly fantastic. As much as your job drives you relatively crazy, I so admire that you're spending your time on this planet in such a worthwhile way.