For the second time today, I stand in line at the local ice-cream shop. This time, I manage to get my order in and make idle chit-chat with the couple sitting next to me. The boys wait outside, in the medic, enjoying their treats while I, the probie, wait inside with a grumbling stomach. We were here about 30 minutes ago before the tones dropped, sending us on an engine run that would be cancelled before we even got there. This time, however, the tones drop and the voice on my walkie tells me that an elderly man has been struck by a car. I yell, "Bye!" to the staff and citizens inside, thinking how ironic it is that I'm called out yet again before I have a chance to eat. I climb into the back of the medic and put on purple gloves.
We arrive at our destination....wrong address. Dispatch advises us that they are dealing with a "confused" caller and redirects us to an address about 5 minutes away. Our other medic unit is close behind as we catch site of the man at the end of the driveway frantically waving us down. He runs up the driveway just ahead of us to a large barn surrounded by fields. One of my crew comments, "A guy running....never a good sign." As soon as the medic comes to a stop, I climb out, first grabbing the first-in bag, then from the side of the medic the c-collar kit and backboard. The guys are already in the barn as I enter. Rounding a large tractor forked in front for loading bales, I see him, surrounded by the bales of straw he was undoubtedly focused on only minutes before. He lies motionless, face-down. As the rest of the crew steadies his head and turns him over, a voice says, "Get ready for CPR." I open a BVM and assemble it like I had been shown, hooking it to the O2 bottle, waiting briefly for the bag to fill. As one EMT pumps his chest, I cover his mouth with the mask and begin to squeeze....wait....squeeze....wait....I can't help but notice that the grey eyes from partially opened lids don't move, don't see. I pause to allow the insertion of an oral airway, then squeeze....wait....squeeze...A flurry of activity is around me. Kits are being opened, life-saving implements assembled, pads placed on the man's crushed chest. I see his white hair, his stubbled chin and cheeks...the only visible wounds are some abrasions to his arms. He is shirtless, no doubt from the heat of the day and toil of farm labor, wearing shorts and his cowboy boots, now crossed over each other awkwardly as seven people try to save his life. The AED is attatched, everybody lets go of him and the only one now touching the man is me, intently maintaining the seal around the mask as I squeeze....squeeze....squeeze. We wach and the line on the monitor is unmistakable. Nothing. Not a blip or a bump. Asystole. It's over. The medic in charge calls time of death. In slight disbelief, I stop squeezing, remove the mask, and pull out the OPA. Some blood follows the plastic device, spilling onto the dust around my feet. Numbly, I begin to put things away, stopping now and then to shoo the flies away from the man who, 20 minutes ago, had been going about his day like any other. I stop once again to peer into the grey eyes for a sign, any sign, that it isn't over yet. But it is.
My heart briefly pangs for the man whose life has suddenly ended, then focuses on the man who had been driving the front loader. He sits in a car, sobbing and shaking and I rap on the window. His eyes meet mine and I open the door. Placing my hand on his shoulder I tell him how sorry I am. How we tried, and how I wished there was something I could do. My eyes mist and I ask him if I can hug him. Briefly we embrace, his tears wetting my shoulder where he buried his face. I can't be sure, but I believe he was related to the man whose broken body we had tried to salvage...I can't imagine, can't imagine. I hold back the tears and replace the sunglasses that hide my moistened eyes.
On the way back to the station, I can't help but think how quickly life can change from same old shit to utter catastrophe. Lives change in the blink of an eye and the dead leave the living to sort things out. My mind turns to the $8 worth of food I could probably still pick up if I wanted it. I arrive at the station, pack up, and go home. Maybe next time food can fill that strange emptiness in the pit of my stomach. But not this time.
I believe I did my job. We all did. I'm alright with the way thing went. But I will never forget.

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Comment by Phil Ferris on July 24, 2008 at 2:27am
Steph, This first one you'll never forget. I remember my first DOA, no transport like it was last week. It was also the first time I did CPR. I don't want to give away my age but I can tell you back then mouth-to-mouth was still my mouth on the victims mouth. Anyway, keep talking and find out what works for you. You have a gift for being able to put thoughts, emotions and moments in time into words. Continue blogging if you like, but talk with your crew as well. Keep the lines of communication open and you can't go wrong. Phil
Comment by Walter Messer on July 23, 2008 at 7:48pm
steph- very well written most of us can step into your shoes because we know the feels your going through. talking about it is the best medicine. For a while here I was called Dr. Death cause in 7 shifts I had 4 codes that didn't make it and 3 DOA's. It started to run me down and put a bad feeling in my gut everytime the tone went off. It does get easier as the years and calls tick away. Hang in there! If the calls don't affect you, your not human
Comment by Ida on July 21, 2008 at 6:22pm
It's been 29 years since my first code and I still remember it. I prayed and prayed for him to make it but he died as well. I think I've only saved one or two and that's because they coded right in front of me.
Comment by catfish on July 21, 2008 at 8:16am
you will never a marine corp veteran and have seen things you wouldnt gets somewhat easier as time goes on but you never forget.good luck with your career...............larry
Comment by Rescuefrog on July 20, 2008 at 10:25pm
Steph, most of us have been right where you are now. The 1st is sometimes the hardest to get thru. If at anytime this call starts to affect you a little more or you have trouble sleeping, please make sure to talk to someone. Those you work with and if you don't feel comfortable talking in depth to them call CISD or the local chaplains office. We are also here to help. As lutan said these calls can creep up you sometimes days, months even years later. Take care of yourself
Comment by Raven Tew on July 20, 2008 at 7:06pm
It's always a good thing when you can talk to others about what we see or things we encounter and they understand what we are talking about. This is not a job that I can take home to my family and they understand. If I do mention something that I have seen, they always ask "Why do you continue to do that job?" or "I don't understand how you can be so calm and cool about seeing someone die." It's not that it doesn't bother me, I just have to hide my feelings from my family. They don't know the nights that I have sat up, not sleeping, because of the child that I couldn't get back. Just keep your head up and know that all though you will not hear it very often most families do appreciate what you did/tried to do to save their loved ones.
Comment by lutan1 on July 20, 2008 at 7:05am
Steph, having seen a massive share of trauma being assigned to a rescue unit my entire volunteer career, trust me wehn I tell you to look after yourself emotionally after these calls- they creep up and can bite at the most inopportune time- been there, done that. I'm 9 years out as a responder (Now train industrial ERT's full time) and I still have problems with a few jobs I've been to.....
Comment by Doyle on July 20, 2008 at 12:30am
Death is a strange character, I have seen it in the field,experienced it in high school but nothing prepares you for it personally. After 6 years of battling a disease my baby girl passed away right before my eyes, no medicine or miracle in the world was going to stop this from happening, your right there is nothing that fills the void you feel in the pit of your stomach. It helps to talk about what you saw and see, it helps the body and mind adjust to what has just happened, and process it.
Comment by Tony P on July 19, 2008 at 11:58pm
Thanks for posting Steph - very well written. Talking about what we've experienced is all part of how we cope with the sort of things we face. I hope you also discussed the event with your crew?

I don't think anyone can forget their first fatality, I know I haven't. But then, I've not been to many (thankfully), and have very clear memories of all of them. They affect me at the time, yes. But not to extremes. I openly talk with family about the experience, and we do at the Station as well.

Why do I talk about the fatalities with family? So that they can be aware of any changes in my behaviour - they may be the first to notice adverse effects on me, and knowing why will help them understand and also hopefully to point me towards help. If it happens. My organisation has a very active CIS function, with peer help and also psych and/or chaplaincy if needed. The help we FF's are able to receive is also available to our families.

Once again, good post.
Comment by Yee on July 19, 2008 at 10:52pm
I know how that is. I had my first about a month ago. Cardiac arrest and of course everyone says "You can't do much damage they are already dead," but there is always that hope they are gonna come back. I kinda stood at the back of the ambulance watching numbly as everyone worked on her. I was the extra set of hands there if they needed it. I also remember looking into her eyes and being like "come on you can make it," but knowing on the batallion cheif's face there was no hope. Once we got to the hospital the called it as I was walking out. It is something I'll never forget.

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