My First…

I can still smell the freshly cut grass baking in the summer sun and feel the breeze chasing leaves through the trees. Just one thought brings me back there to that time, to that place. My life forever changed as another life ended and I tried in vain to save it. I was young, naïve, and unprepared for the journey that life was telling me to take.

I was fifteen years old and He was in his seventies. His life ended there in that field and My life’s passion began next to his final call from God. The shock of seeing death close-up sparked emotions in me that I’ve never quite felt again. I was unprepared for what I was going to devote my life to and like every lesson EMS teaches a person, being unprepared was MY problem. EMS was ready for me to be taught.

My first code was my friend Roy. I was working in a Boy Scout Summer camp as kitchen help and Roy was the long-time camp director. He was retired US Navy, a sea-dog who had found his second calling in shaping boys into Men one summer at a time. He was a friend and father figure to all who knew him. I was truly honored that he had given me the chance to work on his staff. I had been coming to the camp for years as a boy and had finally been hired on as a staff member. I thought that it was so cool, the fact that I was the camp dishwasher notwithstanding. I was THERE. I was a part of things. I was what I had looked up to for so many years of my young life. I’ve always wanted to work in helping others. Probably because my father was a small-town Fire Chief and owner of the local hardware store and my Mother (the Saint) is a teacher. I’m trying to teach my son the lesson that my family taught me, that my family helps people.

I was fascinated with EMS, first-aid, the fire service, CPR, and anything with flashing lights. I had no clue of what I was trying to get myself into but I wanted to be a part of it. I even tried to petition the state into letting me take the EMT class before I was 18 years old. They said no, and I was crushed. Undaunted, I still learned as much as I could, read EMS textbooks, and waited and wished to be part of my first real emergency. I wanted to help people so badly that it burned inside of me. I was the classic young Ricky Rescue, whacker, or whatever you call an EMS geek in your neck of the woods… I laugh at it now, but it was no joke then. It consumed me. Maybe if I would have spent that time learning how to pick stocks, or how to play the guitar, or how to hit a baseball I would have been better off; but I was infatuated with EMS.

It’s funny now, because as much as I do it today after ten years or so on the truck, I’m still in love with it but I control it and not the other way around. I don’t have any EMS tattoos, nor do I wear t-shirts emblazoned with silly EMS slogans. I *do* have a blue emergency light in my car, but it’s simply because my volunteer department runs around 3000 calls per year and we’ve only got around 8 paramedics to respond. When we’re getting third and fourth calls out sometimes I have to get to the station real quick like. I rarely use it.

One hot, sticky summer day I was busy washing the hundreds of dishes dirtied by a dinnertime full of hungry boys. I was looking out the window of the dish room when I saw a car rocketing across the grassy main field of the camp towards a camp site. It was strange and was very abnormal. I ran outside to see what was going on and saw a commotion at a camp site on the far side of the field. I ran towards it. I wanted to know what was going on. I was a staff member. It was my job.

Being a teenager, I made the quarter mile sprint with ease. I ended up looking through a crowd of people that had gathered and…

Holy Mother of… that’s Roy! They’re doing CPR! Oh my God…

I had to get up there to help, and help I did. There was an adult there who said that he was a volunteer EMT from an ambulance service somewhere. I said that I knew CPR. We performed 2 man resuscitation on him using the strictest Red Cross CPR procedures. 15 compressions. Two breaths. I was giving the breaths without a barrier device. He was throwing up.

I don’t know if you can tell as you read this, but I’m getting chills as I write. I can still taste the vomit in my mouth. I can still feel it burning in my nose. This was almost fifteen years ago and I can see it and feel it now as I write about it as clearly as if I was there. I am writing this at a fire station as an experienced paramedic with an ALS ambulance, a fire engine, and a ladder company within 30 feet of me and I have the urge to take the ambulance out and go save Roy. I wanted to save him more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. I’ve saved my last two codes. I can do it now. Let me go back.

You know that it ended badly. I didn’t. I did CPR until I was relieved by the local volunteer BLS ambulance. They hooked up their new AED (a shiny new LIfepack 300!) and it announced “shock advised”. Two shocks and continued CPR brought on a “no shock advised”. They transported him to an ALS intercept 25minutes down the road. The ALS crew worked on him for the 25 more minutes to the hospital ER. The ER pronounced Roy dead.

I had huddled with the other staff members in the camp command post. We were proud of our efforts and were confident that our CPR skills had prevailed. When we got the call, well… you can imagine how the youthful joy turned into something dark and devastating.

My Father and Mother arrived because they’d heard the call go out over the radio waves. One of the EMTs on the ambulance had called them to tell them of the bad news as well. We took a long walk around the camp while they listened to my story. After that, Dad began to talk.

He told me of the patients that he’d lost as a firefighter, as an “ambulance driver” in a Cadillac, and as the Fire Chief. He told me of notifying parents that their children had died. He told stories of great pain and sadness that only an emergency worker knows. I’d never really heard him talk that way or tell those stories. Then my parents gave me a hug and let me know that things would be ok in time. And they were.

But Roy’s the first patient that I carry with me. He’ll always be there and I’m glad to have him in my psyche. I came to that Boy Scout Summer Camp as a boy. I left a little closer to being a Man.

  • The Happy Medic

    Powerful stuff, CK. Thanks for sharing something so amazing. I hope there are EMT students reading this.

  • Medic7

    Chills. And touching.

    I still remember my first CPR, over 20 years ago. I close my eyes and I'm right back in that house, smelling the man's cigars and the dog bed that was next to the guy's easy chair.

    Man… thanks for sharing that tough story.

  • Anonymous

    My first was also in a Scout Camp. He was an adult friend, and I was not so well trianed. He got al the attention he desreved by 3 EMT's, an RN, and an PA. but they couldn't save him. I stood on the outiside and felt helpless. I vowed I would never suffer that feeling again and I got some training. Now I serve as a Captain of a volley squad and I do it in his memory. Every call I run, I think of him.
    Scouting rounds a guys out.
    Capt. Tom

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  • Great posting. I can remember my first cardiac arrest like it was an hour ago…even though it happened over thirty years ago.