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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Preventable Grief

Sometimes working a shift on an ambulance service was gratifying because we were able to save a life, or bring the needed emergency treatment right there to the highway. For the burned patient, for example,  that assistance brought immediate relief for a significant level of their pain, because much of the pain is related to the burned area being exposed to the air. Simply covering the area with a bulky sterile gauze wrapping brought immediate relief.

However, there were all too many days when the shift brought a terrible grief. Arriving at the scene one night we found a middle-aged lady slumped over the hood of her car, driver’s door wide open. She had the wherewithal to pull her car off the highway, but had left the vehicle for some reason. Car trouble? Perhaps, but what we found when we arrived was a very dead woman. Her excessive consumption of alcohol had deceived her into thinking she was warm enough to leave the vehicle without her winter coat. The bitterly cold Montana winter night was well-below zero; the lady had frozen to death, slumped over the hood of her car. We all knew the woman, which made it all the more difficult.

The worst experience I had on this particular ambulance service was one very preventable grief. At home for the day, the call for assistance came to my partner. He phoned me that he’d be swinging by to pick me up because I was the closest member of the team to the scene of the accident. He’d drove passed my house on his way out.

“So, what do we know about the scene?” I was shouting through the little open pass-window, as I set up the oxygen and pulled out instruments for checking vital signs.

“Not much. Two kids on motorcycles at the top of the hill. One down, one hysterical.”

“Okay, I’ll take the one down and you check on the other one. Injuries?” I returned, while double-checking the jump box for necessary bandaging supplies. I tugged at the cubbie where splints were stored to be sure they had not been moved by another team member, while listening for Bill’s reply.

“Nope. No more info from dispatch, Sojourner. They’re right up ahead. See the squad car?”

“Got it. I’m out. Go ahead of me.” I had already lifted the bar and was jumping out as I spoke.

My first observation, made as I ran to the victim on the ground, was no helmets. Neither boy had a helmet on his head; none were found anywhere.

The second note taken was that the two boys looked exactly alike, dressed in bib overalls with no shirt underneath.

I heard Bill’s voice trying to calm a hysterical teenager behind me as I ran to the downed victim. Carefully, I checked for signs of injury, speaking my name and what I was doing as I gingerly poked and prodded. Bill heard me and shouted back the boy’s name so I could use it in an attempt to rouse him.

The standing boy was screaming, “Help my brother! Forget about me; help him!” He was flailing and fighting Bill’s attempts to check for his injuries and to calm him.

“He’s got someone to help him. See her; she’s my partner and knows her stuff. But, ya know what, son? If I don’t get a look at you, she’ll have my hide. You don’t want me getting into trouble, cuz you didn’t let me do my job now, do you? Settle down and let me check you out.”

“There’s nothin’ wrong with me. It’s my brother; go help him!”

Bill had a grip on the boy’s arm and managed to sit him down. “She’ll do a good job, Son. Let’s see how you’re doin’.” Bill had the BP cuff around the teen’s bare upper arm and was pumping up the cuff. It did the trick and the boy stopped to let Bill check him out, crying deep sobs throughout the brief examination.

Finally, I rocked back onto the heels of my boots; the roadside stones bit into my knees. Looking down at the supine form of this powerfully built adolescent, I remembered that he and his twin brother had graduated from high school only three weeks prior to this accident. Both were award-winning wrestlers on the high school team. Now, here he was, not a scratch on him, save the very small, deep indent noted on the left side of his temple. No bleeding anywhere; no broken bones obvious to the naked eye or palpating fingers. Nothing. He lay there like a boy taking a nap, except that his skin was ice-cold. He had no pulse and his lungs would never again breathe the fresh air of a Montana spring day.

The victim’s brother had been unable to go for help, at first; then, it was a fair distance before he found a phone to call it in. The squad car had returned him to the accident scene and phoned Bill. It was simply too late; the boy who had been with him since before he was born, had left this world for the next.

The brothers had been riding, single file, up the hill. The boy in the rear had not noticed his brother’s brake light. His front wheel clipped the lead rider’s back wheel, flipping him off. At the speed the teens had been travelling, the victim’s body was launched like a rocket. He landed on the stony ground with a single stone causing a deep depression of the temporal bone on the side of his head. Had he been wearing a helmet, his life might have been saved and only the helmet would need to be replaced. The doctor said that he had been killed instantly; there was nothing that could have been done, even if the brother had found help sooner. The young man’s sojourn on this earth had ended that bright, sunny day on the side of a gravel road; the agony for his twin had just begun.

As for me, it was one call I’d never forget. As soon as I walked through the kitchen into the living room, I knew my parents had been listening to the police radio in our home. One look at their compassionate faces broke my stoic resolve; I dissolved into uncontrollable sobbing in my mother’s arms. He was so young, a few years older than me. His death was so preventable, but now it was too late.

I never again rode my motorcycle without my helmet, becoming a real crusader for helmet safety.

Some asked, “Where is God in this tragedy? Why didn’t He step in and make the brother see the flash of the red brake light at the last minute; God’s done it for others, hasn’t He? Why let this young man, with his whole life before him, die on the side of the road with not a scratch on him, except that tiny dent in just the wrong place?

What I understand about God is that He is sovereign. While God loves us more than we could ever imagine, God is the One Who makes these decisions, having all knowledge, both in the past and through the future. Yes, the boys should have been wearing helmets. That’s a given, but it’s more than that. God has given us a certain number of days for this sojourn on earth. Then, there will be a time for all of us when we stand before him to give an account of the life He’s given each one of us. None of us know that date; age has so little to do with that final appointment with our Creator. We would do well to live as though today is the day!

****May you be blessed with God’s personal revelation of just what He has done for you as the final days of Passion Week 2013 come to a close!****

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