Willis Hoffpauir has been there, and he still has the t-shirt. Literally.
“I barely remember the crew from the (rescue helicopter) visiting me in the hospital to bring me a t-shirt.”
But visit him they did, in a Memphis trauma center, days after crews extricated Willis from the car wreck that almost killed him.
The t-shirt no longer fits, and he considers his amnesia a blessing, but he learned secondhand what first responders did for him.
“Apparently a nurse witnessed the crash and removed something from my mouth that I must have been eating to prevent me from choking,” he said.
It’s the sort of thing that would gross out the average human completely, but it’s just another day on the job for people who save lives for a living.
I trained in emergency medical care in high school. I’ve bandaged a wound or two. I tended to a waitress who passed out in a restaurant where my folks and I were dining, recalling my training: If the face is red, you raise the head; if the face is pale, you raise the tail.
Once I even climbed into a freshly wrecked car to aid the unconscious driver. She soon came around and climbed out the rear window, against my advice. Sitting on the curb, she asked me to retrieve her purse. I complied.
These incidents taught me how good it feels to help another human being in need. They also taught me I am in no way cut out to do this work for a living.
What “First Responder” Really Means
Sometimes, nothing a responder can do is enough, and they have to deal with the consequences.
After a particularly bad wreck, the chief of the New Market Volunteer Fire Department told me about the scene. A deacon with the Baptist church, his eyes glistened and his voice trembled as he spoke. It felt like a confessional.
“They were still alive when we got there. We just didn’t have anything to work with.”
Still, though, success stories are the rule, and when they get a chance, patients are quick to share their gratitude.
“I have had lots of encounters with EMTs and paramedics,” Linda Wood Turner, who deals with chronic health issues, said. “ … (T)hey are courageous, compassionate, caring and kind people who have always treated me with respect and done everything in their power to see me safely transported to hospital while administering medical aid. I have seen a few more than once and always say, ‘Hey! I know you! Thanks for your help before and now!’ “
Every day, people wake up in the hospital after shootings, car wrecks, near drownings, on-the-job injuries, heart attacks and strokes. When they go home, they thank the nurses, physicians, techs and everybody else who participated in the recovery.
But before any of that can happen, paramedics, EMTs and rescue workers must successfully remove the patient from harm’s way and transport that injured, ill, likely uncooperative, and possibly even violent person to a place of safety and care.
So the next time traffic slows down for a few seconds because an ambulance is zipping through, try not to get frustrated. Somebody in there is having a very bad day, and everybody else on board is trying to make it better.
And the next time, it could be you.