A Cause for Reflection

I recently had a work shift that was rather…different. At about 10 PM, we were alerted to a scene flight about ten minutes southeast of our base. I checked the weather, and although storms were forecast, it looked as though we’d be able to finish the transport with plenty of time before they arrived. I therefore accepted the flight, and we were launched to pick the patient up, with probable transport to our normal trauma receiving hospital, about thirty minutes away.

The flight to the scene was uneventful, if a bit bumpy due to the winds that would be bringing the thunderstorms. The scene itself was on the windward side of a small local mountain range, however, and with the wind blowing perpendicular to the range, it created a venturi effect which substantially increased the wind speed and turbulence during my final approach. I had no real problem getting us on the ground, however; after (safely) landing, the crew jumped out to get to the patient, with me following once I had finished shutting down the aircraft.

We were told the call was the result of a motorcycle accident, but weren’t given much else. When we got there, we found out that it was actually a motorcycle/minivan collision, with the patient the (intoxicated) driver of the motorcycle. The real surprise, however, was the state of the patient. His right leg had almost been completely severed at the knee; only a bit of skin still connected it to his body. Usually an open wound is covered by the time I see it, but that wasn’t the case here; I’m guessing the seriousness of the injury demanded that it be at least partially uncovered for medical inspection. In any case, the patient’s injury was clearly visible. Additionally, and as one might expect from an injury of this type, there was a lot of blood; a pool that formed on the ground while we were loading the patient into the helicopter, a wet stain on the stretcher that I accidentally stuck my jacket’s elbow in while loading the patient, and enough such that (for the first time in four years of EMS flying) I actually got some on the leg of my flight suit.

After loading the patient, I started the aircraft and took off, climbing a bit more rapidly than usual to clear the turbulence, and flew to the receiving hospital, the patient yelling and cursing the med crew the entire time, still drunk, and angry that he was in so much pain. We were all glad to arrive at the hospital, so we could hand the patient off to the ED, where he could be better taken care of than we were able, and where we at least wouldn’t have to suffer his abuse any longer. What I was not prepared for, though, was the text message I got from one of our flight nurses, home at the time, which said that we were going to get stuck at the hospital. A weather check confirmed her message; the storms had moved into the area much faster than forecast; they were now over our home base, and when they left winds and fog would replace them. Fortuitously, this particular nurse works at the hospital, so was able to coordinate everything we needed over the next three hours; get the med crew (who got more blood on them than I did) a place to clean off and scrubs to change into, a place to have dinner, a voucher for a hotel room we’d sleep at, and a cab to get to it.

We had landed at the hospital at around midnight, but didn’t make it to the hotel room until about 3 AM. Once there, with the nurse on the bed, the medic on sofa cushions on the floor, and me on the foldout bed, the crew almost instantly fell asleep. I dozed, intermittently waking up to check if the weather would allow us to return home, as another line of thunderstorms was due soon after the weather from the current one had dissipated. I had told the crew before they fell asleep that nine to eleven AM would probably be our best chance to get back, and as the night went on that appeared more and more likely. At eight the crew woke up, and with the weather still looking like it would hold, we got back to the hospital, got the aircraft ready, and launched for (hopefully) home.

Our hope was reality; the weather held for the return flight back, with the sky darkening, pregnant with thunder and rain, ten minutes after we landed at the base.

That was the end of the shift; after pushing the aircraft in the hangar and finishing my paperwork, I went home and fell into bed.

Some days my job is boring. Some days it leaves me angry or exasperated. But that particular shift had just about every reason I love my job: I was able to combine technical knowledge and physical skill to operate a machine in a demanding environment, such that I was part of a team that quite possibly saved someone’s life.

But. And this is the important thing, and the reason I’ve written this all down: my job can never give me a footrub on a lazy weekend afternoon. It will never tell me it loves me in such nerdy and eloquent fashion; it will never actually love me with such passion and patience.

I have a neat job, but I have a wonderful woman.

Happy anniversary, sweetie; I love you. Here’s to many more.