Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Bleeding is Controlled"

The call came in as a Code 3 (no lights or siren), "Elderly woman has fallen and cut her foot. Bleeding is controlled." When we arrived at the apartment building, my partner remarked, "Let's take everything. Knowing my luck, it's an amputation or something." We slog all the bags and the stretcher into the building and cram into the tiny elevator. I really wish they made elevators in stretcher size, sometimes I don't want to get that close to my partner or to 4 burly firemen. On the other hand...well, sometimes that can be a perk of the job! Ahem. Sidetracked.

Her frantic neighbours meet us in the hallway, and her daughter says, "I think she broke her leg! There's blood everywhere!" Oh, really? Hmm, this could be interesting after all.

She is wedged behind the door, and of course, the entrance hallway of her apartment is absolutely tiny. Luckily my partner is a skinny guy, and as it is his call, he manages to shimmy through the crack in the door, literally climbing over the patient's head to get in. Once in, he lets me know quickly that it is very serious without alarming the neighbours, the daughter, or the patient ("Red, this will be a CTAS 2 return."). All I can do is pass him equipment through the crack in the door, there is simply no room for me with her pressed against the door. Peering in, I can just make out the snow-white top of the patient's head and a trail of blood leading down the hallway. He tells me later that her foot was cold and pulseless, 180 degrees in the wrong direction with tibia and fibula shreds poking through the torn skin.

Once he has her leg splinted, he slides her back from the doorway and I am able to get in to help. Now I realize the full extent of the injury. She is pale and grey, tachycardic and hypotensive, her foot is a deathly white and her leg has already bled through the stacks of gauze that were just secured. The trail of blood down the hallway looks like somebody was murdered - that's what blood thinners will do. We lift her carefully and carry her to the stretcher, then shoot off to the hospital before she gets any closer to dead. I have to repeat my return code twice to dispatch - they don't seem to believe that the non-emergency call they sent us on is returning on a life-threatening priority. I hear her ask my partner, "Do you think it's broken, dear?".  I feel bad for the sweet old woman, she has no idea how bad it is.

The triage nurse wants to assess the injury, so we carefully cut part of the splint away. As we peel back the gauze, we can see the artery inside her leg pulsing. It hasn't been cut, but the muscle, bone and tissue around it has been shredded, so we can see every heartbeat throb inside her shin.  She tells us she stood up and her ankle buckled beneath her. She tried to walk on it and it just shattered - the razor sharp shards of broken bone shredding through her muscle and skin. She collapsed to the ground, out of reach of the phone, alone and bleeding profusely. She spent the next hour dragging herself to the front door, where she banged weakly until her neighbours came to investigate the noise. We find out two weeks later that she was still in ICU, 4 surgeries later, and still may lose her foot.

Monday, June 10, 2013

More Than Just a Job

Looking back, my path to becoming a paramedic started very early, even earlier than I can remember. It's always been a career that I was drawn to, and there were many events that pushed me in that direction.

I grew up in the country. pre-internet, with no close neighbours and no TV. There wasn't any money for summer camps or sports, so I read and rode my bike all summer. Actually, that's still how my best days off are spent. Anyways, since I was such a voracious reader, I simply read everything I could get my hands on. I don't even remember when I started, but it became my summer tradition to read an old St. John Ambulance first aid manual we had cover-to-cover. I also spent many long, boring days longing for excitement and adventure, and I decided early that my career needed to fulfill that desire.

When I was in high school, my physics teacher had a seizure in the middle of class. She froze in the middle of a sentence, eyes glazed over, and somehow I knew exactly what was happening. While the other girls in the class started screaming, I raced to the front to try to catch her before she hit the ground. As I rounded the corner of her giant lab desk, she hit the ground. I will never forget the sound her head made when it hit the floor, and it took me years to get over the guilt for not catching her in time. I was terrified and unsure of myself, but I did exactly what the old first aid manual said, removing the recycling bin, chair and garbage pail so she wouldn't hit them, protecting her head and yelling at a classmate to stop holding her legs down. When the teachers started flooding the room, we were all sent to the library, where I started crying from the adrenaline and pent-up fear. I saw the paramedics go by, looking calm and assured, and I swore then and there that I NEVER wanted to feel the fear of not knowing what to do in a situation like that. I signed up for a first aid course as soon as I could, and started reading everything I could about first aid, emergency medicine and seizures.

That Christmas, my big brother bought me Paramedic by Peter Canning, which I read in its entirety in one sitting. I fell in love with the world he described, and decided I would also become a paramedic. I also managed to score a 1-week co-op with the local ambulance service, and although it was during the SARS outbreak and I was forbidden from riding out, I learned a lot and loved it even more. I had one paramedic tell me that since I could fall asleep in a chair and stand up straight in the back of the truck, I was already qualified. How true that is sometimes!

Breaking my foot in university ended up being the final push. I was treated by volunteer medical first responders, and I was impressed and touched by their knowledge and compassion. I was also blown away by the fact that I could also volunteer in that regard - what a perfect way to test drive my desired career. As soon as my foot healed (almost 2 years later, sadly) I joined the same organization and have been with them ever since, now training the very volunteers I once envied.

I think I was born to be a paramedic. There is no other career I want to do, no other path I wish I had taken. As challenging, exhausting, messy and stupid as this job can be, I love it more than anything else I've ever done. I am a paramedic through and through, I was born to be.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Back in Time

He drew the gaze of everybody in the crowd as he passed, a tall young man, strong and handsome. He was in perfect costume, tall leather boots, a polished sword at his waist and a long cape billowing out behind him. It felt like we had stepped back in time, with knights, soldiers, ladies of the court and princesses wandering around the park, along with obligatory tavern wench spilling out of her bodice.

Every half an hour, trumpets and drums drew the crowd to the castle where there was a choreographed battle between the knights of the court and the outlaws. Staged and choreographed and fought with blunted weapons, we weren't too concerned about the potential for injury until a squire came running over. We followed the frantic man behind the castle to check on the injured actor.

The tall young knight was now a scared teenager, trembling from head to toe, his shaking hands covered in blood. He neglected to block the outlaw's sword in time and despite the blunted edge, received a nasty gash to the top of his head. We bandaged his head neatly, taping gauze to his forehead to draw less attention then wrapping all the way around, then sent him to the hospital with his Dad. Apparently he caused quite a stir when he walked into the hospital  in his gorgeous costume, once again his confident self, to announce he had a sword wound to his head!