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Saturday, April 6, 2013

A New Challenge: The Northern Cheyenne Ambulance Service

Shortly after slapping that Registered Emergency Medical Technician-Ambulance patch on my jacket, I began assisting in the training of EMT-A’s all over Eastern Montana. My mentor had classes near and far, involving the Highway Patrol officers, as well as employees of the US Forest Service. Sometimes it took hours just to get to the class, making the return trip a late one.

In addition, I helped out as a secretary for the Director of the Emergency Medical Services office in our area. It was under their authority that the EMT-A course was run. For me, I was just happy to be doing work that I truly enjoyed. Little did I know that God had positioned me in just the right spot to receive my very first inter-cultural work and living experience.

In 1973 the Department of Transportation joined with the Department of Emergency Medical Services to offer the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council an opportunity to have its own ambulance service. Through a government grant, a team of Native American Indians from the Northern Cheyenne Nation would be trained as EMT-A’s, with an ambulance equipped to be utilized after, as well as during their training period.

To make a long story short, I was given the challenge of finishing up their EMT-A training, while living on the reservation headquarters in Lame Deer, Montana. I had already been team-teaching the course, making the drive of 130 miles one-way a couple of times a week with my mentor—rain or shine, snow or dry roadways. We drove much more carefully along the stretches we knew that our Highway Patrol trainees were not as skilled in the area of field medicine yet!

The Northern Cheyenne nation had just over 10,000 names on their registry in 2010, though less than half of the list actually lived on their 244,000 acres of land in Eastern Montana. A bit less than half made up the population of the designated tribal headquarters, Lame Deer. Those living on their land may have been slightly more in 1973-1974, the time of the joint DOT/EMS project. Centrally located, for the most part, Lame Deer was the appointed spot for the ambulance service. Therefore, I would be moved to Lame Deer as soon as I could get the used Ford Econoline van equipped to serve as the ambulance.

I did as much of the work as I could to keep down costs. My father enjoyed pitching in whenever he was off work. I marked various thicknesses of plywood boards, and when Dad had the day off, he used his circular saw to turn those large slabs of wood into splints of all sizes and a number of backboards, with rectangular handholds along each side. Once cut, I sanded until I thought my fingers would be permanently square-tipped.

Next came the varnish. Of course, as a rookie carpenter, I had thought one layer would be enough. Ha, who was I kidding? My father was a perfectionist and taught me the right way to render a raw piece of wood ready for a roadside trauma victim. Sand, varnish, sand, varnish until there was not a rough edge or bump anywhere.  Paint the name of the ambulance on each piece for identification purposes, should something be left in the Emergency Room of a hospital, and then varnish over that, too. One needed to be sure the equipment could be wiped clean, didn’t one? Well, let me tell you, when those pieces were finished, they were as perfect as any piece of plywood could have been.

A real carpenter installed the peripheral cupboards and benches with flip-lids to double as storage areas. Then, Dad and I did the finish work on each piece installed in the van. Space was made behind the bench of the cab to hold the 100-lb oxygen cylinder which would supply the medical hook-up inside the service area of the ambulance.

I found just the right size fishing tackle box to turn into a fully-equipped jump box. Anything that couldn’t be made was purchased.

At last, the vehicle was ready to be moved to the reservation. But, was I? I mean, at twenty-four years of age, never having lived alone in my life, was I ready to make the move to the remote location? I had been working with twenty-one of the finest people I’d ever know for months on a twice weekly basis, but would they make room for me in their lives and hearts, or would I be so lonely I couldn’t stand it there?

Only God knew the answers to my questions and only God could calm those fears. I began to pack.

****Moving In…Next Post

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