8.15.2008

Burn

I write because it is one of the few things that makes me feel better. It makes me feel human, complete, sane again.

This entry is graphic. It's probably disturbing. I'm so sorry for that. I wish it weren't. I wish I weren't writing it. I wish my shift had been uneventful, that I had come home and been the same person I was when I went to work. But none of that is true. And so I write.


It's been slow all day. I've done maybe 3 IVs, and a handful more blood draws. I sit with my chin in my hand, tapping my foot against the cabinet lazily. I refresh the screen to see yet another list of completed orders.

"Come on," I whine to no one in particular, "can't someone order something on somebody!?"
"Eh, you've only got 10 minutes left!" Amanda smiles at me and snaps her gum. I yawn in reply.

I hear the squeak of sneakers as an ED tech comes running towards us. He's out of breath, and gets his sentence out in pieces.
"Guys...we have...two trauma codes...coming in."
"What?" I'm trying to figure out what the odds are of two separate traumas happening at the same time.
"Two little boys...badly burned...apartment fire."

I look at Amanda and she stares back with wide eyes. We grab our lab buckets and head to the trauma rooms to suit up.

I start from the bottom and make my way up systematically. Booties, lead coat, apron, gloves, mask and face-shield, and finally a hair cover. I start overheating immediately as we wait for the first to arrive.

Amanda goes to the second trauma room as I wait in the first. My hands are sweating as I set up the IV equipment and get the blood tubes out. I'm not sure if it's from the gloves or my own nerves, but little sweat beads form on my brow.

As my patient arrives, Amanda comes running in. I try to figure out what's going on, but I'm overstimulated. Amanda is crying and so is the little boy, but only one makes sense.

He's two years old with soot around his nose, his body dark and his hair singed. He looks up at me with confused eyes, and sniffles a few times.

"Oh god, Sam, I can't do it, I can't do it?"
"Do what, Amanada?" Tears are running down her face, and she just stares at me in horror.
"Sam, please go to the other trauma room. I'll do this one. Please, I can't do it."
"Okay." I'm confused, but I grab my bucket and head out.

I don't know what the smell is, but it makes me almost stop in my tracks. I quickly realize that it's the smell of burnt flesh. I push this out of my mind as I approach this boy.

My eyes widen and I feel my heart beat out of rhythm. His whole tiny body is burned. Skin is peeling off in sheets, and he turns to look at me. His eyes are as wide as mine, but glazed over slightly. I see them shut, and before I know it he's being intubated.

I pick a tourniquet out of my things and tie it around his forearm. I try not to think about what that will do to the skin after I remove it. I pick up his arm and look down. His tiny little fingertips are falling off. My stomach turns and I don't think, I just act.

As soon as I'm done, I leave the room, blood tubes in hand. Amanda looks at me as we walk back to the lab. She starts to say something, but stops as soon as she realizes I'm not paying any attention to her.

The third child, a girl, was flown to a bigger Trauma Level 1 center on the coast. We didn't have the resources to take care of him, but from what I hear, she wasn't doing very well at all.

Then it hits me. Three little children, all seven and under were in an apartment fire. Why weren't the parents in the beds next to them?

"Amanda?"
"Yeah?"
"Where are the parents?"
"In the waiting room."
"Why?"
"Um...because they're waiting?"
"No, I mean...why aren't they hurt?"
"You didn't hear?"
"No." I know what's coming, though.
"The mother wasn't in the apartment."

I try not to think, again. I see that I have another patient to get before I go, so I push everything out of my head like always.

"I need pain medicine," my patient moans.
"I don't do meds. I just stick." I know I'm being curt, but I can't manage to say anything else.
"Ohhhh, it hurts so bad. I need some demerol!"
"Your nurse is coming soon."
"Oh the pain! Can't you give me anything?"

I just stare at his arm as I secure the IV, saying nothing. I don't look him in the eye. I know that if I were to meet his gaze, I'd be unable to keep my composure. I'd yell at him. I'd scream, I'd cry.

Get the fuck out of my ER, I'd say. Stop wasting everyone's time so you can get high. Don't you know that there are children who are close to death? Don't you know that I don't have the time or energy to waste helping you get your fix?

But I can't. I have to treat him the same as I treat everyone else. I have to give him great care, and I have to manage not to piss him off. I succeed and leave before I can do any damage.

I clock out. I grab my things and just leave. I pass the mother of the children on my way out and I try not to ball my fists. I keep my face blank as I pass a few police officers as well. I hear some talk about the fire and just keep on walking.

I make it to my car before I break down. I call my mom and just cry. Sitting in the dark, all I can see is that little boy. All I can picture is those three children burning in their home, surrounded by smoke and flames. I can imagine the terror on their faces, the cries that no one hears. I avoid thinking about their pain, about what they were thinking. I just cry and cry to my mom.

I'm not quite sure how I made it home. I don't live but a quarter of a mile from the ER, but it's the longest drive of my life. Before I realize it, I'm back in my apartment, curling up in my bed, wrapping myself around a pillow.

It's going to be all over the news tomorrow, I think to myself. It's going to be popping up on websites and the various TV channels, but I don't want to think about it. I don't want to remember what I saw.

But every time I close my eyes, it's the only thing I can see.

14 comments:

Chris said...

I don't really know what to say Sam, other than well done. I can't imagine how hard it must have been, but you did it.

And not killing your next guy, well, that must have taken god-like self control.

Hope you're coping

Nikki said...

Oh, sweetheart...

That little boy's so lucky. He could have been processed by an ED tech who's seen enough of these terrible situations to be almost immune; instead, he got you.

You, with your big heart and your ability to still feel (while still controlling yourself appropriately), must have absolutely radiated love and comfort, even for the short time that you were with him - I'm sure of it.

He couldn't have asked for a better guardian angel that night.

Evil Lunch Lady said...

Oh my Sam! {{{hugs}}}!!!!!!!

J.A. Coppinger said...

You helped him. Never forget that.

You were there when he needed you and you made a difference for that little boy. I'm so sorry for how much that cost you personally but I thank you for being there and doing the job.

That's outstanding work, young lady!

Thank you.

Rach said...

Hey... just wanted to tell you that I had a similar situation during my last week in Israel on their EMS system.

I can totally empathise. It must have been impossibly hard. Take time for yourself and use all of your coping strategies - treat yourself well, sleep, talk to people.
We're all here for you.
If you ever want to talk...
rachelswideworldoflunacy@yahoo.com

~Rach

WanabeMD said...

Good job Sam, you did your job, and you kept it together when you had to, and let it out when it would help you. You're a great EMT and you're going to be a better FF/Medic.

VA FireMedic said...

and that smell will stay with you the rest of your life...but luckily, it wont effect you nearly as much next time because you know what to expect.

tracy said...

Oh, dear Sam,
i don't really know what to say either. Like the others, try to take strenght and hope in the knowledge that you and your compassion and kindness were there for that little one-that is the most important thing. i so wish there were some way i could comfort you.

love, tracy

Beaker said...

I just want to make sure that you know that being able to do what you did for the little boy was AMAZING. I don't say this lightly, but if my children were injured I would trust you with their care.

Plus, some more of what everyone else said, but they said it better than I could.

Brick City Medic said...

Jobs like that suck. Take it from someone who has been there.

Make sure you use your outlets; your blog is one of them. This helps with the healing. Also, don't be afraid to talk. Talk about it. Whatever you do, don't keep it in. That will wear away at you longer.

Anonymous said...

Seventeen hours!? How can someone sleep for so long? Well, what happened was that, there is a God that is in charge of when people get to sleep. What happened was that when your turn came to go to sleep, there was some kind of problem, so you was not able to go to sleep. Like being in an office, and waiting for your document to be printed from a central printer, and having to wait while all of the other documents are finishing printing. The Sleep God is a busy woman, so when you could not sleep, he simply felt he would put back in the queue until you would be ready to go to sleep...and when you were ready, you had all of these documents that were waiting from before. That is how it works, of course I also stayed in a Holiday Inn last night and so, I am qualified to speak on this topic!!!!

By the way, you are a true champion. You did everything that you could do. In due time, you will eventually let this go. I believe in you. Take care.

Medix311 said...

Oh my god, Sam!

I'm sorry I didn't see this entry sooner, or know this had happened.

I feel really close to you right now. I venture to say that I know very much how you feel about this.

You did your job, though. With professionalism and composure. You should be proud of that. And be proud that you have compassion and empathy.

Take care. I'm thinking about you.

Bernice said...

Lots of hugs Sam.

Life on Pause said...

Unfortunatly, I can say I've been there.

When I was 4 my dad was burned, badly, trying to start a campfire.

I saw him...I wish I hadn't but I did. And sometimes I still see that image.

I know it's hard right now, I know you're angry.

But trust me, it gets better....it'll get better hun. I promise.