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Day 1: Where in the World (of EMS) Is A.J.?


As I set off to the airport for a long day of travel from San Diego to Frankfurt, Germany, I have to comment on my advanced preparation. Known for over packing and bringing along items that drive the TSA crazy, I decided to purge my usual 50 lb. backpack of extra gear and gadgets and jettison volumes of items from what many of you call my “George Costanza wallet."

The results can be seen in the image. It was a painful exercise but it had to be done so I didn’t end up on a TSA watch list or prison overseas for carrying knives, tourniquets, trauma scissors and other items I find useful in my daily travel and activities in the U.S. I left the flashlights, hemostatic dressings, SAM Splint and 25 triage tags in place though.

This weekend, before packing, I also decided to feverishly complete home projects and yard work that could not wait. Cutting the grass, painting to get my home owners association off my back and repairing broken yard sprinklers were the easiest tasks. The harder task was to rid one of massive seed “pods” that were hanging from the top of one of the palm trees in my yard--in an area where my dogs roam. I felt I had to get at least the most precarious 100-plus pound hazards down so it didn’t fall and crush one of my best friends. I know, I should have hired a skilled landscaper to do the job, but, I ran out of time and as a graduate of Lehigh University (a famous engineering school) and a elf-proclaimed ancestor of “MacGyver” who could improvise solutions on a moment’s notice with any materials he had on hand, I felt I could improvise and get the job done quickly.

Years ago, I did the same thing before going away, wire tying a circular saw to a pole and zipping off a large pod to the chagrin of my family and neighbors. It was somewhat dangerous, but I had my oldest son at the outlet to disconnect power to the saw in the event of an “unexpected event” and my youngest son footing the ladder for me, and the project went off without a hitch or injury. 

But on Sunday, the pods were up real high and had thicker branches holding their massive weight. So I decided that, this time, I would use a much more effective device, a mini chainsaw on a pole. But the pole was too short to reach the pods that were 30 feet in the air, so I lashed another pole to the chain saw, gave my wife a quick training program on how to apply a commercial tourniquet (just in case), positioned her at the power outlet and climbed the step ladder like one of the Wallenda high wire clan, balancing my 30 foot pole/chain saw contraption like their famous balancing pole used to perform high wire performances over 20 school buses or over Niagra Falls.

That should have been an omen for me because once I got the pole vertical in the air rather than perpendicular to my body, my control (and balance) became very precarious. In addition, once I leaned the saw and pole against the thick branch I realized that I did not have a good mechanical advantage to enable me to put pressure on the saw that high in the air. In an attempt to conquer the beast, I released my hands from the ladder and used both hands and arms to put more pressure on the mighty branch.

I was victorious in my brutal attack on the massive pod and branch and suddenly hear it break free and crash to the ground with a great thud. However, while basking in my glory, I suddenly realized that the pole was no longer resting against an object and was tumbling to the ground in front of me.  As I attempted to compensate for the sudden shift in weight, I felt my body leaning back beyond the point of balance recovery and falling backwards like a gymnast who hadn’t practiced in four years.

I pushed myself away from the ladder and fell 10 feet to the concrete below. My right heel hit first and I then landed on my well-padded gluteus maximus. I thought I was home free, but then realized that my body was going to complete its acrobatic performance by following through with a lateral extension that would involve my head bouncing off the concrete. I had the sense enough (funny that) to attempt to flex my neck and head forward, but my skull still bounced off the concrete like a bowling ball hitting the floor.

I lay still for a few moments doing an EMS assessment of myself: No loss of consciousness; no paralysis; no loss of vision; no cracks in the skull; no obvious blood on the back of the head or cerebrospinal fluid in my ears. Feeling rather lucky (and stupid) I triaged myself green, cleaned up my mess and went inside to pack, hoping an sundural hematoma would not sneak up on me overnight.

I caught the 5 a.m. shuttle to the airport, happy to be alive and thinking of Gordon Graham’s famous saying: “Predictable is preventable” all the way to my first plane.

Stay tuned as I report on the real excitement and discoveries of my travels over the next two weeks.      


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