My story is a recent one. Firefighting and ems has been my way of life for the past 8 years. 6 years of that in private ambulance in a busy metropolitan area. So I’ve been there, done that and seen that. Well, as it turns out, no. I haven’t. I was just starting in a department in the town i live in, had been there about one month and was starting to feel like “one of the guys.” Anyway one day, the tones drop for a car vs pedestrian with “minor injuries”. Just us in the aid car and the engine. Chief added himself too. The dispatch was for a 2 year old with some “scrapes on her arms and legs.” Already we’d been set up for failure.
The trap here is a simple mistake countless responders make every day. They read the short report and buy into it a little too much. In this case we saw kiddo with scrapes and thought as a group “oh wont be that bad.” We arrived. One of our off duty members lived 3 blocks away from the call and responded on his own. We found him holding her in his arms. There was crying, but you expect that. We walk him holding the little girl to the aid car, taking her from her parents, not realizing how mom is loosing her mind.
Again, you expect that. The talk was of a BLS transport to the local ER while having her sit in the child seat built into the seat in the back of the aid car. But she wont calm down. She just keeps crying. Again. You expect that too. So we have mom sit in the seat and hold her. She calms down a little. So its not perfect but it works. My partner asks me to get vitals. Hes talking to dad about history. Parents want to get going. All this happens inside of 5 seconds.
I start to get BP cuff on her arm, that is when I look down and see it. Mom follows my eyes and and screams. Her daughters right thigh is swelling up like a balloon. Her left leg is rotated outward and shorter than her right. Time stops for a second. I have a beautiful 2 year old daughter. Cute as a button, very happy and giggly. Bouncy curly hair. Blue eyes. Tiny little voice. Same height, roughly same weight. In that second that I saw this baby girls femurs were fractured bilaterally in what was obviously a crush injury. Her mom ran over both her legs with the car.
I saw my daughter. I could quite literally hear my daughter crying. And then it was back to reality. I reacted, we packaged her, quite literally hot on the radio and screamed for medics to meet us somewhere between our town and theirs and i was in the back but I’m pretty sure the driver threw gravel up in the air as we took off. We made the intercept. She did fine. Medics took her. She survived but had multiple surgeries to fix her fractured femurs, left tibia and fibula.
I went home and hugged my baby girl so hard she squeaked. Then I held her hostage for the rest of the evening. It didn’t matter. It made it worse. I saw my daughter laying broken on my gurney in my dreams for weeks. I lost sleep. I went into a tail spin. I drank. I fought with my wife. My loving and supporting wife was ambushed by my guilt. Our relationship went into a rough patch. It wasn’t until some weeks later, we had a run review with our doc on drill night. He looks at our calls and reports and reviews with us ones we’ve done well on or ones he has suggestions for the next time. This call was brought up.
I looked around the room and realize I’m the only one there besides chief who went on the call. That meant I had to present it to the doc and defend our actions. I had suppressed the emotions up to this point. But to have to relive it was too much. I presented the case, answered the docs questions and walked outside the station and bawled my eyes out. I thought about turning in my gear. Later on I talked to one of our peer support members. They’ve been there, done that, seen that. But they offer an outlet. They offer support. My peer support guy is a firefighter I work with regularly.
He told me what I was going through was normal. That the guilt, the frustration, the anxiety, are something that’s normal to experience after an even such as this. He said I needed an outlet for my stress. Working out for example. He also said I needed to spend personal time every day with my wife. No kiddo, no phones just us. As it turns out, he was right. I work out with him now, I drink less and my wife and I are having our second child.
If anyone has this type of call or career and has a peer support network this is my plea for you to use it. I was on the edge of the abyss. Peer support helped me come back and realize i did my job to the best of my ability under the circumstances. This peer support counselor is someone I consider a friend now. That’s my story.
– Story written by Brad, 28 year old EMT-B. 9 years in EMS.