Tuesday, May 6, 2008


The tones woke us from our deep sleep. I sprang out of bed pulling my socks on as I walked. I didn't bother to swap out my PJs for jeans as my turnout pants would cover the silly cartoons that danced over my legs.

As I pulled into the station I counted the cars that were there. I had a full crew, but they had all just finished Basic within the last 4 months. Cody drove, and I ran the radio. The first in report came from my mentor and the urgency in her voice sent a chill racing up my spine. I barked out instructions that no one was to approach the car unless I specifically told them. They were all far too green to deal with this right now.

We pulled up to find the car embedded in the oak tree. To get to the patient, one had to maneuver through two thorn bushes and squeeze between the biforcated trunk of the massive oak. The tires were missing and there were car parts scattered about as if a bomb went off inside the passenger compartment.

We all started circling the car like vultures, trying to distinguish the best way to get to the broken body inside. The fumes urges us to hurry the clock loudly ticking in our ears. Finally a door was opened and the weight of the man inside was pulled from the debris.

The weight felt awkward to my muscles. It was a motion they had never before completed, pulling on a lifeless form. My hands instinctively went to his head as the other EMTs brandished their trauma shears and did their duty to reveal the flesh underneath the tattered and stained clothing. The count was made and the lift was smooth. My hands transitioned on the sides of the head, a motion they had grown accustomed to over the years, but this time it was different.

My fingers settled in. Farther than they ever had. They cried out to find the resistance of skull, but instead eased into the fleshy abyss. My heart sank to my feet and my face flushed with my own blood. As my blood rushed up to my face, his rushed down the leg of my pants and into my sleeve. The weight of it all, running from his lifeless body. I called out. I needed the reassurance of eye contact, a nod, anything. I pleaded with the faces that were turned down on the patient to look at me, but all I saw were plaquards and shields.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes demanding that I calm down. I could feel my throat getting tight and the burn start behind my eyes. I was screaming inside, but my stony face revealed nothing.

Out of the chaos, my lips moved though I had not thought that they should. They pleaded that someone take my place. They begged. The tears dripping off my words, the fear flowing out of my mouth chasing the doubt my tongue was unleashing.

The jagged breaths came in gulps. The tears exploded from my eyes. The blood raced down my leg racing death to my feet.

Blackness. There was nothing. I could feel my body moving, but I was helpless in my own shell. A mutiny was taking place in my muscles as my hands released their sad grasp and my feet plodded one after the other.

I saw a face in front of me and I recognized it. His lips were moving and yet I heard nothing. It did not matter because his eyes betrayed him and easily shone with fear and worry. He started glancing about, yelling something my ears could not translate. I felt my arms become encircled with steady hands. Hands that seemed to send strength back into my heart and my body.

I started to understand the words, but only in fragments. I saw blurry faces through the sea of tears. My helmet was removed, my gloves peeled away. My coat was taken from my back and replaced with a blanket. My turn out pants and boots were next to go, revealing the happy dance of the characters underneath.

I sat. I cried. I fumed.

I was angry. I was disappointed. I was pissed off.

I was the experienced one.
I was the one that should be able to handle this.
I was the example to follow.

And here I sat. Crying. Covered in a strangers blood and brain matter. All the confidence fleed from me faster than the tears that ran down my blood-streaked face.

I sat on the bumper, pulled my knees to my chest, buried my face and sobbed. Body wracking sobs consumed me. I was a failure.

I drive by that tree at least twice a day. Some days I have to take a different route because I just can't handle the doubt that creeps back into my mind. The tree is still scarred and somehow I think it validates how I feel. Just as that sturdy oak will carry the scars of that night, so will my heart.


Medic61 said...

Wow, this was a really touching post. You're not alone; we've all been there. This supposed "failure" definitely shows a lot about your character--good things.

You impress me.

Stretcher Jockey said...

No...you're not a failure...you're human. Don't make yourself bear that burden unnecessarily.

Experience has nothing to do with it...As jaded as I am after almost 16 years there are still a lot of things that tear my heart up. Guess I've just gotten good at not showing it.

It's ok to let yourself feel and to grieve - when we stop feeling any emotion at all is when we fail ourselves and our patients.


Red said...

Oh Bernice, that brought tears to my eyes. I dread that day....

Being able to continue with the job is impressive, good, good work.

Bernice said...

Thanks to all for the comments. This was three years ago May 11 so some time has passed since. I often use this example to show the recruits that sometimes, you just have to step away and that's okay. I took a short leave after this call to get things straight in my head and now I am glad that I had that experience. I wouldn't be the same EMT I am today without it.