I enjoy going to EMS conferences. In fact, I typically speak at 20 or so conferences a year across the United States and around the world. One of my favorite conferences is the San Juan Basin Technical School EMS Conference in Telluride, Colo. The conference is well organized, educational, relaxed and a great deal of fun. It draws quite a few people from the four states that make up the four corners region. Further, the headquarters hotel is the beautiful Wyndham Peaks Resort and Spa. Situated at 9,000 feet on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies, the views are breathtaking. Each morning, we awake to see the snow-covered peak of Mount Wilson in the San Juan Mountains better known as the mountain in the Coor s beer commercials.
At the 2005 conference in June, I was sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for my wife, Emma, to return from her first trip to a spa. A man came up to me and said, Aren t you Dr. Bledsoe? I said, Do I owe you money?
He laughed and said, No, I ve read a lot the stuff you ve written, and I ve always wanted to meet you. I agree with about 75% of the stuff you write but you re wrong about medical helicopters.
Before long, he was seated next to me, and the conversation continued. It turned out, he was a flight nurse for a local program. He invited me to ride with him sometime in the helicopter. I informed him that I had been a helicopter paramedic and probably had more hours in a helicopter than he did. But it s different here, doc, he replied.
He went on to make a great argument. I agree that there are too many helicopters and that they are over utilized, he said. But here in this area, the helicopter can make a difference. We can fly into areas in the high country where ground ambulances can t go. Sometimes we re the patient s only hope. As he told me about his work his eyes sparkled, and he became more animated. Although he appeared a little older than me, his enthusiasm was youthful.
My wife returned from the spa, and I left the flight nurse and went into town for dinner. The next day, I ran into him again. He said, I stuck my head in your lecture. Great talk. I told him I appreciated that.
The next night, Bob Page held his annual EMS Trivia contest. Some other folks and I had won the contest the year before, and the other teams were out for blood this year. We soundly beat every team. One of the paramedics with a losing team came over and said, Well, if we were going to lose to anybody, at least it was to the guy who wrote the book. We laughed and went our separate ways.
The following day was the dance, and, boy, was everyone ready to party! A band consisting of physicians from New Mexico came and played. They were OK but they really should keep their day jobs. The dance was so entertaining that Emma and I sat there for hours. Finally, the flight nurse with whom I had been speaking, now well lubricated with distilled spirits, got onstage with the band and did a rendition of a song he wrote called, I m not a paramedic; I m a nurse. It was hilarious and brought the house down.
The next morning, we were checking out of the hotel and again ran into the nurse. He teased my wife about the airport in Telluride (the highest altitude commercial airport in America). He asked if we would be returning next year. Emma replied, I hope they invite him back. This place was heaven. He wished us a safe flight and smiled, knowing that a take-off from the Telluride airport can unnerve the most experienced traveler. I pointed my finger at him and said, Hey, more important, you fly safe.
Always, he said.
About a month later, on July 1, 2005, I was at another conference in Yorkshire, England. I got an e-mail from my friend Jim Richardson, who forwarded a newspaper article about a medical helicopter crash near Telluride that killed all three on-board. Now, I knew there were two helicopter operations in the area one flying a Bell 222 and the other flying an Agusta, but I wasn t sure which was involved. The next day, while I was preparing for a black-tie dinner at the conference, I checked the computer and saw an article that listed the names of the crew. One of the names sounded familiar.
I dug into my computer bag and found a business card the flight nurse had given me. It said William Podmayer. My heart sunk when the name was the same as the nurse who died in the TriState CareFlight crash. A tear came to my eye and I read the article over and over. I didn t want to go to the banquet but it was best to go. Later, I learned from my friend Fidel Garcia that the paramedic killed in the crash Scott Hyslop was on one of the teams we competed against in the trivia contest. He was the one who said it was OK to lose as long as it was to the guy who wrote the book.
These people came into contact with my life for only a brief time, but they did make an impression, and I will forever remember them. When we return to Telluride in the future, their spirits will be there in the beautiful mountains they loved. I know that Bill died doing what he loved. And, no matter what controversies are being debated about helicopters, let it be known that these two medical crew members and the pilot, Jim Saler, made a difference.