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Paramedics Stand at the Ready on Southeast Texas Sidelines

Look in the ambulance at the end of the stadium some Friday night, and there's no telling what you might find: torn-up shoulders, busted ankles, painful hernias.

And that's just the paramedics.

You looking for some tough cookies?

Yeah, yeah, the high school football players turn each other into 150 pounds' worth of bruises every week.

But look at Angela Schumaker, a licensed paramedic from Orange.

She has two torn ligaments in her right ankle and never has gotten around to repairing them. She's had one other (undisclosed) surgery. She has given birth.

But nothing, she said, compared to the pain she suffered after the morning she woke up and felt her right arm dangling uselessly.

Schumaker later learned she had a torn rotator cuff and two bone spurs -- souvenirs from her job of lifting stretchers, people, stretchers with people and other medical doodads.

When Schumaker woke up after reconstructive surgery, she screamed to the nurses her shoulder was on fire, as if it had been seared by a cattle brander.

"Nothing I've had is worse than a bad shoulder," she said. "Absolutely nothing."

Her partner, Orange native Candi Spell, pointed at her tummy, where she assumed a hernia had taken up residence -- also a gift from all that heavy lifting.

She's getting that looked at, right?

"I don't know," Spell said. "Whenever I get the time to do it. ... If I'm not here, somebody else has to cover for me. Somebody else has to do my job."

Veteran paramedics have seen many twisted bodies, have been held at gunpoint by drug addicts and have plunged their hands in gallons of blood.

"You get blood on your clothes," Spell said, "and hydrogen peroxide will get it right out."

Heck, for them, football games are usually downright enjoyable. Friday night, as Kelly and Bridge City collided just a few yards away, the two women chatted freely, on the clock.

And while they're getting paid, Schumaker and Spell are given to understand that every game Acadian works in Southeast Texas is a free service, on the company tab.

Of all the high school sports played in 2005-06 across the United States, football had the highest injury rate at 4.36 per 1,000 athletes, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the injuries are not life-threatening. In fact, most of them are not even season-threatening.

But some injuries are very much of both. No one, for instance, had to tell Schumaker or Spell about Kevin Everett, the Port Arthur native who's now recovering from the temporary paralysis he suffered during an NFL game Sept. 9.

"What those (paramedics) did, right then and there it might have saved his life," Spell said.

On Friday nights across Texas, paramedics are not only there for the players, but for the fans.

And as veterans of the job (Schumaker's been at it for 12 years, Spell for seven), treating injuries is so routine they can almost do it on auto-pilot. Almost.

They know not to look into someone's eyes unless they have to, because eye contact might stir emotions in the paramedic and the victim, and there's no time for emotions.

"You have in your mind, 'This is what I have to do. What are the things I need to look for?' " Schumaker said. "The other stuff comes later. After it's over, you think, 'Wow; I think that was Mae's cousin. I know him.'"

"If you're doing this for the money," Spell said of her job, "you should stop."


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