Who is the patient?


It was a melancholy kind of day, and I was just doing something to keep busy on the computer. The ever present scanner was on in the background, and although I was hearing the drone of the radio, and the various traffic stops, and routine emergencies, I really was not listening. Suddenly a message that cut through the airwaves and cut me like a knife. There was a vehicle rolled over with a person trapped underneath. Although I did not always respond to motor vehicle accidents, I knew I should respond. The location was not far from me, and I arrived just before the first police officer, and just a few minutes prior to the ambulance.

I was met by a crushed vehicle sitting upright on its tires, and it appeared there was someone lying directly under the center of the vehicle. There was a frantic man saying that he was a physician, and if we could get the vehicle lifted he could help the person.

I looked from the driver’s side under the vehicle but I did not have good access, so I had to quickly go around and crawl on my stomach towards the victim. It was a young woman, and she had a pallor and lifeless stare that I had seen too many times before. There was a small trickle and pool of blood around her head and neck, and I felt it on my hands as I reached to check her pulse in her neck. I checked as I had been taught, and then rechecked and lingered, but there was none. She was dead. In addition it would take several minutes to lift the vehicle, as the engine company with the Jaws of Life, and the air bags had not even arrived yet.

I told the doctor, that there was nothing we could do, she would be DOA. I advised the rescue crews as they arrived, and had someone double check me, just to be sure as we always did in these circumstances. I advised the police officers as well as they would have to make arrangements for the medical examiner, detectives, and accident reconstruction persons. I turned my attention rapidly to yet another young girl who was unscathed by this accident, but severely shaken up and extremely emotional about her friend’s condition. I directed some of the ambulance personnel in her direction, and then I went to check on an elderly man and woman, sitting in their vehicle very confused and shaken. It seems they had been the ones that struck this vehicle and caused it to flip in the first place. They were OK and did not need any help…or at least the type of help that I could give.

As we began to stabilize the scene, and secure the area, and reroute traffic, I glanced down the road and saw a man, with the look of shear terror and panic on his face begin to run toward the scene. He made eye contact with me, and as our eyes met he began to run toward me and began screaming where is the lady driving that car, where is the driver of that car, that’s my car…that’s my wife. From his vantage point he could not see the twisted lifeless legs sticking out from under the vehicle, he could not see the pool of blood draining from his wife’s body, as we had covered her body. As he got closer he looked at the back of the vehicle and saw the legs, twisted at odd angles, with one shoe on and one off, and realized his worst fears. He began to scream at me, and get violent, wondering why we were not doing anything for her. It is difficult to explain to someone that the amount of head injuries she had, she was brain injured and died instantly upon impact. Further by law, we could not move her or extricate her from under the vehicle until the scene was investigated and the medical examiner arrived. A shocked and grieving husband does not want to hear any of these, nor does he understand any of these. With the help of some police officers we were able to restrain him, and get him to release his violent forceful hold on me.

We got the man into the back of a police car where he began to sob uncontrollably. I stepped away, and backed up as I always do to see the larger scene. It was a busy day, we were in the middle of a highway interchange, there were lots of flashing lights and emergency personnel everywhere, but there was no sound…nothing at all. I looked at the husband sobbing, I looked at the elderly couple unaware that they had just been the cause of the end of a young life, a small stream of blood was running from underneath the blanket, to serve as an eerie reminder of what had just happened.

 I checked with my Lieutenant in charge, I asked him if he and the crew were OK emotionally, I asked him if he needed any additional resources, and I turned, got into my vehicle, shut off my emergency lights and drove away. There was a burden of sadness that I have never felt before…I came to help…I couldn’t help the injured, I couldn’t help the living, and at that moment I felt like I couldn’t even help myself.