Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The victims aren't always on the stretcher

I have belonged to several volunteer rescue organizations and several fire departments over something like twenty five years. I always liked the idea of helping people, and I won't lie about it, I love to drive fast. The bigger the truck, with lights and music, the more I like it. Air horns are just over the top.

Some of those departments would actually give you money for running calls! I always found someone who needed those checks and donated them to who ever was needy and handy. I can say, honestly, that I have never accepted money for my service. Strange, I know, but there you have it.

Every medic, regardless of their level of certification, has a few calls that will make them cringe to remember.

The local area is a retirement community, lots of people with medical histories and frailty. Some are around long enough to become friends and neighbors. Some become frequent fliers, while others just become memories. Some of then I can see with my eyes closed.

One gentleman known to us had a lengthy history of heart disease and disability. His home, where he lived with his wife, had the only stair elevator I have ever seen. He was apparently an active man until his later years,and disability did not sit lightly with him. I met him while he was in ICU wired up with every monitor known to our local hospital. When I saw him first he was asleep, and not looking to well. He woke up and we chatted for a while, until I had to leave, and he went back to sleep. The next time I saw him he was dead.

The nice old man was sick and tired of being sick and tired. He felt he didn't want to be a burden, and would never be better. His answer was to put a shot gun in his mouth and make a statement. It's been eleven years and it just occurred to me the heart rending discussions he probably had with the woman who will miss him until she dies. His wife was in the kitchen and heard a sound like slamming a door, and went to check on the noise. She found him in a condition that left the medical examiner doing shots before going to the morgue.

The squad got a call, possible suicide, and the address was really close. I rolled the unit to the corner, the detective asked us to wait at the street until called. Can't argue with them, so we took the unit to the rear drive and waited. All you LEO's know the drill, document everything and take pictures, statements, bag it and tag it. While all this was going on four of us were waiting at the lower level.

One of the county tech's looked around the yard, flinched and said "My god is that what I think it is?" I am afraid it was, she told the detectives, and then went and gathered up the debris. I went later and found the missing parts of the skull. About this time we got close enough to see the blood. It is startling to see how much blood a person has in them. It's been a few years now, so the memory of the delays have faded, what transpired has not. Those of us on the scene, with the acquiescence of the police, decided his wife should not have to deal with the cleanup. The old gentleman was in the screens, on the windows, driven into the eaves, out in the yard and down on the patio. We rinsed, bleached, soaped and washed like crazy people. We never got rid of the smell of blood. One of the ladies went automaton on us and scrubbed the wall until it had to be re stained. I tore out the screens and made certain nothing of him was left to stumble upon. The house was never the same. It was sold shortly after.

Stories like these never have a happy ending. The morning will come but it rains the next day. If you can believe it we had an event shortly after this that was worse, it almost trashed the entire Fire Department. We went through a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, I'm not sure what that accomplished.

There is a thing we should all watch for among ourselves, battle fatigue, the chronic form of shock. That's us, walking wounded, it only shows in the eyes.

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