Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A test of what the heart can handle

As a result of a certain chain of events I am moving back to Maine later than I had initially planned and because of this the job that I initially wanted is no longer available. But as with everything fate has a habit of dropping things in our lap and another position has opened up with the company I used to work for at a base in the community that I grew up in. But before I can express my concerns I've got to share a bit of a back story....

Several years ago my parents were on a vacation on a road trip to Florida. I was still living at thier house at the time and I was sitting in the living room browsing the Internet at about 1am. The scanner was on and I heard the tones go off for the local ambulance service, the very one that I happenned to work for. Normally when I'm at home I have the scanner off. I was working as a dispatcher at the time and on my off days I liked to not have to listen to what was going on in the town and in the county, but this particular night it was on and after hearing the tones I wait for the address. I heard it and jumped out of the recliner.

An ambulance had just been dispached to my grandparents house for a female in her 70s who was short of breath. I knew that there was no way in hell my grandmother would have my grandfather call an ambulance unless something was seriously wrong and so I grabbed my personal jump kit, my radio and ran through the neighbors backyard to my grandparents house. I found my grandmother laying on the porch, she had gone outside for some fresh air because she wasn't feeling well, my grandfather had gone to check on her and found her like this. The long & short of it is that my grandmother wasn't feeling well because she was in heart failure. Pink, frothy sputum pouring out of the mouth, look of terror in her eyes when she saw me heart failure. In my heart I knew that it was already too late. When the ambulance pulled up I yelled to them to grab the suction & the oxygen and to just get her on the stretcher and in the truck- no time for dicking around with much else. I left my grandmother in the hands of the crew on duty and went to tend to my grandfather and explained that she needed to go to the closest hospital tonight because she was very, very sick. As the second crew pulled up I sent them to the first ambulance to assist and when they opened the door I saw a glimpse of my colleague doing chest compressions on my grandmother.


I had been in EMS long enough to know that it was over, but I was still in denial. I got my grandfather situated and ran back to my house to get some shoes and to bring my car over to drive my grandfather up to the hospital. I called my sister and I called the hotel my parents were at. The crews left and I pulled the 2nd ambulance into the driveway and locked it up so it would be out of the way & secure and I then drove to the hospital, stopping to pick up my sister. My aunt met us there and when I walked in through the ER doors the medic on duty just came out and said "I'm sorry, Matt" and hugged me. I had to explain to my grandfather that his wife of over 55 years was dead. I made phone calls to my other sister, I called my parents and had to tell my dad that my grandmother had died. I don't remember much about the rest of the night other than I finally wound up at home, sitting alone on the living room floor crying with my guitar in my hands singing a Melissa Etheridge song - Talking to my Angel

Don't be afraid
Close your eyes
Lay it all down
Dont you cry
Cant you see Im going
Where I can see the sun rise
Ive been talking to my angel
And he said that its alright

I don't remember much about the next few days. My parents made it home, my sister drove up from Massachusetts and my aunts were constantly checking on me. My family was concerned that this event might cause me to not want to work in EMS any more but I think that it helped to cement my desire to continue my EMS education.


So now I am returning to Maine and I am applying for a position in the same community that I grew up in. This past winter my grandfather was out snowblowing the driveway, he put the snowblower away in the garage/basement and decided to start a fire in the wood stove while he was down there. He got the fire started and as he was walking away he slipped and fell. He was unable to get up and no where near a phone and so after a few minute he realized that he had to get upstairs to a phone so that he could call for help. My 80 year old grandfather pulled himself across the basement floor, pausing to drink melting snow from the snowblower because he was so incredibly thirsty. He got to the stairs and somehow managed to pull himself up the stairs one step at a time until he got to the top. He then pulled himself across the floor to call my mother. My mother went over but before she left the house she called for an ambulance. Once again my friends and colleagues responded and transported my grandfather to the ED with a fractured hip. Given that he spent so much time on the floor he also developed rhabdomylosis which is not a good thing when you've got some minor kidney disease to begin with.

So, back to my current situation. There was a lot of talk about how it must have been comforting to my grandmother to know I was there with her when she took her last breaths. And now I'm applying for a position in the community that I called home for so long and I can't help but wonder if this turn of events is part of a greater plan. Does this mean that I'm supposed to be there when my grandfather dies too? My grandfather is now 81 years old with renal failure, diabetes, obesity & hypertension working against him. I don't know if I can do it a second time, especially if I am the responding medic.


Cheating Death said...

Wow. That's a lot to take in. I'm doing everything I can to not work in the area my family lives in. Likely my own family will always be there, but extended family is tough. I take some of this harder than I'd like and can't imagine what that must have been like.

I find it challenging enough as it is--I run into patients all the time, and I have transported 2 members of 1 family 3 times total this month. Getting hard to do anything without running into patients.

Kalem said...

When I sang out loud ME's lyrics as I read them it gave me chills. I'm sorry you had to bear witness to her passing. Not an easy thing to go through. Next time we talk remind me to tell you about my grandfather's passing and how it affected me. Very similar feelings. I'm anxiously awaiting a long overdue trip to Fuji...