It is not uncommon for me to wake up with a song in my head. Actually, I'd say that it would be uncommon for me to wake up without some sort of tune to sing. They aren't always songs I know very well, but they are more times than not. The interesting thing is that I don't know where they come from. I don't sleep with the television or radio playing and the morning songs are rarely ones I listened to before going to bed. Somehow, in the space of the night and of my dreams, they appear.
My second alarm finally forced me from bed at about a quarter to five Monday morning. I'd spent the night in Smallville with Jessie and had a two-hour drive ahead of me to Lakeland for my 7a shift. Like many mornings, there was a song in my head... Or, rather, a piece of one. Five words.
"Are you afraid to die?"
The line is from a Ricky Skaggs gospel song that has been sitting in my iTunes shopping cart for monthes. I'd never heard before finding it on iTunes and I hadn't heard it -- with the exception of the 30-second iTunes preview that I would play occasionally -- since. Yet, those five words and a pretty good version of the melody played on a loop in my head all morning long. I wondered aloud to Jessie and to the guys at work if it was some sort of omen.
Working Memorial Day, we weren't exactly sure what to expect. Although you might imagine otherwise, most holidays tend to be slow. We ran a small medical call about an hour into the shift before settling into our recliners and warming up the xBox. About 11a, a buddy and I were in the middle of a game on NCAA Football 2006 when the second call of the day came in -- a lady possibly not breathing.
We hustled down to the rig and over to the house -- only a few blocks from the station. While enroute, I didn't really have a gut feeling for what we were going to encounter. That changed when we arrived and were met with the "Oxygen In Use" signs on the house. Instantly, I knew the call was legit.
Inside the house, it was a typical code -- everything worked against us. There were a ton of family in the room. The patient was on the far side of the bed. There was little room to work. There were no working lights in the bedroom. She wasn't breathing and she didn't have a pulse. No one knew when she was last seen alive and I would have bet good money that there was nothing we could do to save her, but we gave it our all anyway.
Our captain was on vacation Monday, so I was riding the officer's seat for the shift. Our shift doesn't worry a lot about giving and taking orders. We're all free to make suggestions and whoever is in charge obviously has the overriding vote. So, when I say that I was acting captain, don't picture me as a guy pointing and shouting. Picture me as a guy saying "good idea" or "let's try this instead."
I never got a count on family members, but there had to be six or seven in the bedroom with the patient and the three of us. It was crowded and it was time to adjourn the meeting. I made a big sweeping motion with my right arm and proclaimed quite forcefully, "I need everyone out of this room right now." On the job, I usually think before I speak... but I'd already given the order -- which I would have done anyway -- before I gave it the first thought. I keep replaying the scene in my head not because it's profound or important in any way... but because it's tangible proof of good instinct -- my brain knowing what to do without having to be told.
Before we moved the patient to the floor, I looked behind us to make sure the room was still clear. A small girl -- no older than three or four -- had walked in silently to watch us. I ushered her away and we went about the business of working the code. No child needs to have the last memory of mom or grandma with firefighters doing CPR.
When it comes to cardiac arrests, I tend to fall in one direction or the other. Either I dive head-first into the action or I step back and try to see the big picture. If acting as captain, I should almost always do the latter. However, with only three firefighters on scene... It's easier said than done. Monday, however, was a step back day. I let the guys do the bulk of the CPR and I coordinated -- calling for police assistance, requesting volunteers for manpower at the station, meeting and briefing the responding ambulance. The more years I get on the job, I realize that there is enough work for everyone. And although much of it isn't glorious, it's all important.
After an extended time with the ambulance on scene -- few things went right for the paramedic, either -- we loaded the patient up and sent her off to the hospital. With a bit of drug intervention and a lot of CPR by our firefighter who rode in the ambulance, the medic said he picked up a few beats on the monitor. Unfortunately, they were weak, they didn't last long and she was pronouced at the hospital.
Looking back, I take the strangest things away from calls like this. I rarely remember patients' faces. I especially don't remember their names. Instead, I remember little pieces of an incident. One this one, it was when a family member asked me if the patient's heart was beating on it's own and my reply, "No, ma'am, we're doing that for her." Those pieces are the ones that provide the most perspective.
In one minute, I was playing xBox. In the next, I was knee-deep in a family's worst day. I was in their house telling them what to do. I was the one delivering the news that their loved one was in grave condition. I carried their mother or grandmother out of the house and to the ambulance -- never to return. And then, with the patient transported and the scene cleaned up... I went back to my life. We ran other calls. We ate lunch. We played more xBox. And when Thursday morning rolls around, we'll do it all over again.