Friday, February 17, 2012

To the Rescue cont.

The first impact was too soft, I was worried that some portion of her might get in the way so I went easy. She giggled more and her towel fell down obstructing my view, I reapplied the towel and lined up another shot.

I nailed it a good one and I could see the vibrations from the impact translated across her flesh like the ripples of a stone tossed in a lake. The giggling continued with every hit, it was annoying her giggling, just the squelly tone and rise and fall of it like a roller coaster, grated on me.

I had to get the damn toilet off, sweat was now pouring from my forehead and getting in my eyes. My lieutenant asked if maybe one of the other guys should give it a shot. I said no as I once again moved her towel back into position and out of my face.

After too many delicate swings of the hammer I decided to whack the hell out of that damn bolt. It worked and the bolt went flying. “Got it.” I scrambled to my feet and helped the others pull the bowl.

Now you see firefighters have sneaky ways about them. My partners knew that once Mrs. Sthuck was freed, she going to have to be reexamined  medically, and none of them wanted to do it. That meant who ever carried the toilet away would be exempt from the task.

A slight tug of war over the prized piece of porcelain ensued, I lost and the two other firefighters got possession of the bowl. “We’ll just carry this to the garage Lou.” “Yeah.” Was all the Lou said. I turned to address Mrs. Sthuck.

“Okay Mrs. Sthuck let me check you out before you get to moving around too much.” The towel had to be reapplied again. “Are you hurting anywhere?” I asked. She gave kind of a whole body shrug in an attempt to elicit any pain. “Well my back hurts, but it always hurts, and my legs have the pins and needles thing going on.”

I did a quick head to toe survey and found nothing out of the ordinary. “Let’s see if you can stand.” The Lou and I got in position to assist her to her feet. Good thing she had mostly dried out by now and we hadn’t put any lube on her arms or torso.

“Okay you ready Mrs. Sthuck?” I asked, “Yeah I think so.” “On three” the Lou said. He counted down and with all our collective efforts we restored Mrs. Sthuck to her feet.

She stood there nude, her hands out to her sides’ palms open just getting a feel for standing again. I grabbed the towel and tried to cover her. The children cheered their mother’s rescue and they squeezed past me to hug their mother.

“Oh thank you guys so much.” “No problem mama, that’s what we do.” Said the Lou, “If you’re sure you are alright we will be getting back in service now. Have a better day.” Said the Lou.

“What about my toilet” she asked. “I’m sorry.” The Lou turned back to her. “You have to put my toilet back.” “Oh sorry Mrs. Sthuck but we can’t do that. You need to contact a plumber for that.” He smiled at her.

“You took it off, now put it back.” Her tone changed abruptly and took on a very nasty edge. “I’m sorry but there is a liability if we put it back, if it were to leak and damage your house the city would be liable, so you’ll need to get a plumber or maybe a friend could help.”

“So you are refusing to put it back?” she took an aggressive and naked stance, it was unnerving to say the least. “I’m not refusing I’m trying to explain to you how this needs to be taken care of.”

“What is your badge number?” she asked. “We don’t have badge numbers, but I can give you one of my cards.” The Lou dug in his pocket and retrieved one of his cards and offered it to her. “I need you to write down all of your names on the back.” “Okay.”

The Lou began writing down the names as the other guys returned. “What’s going on?” asked one. “I’ll tell you what’s going on, your boss here won’t put my toilet back, so I’m going to file a complaint on all of you.”

The boys gave each other a look, “We’ll be with the truck Lou.” And poof they were gone. “I’m sorry you like that Mrs. Sthuck, my hands are tied on this it is a department policy. Is there anything else we can do for you before we leave?”

“If you aren’t putting the toilet back then it is time for you leave.” She kind of hissed this one. I was moving I didn’t need to hear or see any more of Mrs. Sthuck.

Sure enough she was good to her word and a few days later our district chief stopped by to discuss the call with us. The Lou explained it in detail and the chief took notes. None of us received any discipline over the matter but the department did pay the plumber’s charges.

Some days you are hero others you’re an ass.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

To the Rescue!

How about something funny today? Many times firefighters have to be problem solvers, and not problems of the mundane but extra ordinary problems.

The call came in early in the morning just at shift change. Shift change can be a confusing time for a job. Some people are getting off work, others are coming to work and a handing off of the metaphorical torch is in progress.

So a job right off the bat had a tendency to catch us unprepared, mentally unprepared I should say, for we are always at the ready. There is a difference between having the resources at the ready and having your mind at the ready.

The call was a rescue, a person trapped. Dispatch informed us that this call was initiated by children and that it was in reference to their mother being trapped in a bathroom.

As always my mind jumped to likely causes for the situation. I was drawing a pretty big blank on how a person could become trapped in a bathroom. I supposed the doorknob might have come off, that could happen.

I had seen a woman trapped in a bathroom by a teenage boy’s pet alligator once. The woman had taken a shower at her sister’s house, her nephew owned a small alligator maybe as big as a foot and a half or so, and he had been playing with the little guy prior to going to school. But had failed to return the tiny beast to his cage.

The ferocious little reptile had wandered down a hallway and decided to take a nap outside the bathroom door for some reason; I don’t know maybe it was attracted by the humidity of our victims shower. Anyway when she opened the door to exit the restroom she was confronted by the hissing and snapping creature, and totally freaked.

We arrived to find two women, one in a towel dripping wet, and the other with a broom and dust pan in hand trying to corral the alligator and he wasn’t having any of it. The little guy was very agitated and doing his best to defeat his much larger opponents.

My parents owned and operated a pet store most of my childhood so I was somewhat acquainted with most exotic pets and how to handle them. I excused myself, stepped around the alligator wrangler, and picked the gator up by the tail. By the reaction of the nearly nude woman you would have thought I had just carried her out of a fire.

Her towel dropped as she gave me a huge hug after I had caged the pet. Now firefighters in this kind of situation, a nude woman do have a chivalrous spirit, we averted our eyes while she retrieved her covering. We got cookies out of the deal and undying devotion.

The airbrake hissed as we stopped in front of the house, jolting me out of the memory. Two young children a boy and girl under ten each were waiting for us. “Help, mommy is stuck in the bathroom.”

We hurried into the house and down a hallway to the bathroom where we found Mrs. Sthuck, really. Mrs. Sthuck was a large woman and it seemed that while showering for work she had slipped in the soapy environment and tumbled out of through the curtain.

Her fall ended with her stuck tightly between the toilet bowl and tub. She looked kind of like risen dough. Her skin was pasty white and shinny from the water, and she was in real distress.

I introduced myself and first wanted to ascertain if she was physically injured from the fall had she struck her head or broken a limb, anything like that. The quick exam indicated she was for the most part uninjured.

She had a history of back injuries and her primary complaint was just that, her back hurt. Now we tried to determine a course of action. Being firefighters our first instinct was to just grab her and pull her out of there. She was soaped up and wet so we had a chance of slipping her out we thought.

No go, she screamed in pain and the attempt. Now what? The lieutenant suggested we try and lube her up with medical lube. That was our next unsuccessful plan, she wasn’t budging and now added a complaint that her legs were going numb.

I was concerned that given her history of back problems she might have some sort of spinal trauma. One of the other guys said “Let’s just pull the toilet and get it out of the way.” Great idea.

We gathered tools for the job all the while reassuring Mrs. Sthuck and her frightened children that it would be over soon. During the process Mrs. Sthuck modesty began to wan and she became uncovered frequently despite my efforts to continually cover her. I even added some large bath towels in an effort to preserve her dignity.

Now toilet bowels for the uninitiated are held in place by two simple bolts at their base. First you turn off the water, flush the remaining water down the drain, and bail out the water that is left.

The first bolt was no problem as it was plainly exposed. It took me a couple of whacks with a screwdriver and a hammer to knock it off. A strange phenomenon occurred during the removal of the bolts, Mrs. Sthuck began to giggle with each strike of the hammer and the towels again fell off.

As she couldn’t see us and neither could the children we all exchanged a curious glance. For the second bolt I had to lay on my belly in the cramped little bathroom, my knees against the wall across from the toilet, my feet in the air.

To gain access to the offending bolt Mrs. Sthuck flesh had to be held out of the way as I didn’t want to hit her with the tools. One firefighter had to position himself in the tub, lean over and roll her bulk out of the way. The other had to actually stand on the commode bend down and try and control more of her abundance, a difficult task as the medical lube although wiped off did leave a slippery surface.

My lieutenant asked if we were all ready and gave a countdown to the first hit. I don’t believe I have the skills to exactly explain my view at this point, but it might have resembled what the ring on a bakers hand sees as dough is formed.

I lined up the screwdriver.

Oh sorry here I am at 1000 words again, see you tomorrow

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A very personal story.

I have to preface this post. I have been requested to write a personal story for a publication that deals with grief, bereavement and an increasing occurrence of suicide in firefighters. This is a very personal story and an exposure for me, but I am willing to share it in the hope it might help another. So understand I don't share this in an effort to generate sympathy from you. I share it with hope in my heart.

As a firefighter/paramedic for more than 30 years I can safely say I have pretty much seen it all. I have seen death in every incarnation and life as well. We on the front lines are not invited politely to join in the fray of life; no we are thrust into chaos on a daily basis, it’s our job.

It is to say the least an unusual profession, no two days are alike and no two emergencies are alike. The environment is rarely predictable and the events and people even more unpredictable. Yet we go.

Who takes care of us? Our families? They try, I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, they can’t imagine what we do or see.

I know many days I felt like a human garbage collector, picking up the waste of society. People although fascinated with the gruesome, macabre, or terrifying only see it from a distance. We hold it in our hands and get it on the soles of our boots.

For me personally I decided to treat my condition, my discomfort with alcohol. The ease and comfort that came from a bottle was a welcome house guest. I could turn off the noise, shut out the visions and thoughts with at first a few beers and in the end gallons.

I was haunted by the calls where I was powerless, where all my training and knowledge were useless, where the patient still died in spite of my best effort. Those people visited me on my days off. They came to me in my sleep. Only the situation changed.

I would relieve a terrible T/A in my mind, only the replay was altered. Instead of the real victims of the accident I would find my family trapped in the wreckage of mangled steel and chrome. And I would still be powerless to help; now the screams I heard in my restless mind emanated from the throat of a loved one. No sleep would come, no peace could be found.

So I became accustomed to passing out instead of falling asleep, I became used to coming to instead of waking up. For years that got me through it, and then it stopped working. Now what?

I could seek treatment; lord knows it was offered on a regular basis. Every time we had some particularly horrendous event the good old Stress Debriefing Team came around to offer us help. My problem was this. I saw that most of my co-workers appeared unaffected, they were dealing with it, even joking about it.

Was I some kind of weakling, why was I so disturbed on the inside when those around me remained intact? If I sought help and the others learned of it, would I be considered less than?

I was a badass firefighter, a seasoned veteran, even looked up to. How could I be seen as weak? Simply put I couldn’t. So I pushed on, I drank more, worked more and everything around me began to crack and fall apart.

My inability to seek help had real consequences. My family life was in tatters, my finances were in ruin, my health declined and my madness grew.

Finally on a warm July night, drunk again I crawled into the cab of my pickup truck, closed the garage door, found an appropriately sad song and passed out with the truck running.

Only by chance did my wife discover my suicide attempt, without her intervention my effort would have been a success.

Now I was in the hands of all my co-workers, she had called 911 and guess who showed up. My peers, from the fire engine, to the ambulance, to the cops, then on to the ED where my physician advisor was attending me. The only thing that could have been more embarrassing would have been to have my parents in the emergency room for a tour.

Just like work I was thrust into the system, I was placed on a 72 hour hold and confined in a mental facility. I was placed on a work contract and forced in to counseling.

Sometimes you don’t know the best days of your life while they are happening. It is only through hindsight that you make that discovery. I finally got the help I so desperately needed and had my feet firmly placed back on the ground.

Is this the method I would recommend as a path to treatment? Obviously no. If you hear anything here, know this, you are not alone in feeling the way you might be feeling. My story might sound specific to my career as a firefighter, but it isn’t.

We all have experiences that can be overwhelming, insurmountable, and feel hopeless. So what the hell, give the people that can help you a chance, all you have to lose is everything.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Never Wanted to be a FireFighter.

I Never Wanted to be a FireFighter.

Friday the Thirteenth cont.

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.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Firefighters have superstitions.

After a few years of firefighting a pattern emerges for certain types of superstitions to grow. They may seem as ridiculous as superstitions found in other endeavors, but none the less they persist.

I have heard of professional athletes that engage in rituals to maintain a winning streak, they won’t change their lucky jockstrap or allow their uniform shirt to be washed, things like that.

Good news is firefighters don’t, as far as I know wear jockstraps, so no worries about that kind of conversation coming up in the firehouse. “Hey Timo is that you or your cup?” never happened.

We do have some superstitions though. I was a big believer in full moons influencing the general population. I also felt that weekends had an effect on people and if you coupled Friday night with a military payday all bets were off on having a normal shift.

Although I was first exposed to this belief system in my early days of service, my real life experiences cemented the concepts in place over the years. The time of year also had an impact on call volume, but that component was easily explained by logic and wasn’t hitched to the supernatural.

More people are out playing and partying in public parks in the summer, more people sled in the winter and so on. But the phenomena of a full moon, military payday, weekend causing weirdness in the world, was in my mind a fact, not explainable by logic.

One pleasant afternoon I was working at firehouse number seven on a Friday the thirteenth, I hadn’t really signed off on the numerology component at that time, but this day changed all that for me.

At 1:00 in the afternoon following a hardy lunch we got tapped out on a medical call; severe bleeding was all we got. Off we went in to Friday the 13th at 1300 hours.

In route we were advised by dispatch that we were rolling on a “cat attack”. We all looked around the cab at each other, “Did I hear that right?” I asked, “A cat attack?” “Yep” said Tommy my friend and driver.

Colorado is home to some big cats, we have mountain lions, bob cats, and lynxes, problem was firehouse number seven wasn’t located in the foothills where such creatures were found; no 7’s was in the middle of a major thoroughfare and surrounded by commercial property and residential housing. Not the most likely place to find a big cat.

My officer shrugged, keyed his headset and questioned dispatch. “Dispatch from engine 7, did you say cat attack?” dispatch came back with an affirmative, it was a domestic cat. Now we unfortunately found that funny. I said “Oh no a kitty attack, I hope the cat isn’t still on the lose.” Tommy said “At least it isn’t stuck in a tree.”

The house was pretty close to the station so our response was fast; the address was 1313 such-and-such street, seriously. The other firefighter brought this to our attention, “You guys remember today is Friday the 13th right?” “So?” I said. “It’s one o’clock, 1300 hundred hours, and the address is 1313. Just saying.” I said “I’ll bet it’s a black cat.” This brought laughs all around, kind of tense laughs.

We pulled up out in front of a basic little house indigenous to this neighborhood. No commotion, no waver or pointer, just a little house. We grabbed our gear and proceeded to the front door, the interior door was open, the screen door closed.

I looked in. Oh my God, there was blood everywhere, all over the walls and floor. It looked like a ritual killing or something. Once again I was caught flatfooted; all the joking about a kitty had allowed me to slip into a casual frame of mind. My mind slammed into high gear.

I hesitated to open the door, what the hell kind of cat was this? The others stacked up behind me ramming me into the screen door. “What the hell Timo?” my lieutenant asked. “Look in there Lou.” He slipped past me. “Hold up guys.” He grabbed his radio, “Dispatch from engine 7.” “Go 7.” They replied.

“We need animal control here if they aren’t already coming and PD.” “Copy engine 7 animal control and PD.”  And that is when we heard him. “Help!” came a call from inside. At that point, when you hear that call for help, your fears fall away. I didn’t give a damn what kind of cat we were dealing with, someone needed us.

I pulled the door open in time to see a man stager down a short stair case in front of me. He had a blue bath towel held tight against face, the blood turning it purple. “Help me.” He moaned. I slipped a little in the fresh blood and gripped his shoulder. “I’m a paramedic with the fire department, I need to see your face, so I’m gonna pull the towel away for a look. Okay?”

“Okay” he answered. I gripped the towel gently and peeled the side away from his face. Never seen anything like it in my life, if you can imagine what it would look like to put a person’s face through a document shredder that is what I saw. I quickly pushed the towel back into place. “Just keeping holding it like you are sir.”

Thank God the ambulance paramedics were right behind us. “Hey guys, this is gonna be a code three return, spike a couple bags and we’ll bring him to you.” They were a bit dazed and flatfooted themselves, cat attacks will do that to you I guess. They both spun on their heels and dashed back to the bus.

I enjoyed a reputation as a pretty good medic so when I was serious those around tended to be serious as well. “We’re gonna have to guide him to the ambulance.” I told my crew, “Sir, we are going to lead you to the ambulance, you just hold that towel as tight against your face as you can.”

Sorry guys hit a 1000 words again, I’ll finish tomorrow.