I decided to put up a few more chapters of my book: Men of the Skull- A Memoir of Fraternity Life in the 80s.
This one has nothing to do with Penn State. I mentioned many times in the book that I was, at the time, a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT.) I would eventually become a Paramedic, but that doesn't matter. I volunteered with an ambulance and a rescue squad. This was one of the Rescue Squad calls.
I still think about this one.
Doing this work radically changed some of my thinking back then. Back when so many people my age thought they were invincible, I looked death in the face. I watched friends die. I saw things that hurt and haunt me to this day. What does that do to someone still in adolescence? Well, it makes us less fun at parties for one thing. It puts things in perspective as well. And for someone who carried the Dark Secret I had inside of me?
Yes, I have PTSD. Not just from the Paramedic days, but from repressing my Truth and swallowing my Pain.
Writing about it really helps.
This is not a happy chapter.
Chapter 36: New Year’s Accident
Thursday, January 8, 1987 Shultz aide collaborated with North
GRAAAA! GRAAAA!!! GRAAAA!!! The Hurst Tool growled as Mike and Don used it to peel back the car’s roof.
She was still pinned by the dashboard. I knelt in the backseat and held her head as still as I could. We feared a neck injury, and the Hurst Tool was jolting the small hatchback. The glass in her hair left small cuts on my palms.
Hurst Tool: "Jaws of Life" circa 1980s
The roof was coming off so we could bring in a backboard to immobilize her transport to a hospital. After the roof, we would then tear out the dashboard which pinned her legs. We did that last in case the dashboard was acting like a compression bandage. We had to be ready- we didn’t want her suddenly bleeding to death.
The roof bent back exposing me to the cold, sunny, early morning sky. My breath was fogging the plastic face shield of my helmet. It really was a bright, beautiful day. So how the fuck did this happen? It’s not like there was poor visibility or slick roads.
The baby was hurt, but not too bad. She was in one of those new “car seats” everyone was so high about. Yeah, “Baby on Board” and all that shit. Seat saved her life. She was already on her way to the hospital.
We’d already loaded the driver of this car into an ambulance and he was on his way to a hospital as well.
The other driver had some bruises from where the seatbelt caught him.
But her- she didn’t wear a seatbelt. The car was destroyed all around her, sitting in the intersection of route 724 and
New Street. It was so torn up; all I knew is that it was
a blue hatchback, maybe a Ford?
Spring Ford Rescue Squad: Rescue 72. Yes, it's a converted plumber's truck
We waited for the helicopter that would take her to
. We couldn’t save her. All we could do is keep her from dying while
in our care. The MAST trousers were
ready for when we freed her from the wreckage.
MAST trousers are inflatable pants. The idea is that the trousers are inflated, cutting off almost all circulation to the legs so the blood stays in the trunk and head, keeping the person alive. Bad news- if they’re on too long, the person loses the use of their legs. Pretty extreme; but if they were needed, the situation was grim. MAST also makes a great pressure bandage and splint. We’d need a doctor’s permission to inflate them, as it takes a doctor hours to deflate them (otherwise all the blood flies back into the legs, none for the brain- dead patient.) Mrs. Kuklowski, as lead paramedic on the scene, already spoke to the hospital- we had permission to apply, but not inflate yet.
A couple of guys stood by the now missing passenger door with a short backboard and a long backboard. Mike and Don prepared the Hurst Tool for the job of pulling out the dashboard (up and over the hood.) My arms were getting really tired, and my fingers were numb from the cold. No, I wasn’t wearing gloves. Couldn’t take a pulse wearing those thick, heavy things.
With the roof off, we now had room. Someone reached in and put a neck brace on her. I still held the head, just to keep her steady.
Hydraulic Power Source for the Hurst Tool, circa 1980s
GRAAAA! GRAAAA!!! GRAAAA!!! The dashboard groaned, popped and broke free with a load CRACK! Quickly, the woman was strapped into the short backboard and immobilized. Over the growl of Hurst Tool, I could hear the beating blades of the helicopter approaching.
Flares popped over at a softball field, maybe one hundred yards away. The helicopter circled twice and landed, blowing twigs, dirt, and dead leaves everywhere.
Meanwhile, she was freed of the wreck and strapped to the long backboard for transport. One of the firemen held a tarp up as Mrs. Kuklowski and another paramedic removed her bloody jeans and put on the MAST trousers. She had leg injuries, but nothing severe enough to justify inflation yet. We then carried her to the field. Me and three other guys carried the board and Mrs. Kuklowski carrying the IV bag. Dirt blew everywhere and gravel bounced off my face shield.
Lehigh County Trauma Medevac at the time of that accident. Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm BO 105
The Trauma medics met us with their stretcher, to which we secured the long board. One of them did a quick assessment: feeling extremities, checking vital signs, determining if there were any internal injuries. “This woman recently had a baby,” she said while feeling the victim’s abdomen. “Are we transporting the child as well?”
“No, the child is already en-route to the hospital, as is the driver” Mrs. Kuklowski said.
I was amazed! How could she tell? Damn!
The helicopter paramedics surrounded the stretcher and prepped her quickly for the flight. I walked back to the intersection. The woman’s new looking white sneakers lay on the road where we left them when we removed them so we could put on the MAST pants. I picked them up, as well as the bloody remains of her jeans. Money fell out of the pocket- a LOT of money.
“Hey Mike! I said. He was nearby, coiling the hoses for the Hurst Tool. “Look at this!”
He walked over and looked. I was holding a thick roll of twenty dollar bills- at least five hundred dollars!
“Shit!” he said.
“Wanna split it?” he asked.
I looked at him and he laughed.
The pocket was useless, so I put the money in one of the sneakers. I put the jeans then the sneakers on the car seat where she so recently sat, talked, and bled.
I then helped Mike stow the Hurst Tool. The helicopter powered up and quickly roared away, covering the area with cold wind and flying dirt. A couple of firemen stood waiting by the scene with brooms- they would have to wait until the police finished their part investigating the accident. It would be hours before the intersection was opened again.
We did our part- we kept her alive until the helicopter could get her to more advanced care.
Pottstown Mercury, Jan 9, 1987
The wreck made the front page of the Pottstown Mercury the next day. You can see the sneakers in the picture, right where I left them.
The driver and the baby survived.
The mother didn’t.
She died at the
at 8:42 AM. Trauma Center
On a gorgeous winter morning.