I suspect that I will be writing about my perspective as a medical director and (still current!) medic frequently in this column. My history as a medic gives me a bit of a different look at EMS than docs who don’t have that background. It doesn’t mean they’re not great medical directors, but I think there are some things you understand better when you have lived them. Being out and about also helps me see and better understand things about our providers, our system and some of the realities I’ve forgotten about working in the field.

Recently, I was headed to meet with one of our providers in the evening to discuss updating our protocols. I keep my EMS radio in the car, so I heard the whole station get emptied out for a single-vehicle accident with entrapment. Obviously, there wasn’t going to be a meeting for quite some time, so I headed for the scene, trailing the engine, the ALS car and the chief in my mom-van.

Arriving on scene on a dark two-lane country road, the ALS car pulled off to one side and got on the radio to tell me to follow. I looked briefly at the 8-12 inch drop off the edge of the road and the flat area to the side and followed, thinking it was definitely better to pull off the road and walk in, allowing the ambulance better access.

The deer was dead, patient was critical and the extrication from the car wrapped around the tree took some time. After we transferred the patient to the helicopter crew, we all headed back to our vehicles. The field we parked in turned out to be soggier than we thought, and we decided that the best way to get the van and the ALS car out was to circle around and take a run at that little drop off, but no dice. So he led, and I followed, to where the drop was shallower.

The 4WD ALS car made it out; the mom-van was not so lucky. Helpful suggestions included trying to rock it out, which only resulted in my freshly-detailed white van being buried up to the axle in sticky red Virginia clay. I came back to my senses and decided it was time to admit absolute defeat, and we called the engine back to winch my car out.

Their first (and only) comment as they came to rescue the damsel in distress was “looks like a real redneck girl’s car with mud all the way up on the roof.” I was tempted to ask them to be careful with the car, or try to tell them what to do, but frankly, I know nothing about winching cars out of mudholes. Even out in the country, 8-12 folks from adjoining farms had gathered when they heard the sirens, watched the patient extrication and then the whole van debacle, and the property owner where we had circled through the field was enthusiastically chewing out the chief for the mess we made.

It was so awful that I just wanted to evaporate. I haven’t been that completely helpless in many years. It was very humbling for someone accustomed to being in control of pretty much any situation. The adrenaline rush from the call was gone, and I was standing in the rain, freezing. One of the guys saw me shaking, gave me their turnout coat and told me to get in the engine and warm up. I didn’t even look out the window to watch how they got the van out, but they did, with no more damage than I had already done.

The only blessing was that the media never made it to the scene.

What I learned:

  1. Think about whether the person who is leading is someone you should follow. As I tell my son, don’t forget to ask yourself, “is this the smart thing to do?” On the flip side, have confidence and trust people who know what they’re doing and don’t interfere, regardless how tempting.
  2. Being completely at the mercy of others (like our patients are in our care every day), is a very powerless feeling. I felt like a helpless idiot and was grateful for compassionate, professional treatment (with only a tiny bit of firehouse ribbing). I haven’t heard another word about it since. I’ll remember that episode the next time I see a patient who has unintentionally done something dumb and gotten themselves hurt.
  3. Think about how what you’re doing looks to the public (or how it will look on the news or YouTube later). If anyone took pictures of my stupidity, they haven’t surfaced yet.

Thanks, Engine 111.

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