We guided our man to the waiting ambulance and helped him in the back. The paramedic on the bus (we call ambulances a bus) had already spiked a couple of bags (he had prepared IV solutions) and had all the equipment assembled to start an Iv on our patient.
I got our guy on the pram (ambulance cot) he still held the purple towel tight against his face. I needed access to his arms to place the IVs, so I yelled for one of the other firefighters to jump in back with us and take over that job. I needed to fully expose his face once and only once to determine the full extent of his injuries.
“Okay…” I realized I had never asked his name and didn’t know what to call the patient. I always wanted to know their name it created a slight personal bond when I could address them by name.
“I’m sorry what is your name sir?” “Robert, Bob.” Came a muffled reply. “Okay Bob, I’m gonna pull the towel away just for a couple of seconds so I can see your injuries, then my partner here is going to take over that job for you.”
I told the other firefighter to grab one of our huge trauma dressings and be ready to slap that thing on quickly. I got a good grip on the towel and prepared to pull it away. I knew that the pressure he had been holding was doing a good job of controlling the bleeding; I also knew that pulling it off was going to reopen all the wounds to active bleeding again.
“On three, everyone ready?” everyone nodded. “One, two, three.” I ripped the towel away. The first thing that hits you is the acrid smell blood has and second is the visual image. Bob had a full thick beard like a mountain man, it was slimed with thick blood.
His face was in horrid shape and I tried to conceal my reaction, didn’t want to panic Bob anymore than he was already. “How bad is it?” he asked. His eyelids were shredded and gave the appearance of diagonal window blinds like the ones that cover a sliding patio door.
I had agreed in my mind many years earlier to never lie to patients. I never wanted to say things like, it will be alright, everything will be okay, or you are going to be fine. I wouldn’t lie. Over the years I had had too many survivors visit me and recount what they had heard while technically dead.
So I told the truth, not bluntly, I used some caution, but I didn’t lie. I always talked to my dead people and encouraged them to help me help them.
“Bob its bad. That cat did a number on you.” I talked to him while I was quickly touching his face and accessing the depth and severity of his wounds. The cat’s claws had not only gone completely through his eyelids, but also fully through his cheeks. I could see inside his mouth, I could see his teeth.
I won’t tell you more that isn’t my purpose here. “Bob, I’m gonna call ahead to the hospital and have a plastic surgeon in the emergency room when we get there. The lacerations are bad but your eyes aren’t hurt, and the rest is repairable.”
I nodded to the other firefighter to cover the wounds. I then went through the standard questioning about medications, allergies, and medical history, all the while starting two IVs and accessing his vital signs. Once Bob was stable I called the ED and asked that a plastic surgeon be on standby for us.
I had to know, I had to ask what the hell had happened. “Bob what the hell happened back there?” It was a little difficult to hear him but he told the story. Seems Bob’s kitty was an exclusively indoor cat, and that morning as he was rushing to get the kids to school and himself off to work the cat had slipped out the door.
Bob didn’t have time to retrieve the animal until his lunch break. When he got home he found the wild eyed beast outside of the front door. He had opened the door in hopes the cat would dart back in the house, but that hadn’t happened.
The terrified feline just trembled motionless at the opening. Bob decided to just grab the cat and put it in the house and go back to work. He bent down to get his kitty and it had launched at his face. The cat got its front paws wrapped around his head in a death grip and as he stumbled inside desperately trying to pry the animal lose he tripped.
The hard landing must have scared the cat further and it began using its rear legs like a rototiller on a spring garden patch. Bob couldn’t free himself from the cat for a few seconds and the onslaught was furious.
We delivered Bob to the capable hands of the emergency department staff. I quickly found the plastic surgeon and detailed Bob’s injuries to him.
Once back at the station I got the final details of the story. My lieutenant explained that the BLACK cat had to be corralled by two animal enforcement officers and finally subdued and taken away.
We found out months later that Bob had taken the cat back and that he had required multiple surgeries to have his face repaired. We found ourselves regretting haven discounted the initial call and learned that any and all emergencies are just that until proven otherwise.