Last weekend we had a bad one. There was an ATV wreck way, way, way up in the mountains. It took us almost two hours to get to our two patients, who were banged up pretty bad. It was the worst case scenario kind of an emergency call. The one that you hope never happens but you kind of fashion your drills around. The one with every WHAT IF included in it. Lucky for us, this scene didn't involve anyone dying - then it would truly have bee the absolute worst.
It felt like one of those calls where nothing goes right. Everything we tried to do was harder than usual. Even accessing the patients was Way Too Hard. On some scenes, everything flows smoothly, we work together, it's fluid and graceful and efficient. This was not that scene. This was all miscommunication and frustration and Not Doing Enough.
I have spent some time going over in my head and with the other first responders that were there what it was that went wrong, and other than EVERYTHING, we couldn't quite pin down the worst parts. All of us feel like we underperformed, we were not at our best, and I think the biggest reason for that is that we were dealing with an injured friend.
Sometimes as EMTs, we're able to compartmentalize the emergency that we roll on because we can separate ourselves from the injury - it isn't our emergency, we are just here to help. But when it's a friend - or family - there's a built in need to FIX, and wondering what we could have done to prevent or avoid or help. I know that for me, there was nothing I could have done that night that would have felt like enough. And it made me angry. My friend was hurting and I couldn't fix it. All I could really do is hurt her more to get her where she needed to go. It's a terrible feeling to add to someone's pain, even if it's necessary. That's one of the reasons I am not IV qualified anymore. I know how important that stuff is, but I don't like being the cause of any pain. That's not a valid excuse and I am considering getting my advanced certification, because if my friend had been any worse off I would have been hating myself for not being able to give her an IV.
As parents, most of us have had to pry a kid's hand (or head) out of the back of a chair, or a railing somewhere when they got it stuck. Invariably they cry and it hurts, but as parents, we know what has to be done and we do it. It's the same deal on a bigger scale. If only we could keep our friends and family from sticking their damn heads in the railings. But life is chaos. It's messy and crazy and shit happens. All the time. To everyone. We are massively blessed that this kind of an accident doesn't happen every single weekend up here because the craziness always does. And it's craziness that could just as easily been me, or my kids or any one of us. Those of us that insist on enjoying life and getting the most out of it are sitting ducks for disaster at one point or another.
It violates my sense of control-freakishness that I can't prevent every accident from happening, or know what terrible choices my children, or siblings, or friends might make, or what insane accident they might wander into at any given moment. I can't make bad things not happen to the people I care about, no matter how much I will it. All I can do is be there and try to help. But when it's my people that are hurting, it never, ever feels like enough. It's an almost paralyzing sense of inadequacy. Like my skills are totally worthless. Why am I even here? I want to click my heels and get back to Kansas and not be the one that is Not Fixing It.
The patients from our wreck made it out ok, finally, after way too many hours, being manhandled by 37 people, three ambulances, and two helicopters. The sense of relief from handing a patient over to someone who has more training than me is immeasurable. That's probably why I stay a basic - so I can pass the buck. But in the moments (or hours) that there's no one to pass to, it kills me to not have more tools in my backpack. Maybe that's the motivation I need for that advanced class. Maybe my friends should just stop getting hurt.