It’s never too late to learn to trust your gut, to take a risk, however small, and to be amazed by what happens next. This happened to me some twenty-five years ago, when I was in my mid-forties:
It was 2:00 AM on a hot Saturday night in August when the beeper on my night table went off. A call at that time of night usually meant an automobile accident. A call on Saturday night usually meant the accident was drinking related. I was part of my towns’ volunteer ambulance corps and had weekend duty. Shaking off the drowsiness of sleep interrupted, I [drove] to the ambulance building and met the two crew members I would be working with. We got the accident’s address from the police, then took the ambulance to the scene as quickly and safely as possible.
At the accident site, police cars shone their flashing lights on a small car wrapped around a large tree. Paramedics from the local hospital arrived about the same time we did. Hopping out of the ambulance, I grabbed one of the first aid bags and ran to the mangled vehicle. There were three young adults in the car. The driver had only bumped his forehead, which was bleeding. He was conscious and alert. The passenger sitting in the back was in a lot of pain from a possible broken leg, and was very combative. The young man in the front passenger seat was trapped in his seat, seriously injured and unconscious. The front right side of the car had wrapped around his legs and torso, and the door was crushing him.
The fire department arrived. More lights flooded the scene. An array of three EMTs, two paramedics, four policemen and perhaps five firemen all busily attended to the injured. After the other emergency workers got the driver and the back seat passenger out of the car, I positioned myself in the back, behind the front seat passenger. Putting my hands on either side of his head, I held him firmly while another EMT put on a cervical collar. A paramedic speedily checked his vital signs—he was extensively injured, but alive—they started an IV and stopped whatever bleeding needed immediate attention. Together, the teams of first responders made a plan to extricate him from the car.
I continued to hold his head and I began talking to him. He was unconscious, but I sensed that he could hear me. For many years, I had worked with the elderly, some of whom were at the ending stage of life. I would sit with them and, though they were unaware of their surroundings, I felt they could hear
my voice. I believed that hearing was a last sense to go, so I would talk and the tranquil sound of my voice did calm them. Sometimes, as a service to our community, we would pick up an elderly patient at the hospital and transport her back to the nursing home. Usually our frail, white-haired passenger was hard of hearing, but that didn’t deter me. I would sit next to her, hold her hand and continue an ongoing one-way conversation. My fellow corpsmen teased me for doing what I did, and maybe they thought I was a little loony. But I didn’t mind their kidding. I liked to make people feel comfortable, and this was one easy way to do that.
"Okay. Hi. My name is Susan. I am an EMT and I am here to help you. I’ll stay with you and talk and tell you what is going on." And so I began as I knelt in the back seat of the car, with bright lights flashing all around us and machines making all sorts of noises. My hands, with some of the young man’s dried blood on them, still stabilized his head. I talked about what was happening from moment to moment. The firemen placed a blue tarp over us for protection from the windshield they were going to have to shatter.
"Now don’t get nervous, you will be hearing a loud crashing noise when the guys batter the front windshield. They need to do that to make it easier for us to get you out of the car. Not to worry, you will be fine. I will be here with you. Boy, it sure is warm under this tarp. Okay, get ready, here comes the crashing windshield!" And with that the firemen’s ram burst through the glass. We didn’t see it, but we sure heard it and we felt the shattered glass thundering on the tarp raining down on us.