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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Victims Known

Arriving at the scene of an accident, only to discover that that unconscious victim on the ground is the younger sister of one of your lifetime friends, really gives the ol’ heart a jolt. Not knowing the victims made caring for them a lot easier for me.

The high school girl mentioned above had turned the handlebars of her three-wheeled ice cream cart a bit too sharply, tipping it over. Half of her body was still under the cart; gasoline had already soaked her long blond hair, continuing to spill around her head.

Extreme caution was taken in all movement near the girl; a spark from the gravel underneath could be deadly. I knelt on rolls of bulky gauze under each knee to do my emergency assessment. Gayle* was breathing, which was good, but being soaked in gasoline also meant that she was breathing in gasoline fumes. She would likely develop pneumonia as a result, but we could minimize the damage to her fragile lung tissue by getting her out of there and on to oxygen as soon as possible. The flow of fuel was stopped, the cart righted. Ever-so gently I secured a cervical collar around her neck and moved her onto the wooden backboard; nothing metal could be used.

Once inside the ambulance, I hooked her up to the O2 and began removing her clothing. Gayle’s outfit was new, so I took special care to use the seams to cut off her clothing, making a return to use possible with a bit of sewing once she was well. Next I soaked up the gasoline from her hair, rapping her head as best I could without changing the position of her head.

I spoke to her the entire trip to the hospital, but Gayle didn’t regain consciousness until we moved her from the vehicle to the Emergency Room. As is often the case, Gayle’s disorientation caused her to be immediately combative, arms flailing, legs trying to get her body off the ambulance cot. Security straps prevented any exit, but the straps could cause abrasions if she didn’t stop. “Shhh, Gayle, its okay. You’ve been in an accident and we’ve brought you to the hospital. It’s okay. Your mother has been called and she’ll be here soon.” The mention of her mother calmed her down; she collapsed back onto the cot.

Shortly, we had Gayle in the curtained enclosure of the Emergency Room and the staff began their work, while we retreated with our gear. A cup of coffee would steady my own nerves, as well as prepare me to talk with Gayle’s mother.

Our young victim, now a patient in the hospital ward, smiled when she saw me enter her room. No doubt, she was relieved to have someone there who could explain things to her mother. I did so and promised to return to check on Gayle as often as I could.

It happened that she did, indeed, develop the pneumonia, which was the main reason she had to stay in the hospital for a week or so. She quickly recovered from the mild concussion, but her lungs had been burned by the gasoline fumes. Gayle recovered just fine, though the stench of the gasoline didn’t easily leave her lovely locks.

One hot, sunny summer day, I worked around the house, pager clipped to my waistband. I wanted to be outside, doing work in the garden, but knew better. If a call came in for the ambulance, I had to be clean and not make the victim wait until I had a shower! Bill was out filling the vehicle with gasoline and giving it a good wash when the call came in.

“Call Bill and tell him I’ll meet him at the pool. I’m only four blocks from it now and can get there before he does. How old is the boy?”

“Not sure, but not old enough to have the smarts to stay out of the deep end of the pool until he can swim!”

I grabbed up a couple of different sizes of the curved rubber airways and ran for the city pool on the edge of the park. The heat of the sun beating down on me as I pumped my booted feet over the cement finally brought me to my own senses. Slow down, or you’ll need the oxygen yourself when the ambulance gets there, I told myself, changing to a fast walk.

Once the pool came into sight, however, I ran full-out to the cluster of swimsuit-clad bodies.

“He…he didn’t come up. He jumped in over there, “ the lifeguard was pointing to the ten-foot line on the side of the pool, “and just didn’t come up. The kids began yelling at me, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It’s always noisy in here, ya know?”

“It’s okay, just tell me the story.” I was already down at the side of the young boy, a weak pulse, but no respirations. I inserted the airway and began breathing for him.

“Well, finally, I just jumped in where they were pointing and…and…I saw him at the bottom of the pool. I pulled him up right away but he never moved. I guess someone called you, but I …I—“

“It’s okay; I’ve got him. Get me some towels to cover him.” I spoke between breaths into the airway I’d placed over those dark navy-blue lips. I continued to feel for his pulse between breaths. Once there was none, but a pre-cordial thump brought it back.

Finally, I heard the blare of the siren. The cervical collar was carefully secured to his neck, and the boy slipped onto the backboard for transport to the waiting ambulance. Fortunately, Bill had thought to grab the warm blankets so I could wrap the still unconscious victim, leaving the towels behind. “Tell his mother we’re taking him to St. V’s.” I was already running with the wheeled cot, but heard the Roger that, shouted behind me by the deputy sheriff who’d just arrived.

The oxygen hooked up, I rapped his small upper arm in the blood pressure cuff. The BP was really low; but at least, he was breathing on his own now. He’d coughed up a lot of chlorinated water at the poolside, before beginning to breathe. Respirations were labored but, at least, they were there! His lips weren’t pinking up as quickly as I would have liked, and he didn’t respond to anything but deep painful stimuli.

“Know who that kid is?” Bill shouted through the little window between the cab and back of the ambulance.

That’s when I took a good look at him. He did look familiar. “No, didn’t you get his name?”  

In such circumstances, Bill was normally the one filling out the paperwork while I tended to the victim. “He’s Timmy Walters*. You know his sister, don’t you?”

I stared down at the young victim, so small on that cot. I gulped out my affirmation, as the tears began to fall. Timmy still didn’t move, though I knew he could because he did when he was choking on the pool water. His lips were still so dark, his face so grey. I didn’t know if he’d make it. I mentally re-scrolled through all the possibilities of anything I might have left undone. Nothing came to mind.

I always prayed silently for the victims as we transported them, but now my heart really ached for Timmy to wake up and return to his normal color.

Once we transferred paperwork and victim to the ER staff, I headed for the chapel, not the cafeteria. “Hey, Sojourner, c’mon, let it go; you did what you could. Let’s get some coffee.”

I waved Bill off and kept walking. “Wait for me there; I’ll find you in the cafeteria.”

I wanted to wait for Patty, Timmy’s mother, but didn’t have the time. I needed to get the vehicle back to the ambulance barn; our shift was about over. It was a quiet return trip; my thoughts stuck on the memory of Timmy’s limp body with the ghastly coloring. He, definitely, needed a miracle.

I visited Timmy not long after he had regained consciousness; his mother sat by his bedside. It was so good to see him awake again. The reports were good, though cautionary. Everyone was hopeful that God would finish the miracle He had begun in this small, twelve-year-old boy.

I’d heard Timmy had been discharged from the hospital, but had not heard if he was back to his normal health or not. In fact, I didn’t see him again for more than four years.

I was early, hoping to get a good seat for the evening’s beginning session of church camp. There was a bustle of activity, not the least of which was around the placement of all the cords of the sound system. Microphones were tested, volumes adjusted from all over the auditorium. A flash of a dark Afro haircut, so fashionable that summer, caught my eye. A teenage boy, still in the process of filling out those muscles but well on the way, turned to smile at me.

I returned the smile, convinced of the identity of the adolescent assisting in setting up the sound system, but he, clearly, had not a clue who I was. “Hey, welcome to camp. Find a seat; it’s still about half an hour to the start.”

I did as suggested. While Timmy, now only known as Tim, rushed back to his duties. I sat with tears in my eyes, grateful to serve the mighty God who had, indeed, finished the miracle a drowning boy had needed that summer day long ago.

*Actually, all names have been changed, not just Gayle’s and Timmy’s.

****Field Medicine: Preventable Grief…Next Post

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