I just started paramedic class that semester (2013), fresh out of high school. A lot of people told me I should be an EMT longer then just a year, but I knew it was my calling to become a medic; so I jumped right in. I was taking a short cut to a weekend job, asking God if I was doing the right thing in picking EMS as my job. I topped a hill and saw what looked like an accident ahead.
My first reaction was “oh sweet I get to help at an accident”. My next thought when I topped another hill was “oh great, I am alone what if I screw up”. There was a blue pickup flipped on the driver side. One car facing the opposite way and some other cars (bystanders) on the road edge.
I keep a trauma bag in my car in case I roll up on accidents or if I first respond in my neighborhood. My first clue something was very wrong was when I walked up and the bystander looked like a ghost. He was backing away pointing when I asked him if there was anyone hurt. There was shattered glass everywhere, a broom head, rope, and then I saw it; the river of bright red blood.
The cab of the pickup was small and contained two patients. They each wore lap belts, seat belts. The driver was an older male. His head was through the back windshield, the river of blood coming from him. My training kicked in. I placed my bag on the ground, turned around and told someone to call 911. That bystander just typed the number when I did that. For some reason I told him to tell the dispatcher an EMT was on scene.
I immediately placed thick gauze pads on the biggest wounds and began talking to my unconscious patient. He moved his eyes, so I knew he was alive. Above him, his wife was suspended. She too was unconscious. I was taught in class hearing is the last sense to leave while unconscious, so I explained they were in an accident, who I was, and that help was on the way. I kept repeating it. This was the first major call I was on alone. I just did what I was taught. A female bystander approached me and started asking me if I knew what happened. I respectfully told her to back away.
Another first responder firefighter arrived and took care of the other patients which I found out about afterwards. My elderly male patient moved his eyes, under his eyelids once, that was the last movement I saw from him. I reassured him that I wasn’t going to leave him and that help was coming. At this time his wife started stir. She opened her eyes and started to panic when she realized she was suspended. I started talking to her attempting to calm her. She reached down and started to push off her husband’s chest. He moaned and I told her to calm down she was hurting her husband. She heard me and started relaxing. She reached down again and was trying to find her husband, so I flicked some fingers up (I was still holding the male patient’s head to keep the blood clotting) she grabbed hold of them and squeezed.
A police officer showed up on scene, unable to determine how long time had passed since the call began. He casually walked up, saw I was an EMT and then walked away saying “looks like you got this handled”. Ambulances started to arrive. Anger filled me for the responders kept going to other patients. I was left holding a dying man and comforting his wife by myself still while other people walked around me. Finally a young female switched out with me. It was then I felt I could look at the situation around me.
Firefighters were cutting the older female from the car. I talked to her while the Jaws did the job. She was frightened, I think her jaw was broke for she was unable to talk. A helicopter flew her to shock trauma. My male patient was placed on a monitor. They called him as a DOA. His blood was on my wrist, my gloves were stained with blood. The smell of iron hung in the air. It was my first traumatic death and I was by myself for most of it.
I functioned pretty well, shook up, but was handling it. Then the daughter appeared on scene. She did the scream I call the “death scream”-you find out someone you loved has died. My mind shot back to when my aunt was told my cousin had been killed wildland firefighting. The scream rang in my head. I started panicking, I knew I had to get out of the situation I was in.
I couldn’t leave yet, the police had not finished taking pictures. A chief noticed I was not doing well, he helped me clean my arm and sat me in his truck. I started out the front windshield attempting to keep my emotions in check. He attempted to get me to talk, but I taught myself revealing emotion to others is bad, so I stayed quiet. Finally I was able to grab my gear and headed to my car. Ironically, I had just became a new member for one of the ambulance companies that had just showed up.
The chief for that company approached me and asked if was ok. I shrugged off the response as if nothing was wrong and told him I would be fine and didn’t need to talk to anyone. He still told me to email If my attitude changed. I laughed and said I would be fine. I made it 10 mins in my car before I broke down. When I arrived at there job, I sat on the ground shaking and crying. I was 19 when this call occurred, almost one year as an EMT.
This call still haunts me. I have anxiety attacks thinking about it or when I get flash backs. I have talked to a counselor. She says I don’t have PTSD, but I don’t know what you call it when your mind goes blank and you relive your worst nightmares. I know most my triggers now, have learned to control my anxiety. I have learned that talking about it is better then holding it in. I have seen what happens when you don’t talk and it is scary. Maybe one day I can move past this incident, for now it just resides in the back of my mind.
– Story written by a 22 year old EMT, 4 years in EMS.