THIS WEEK IN DEAD PEOPLE

Lord my blog is morbid! i forget sometimes, because it all’s become a pretty harmonious aspect part of my everyday life, but then I scroll down the past bunch of entries and make boggly eyes at some of the shit that’s come up. Anyway, for an ongoing collection of stories that are so much about death, the thruline really is Life: sustaining life, living life amidst death, letting go of life when the time is right. Alladat.
aaaand, this week is no different. It was a morbid ass week, i won’t lie, but only in that tumultuous, joyful, challenging way that it so often is in my job.

Started with The Stench. Never a good job to get. I think PD gets it as the FOUL ODOR, for us it’s a CARDIAC ARREST because if something smells SO bad you have to call 911, it’s probably dead. Fire trying to get themselves canceled the second they get there- “Um, you really gonna need us? It says Possible DOA in the job descrip…” which is an absurd excuse to leave because “possible DOA” can mean anything from dude taking a nap to…well, to what we ended up finding.  So i tell Fire no, y’all comin up there with us, possible DOA or not. As I’ve said before, the main thing you need on a Cardiac Arrest is enough hands to have CPR ongoing while we do the other stuff, and I wasn’t about to be the jackass that cancels Fire only to have a just-died dude on his hands and no one to pump the chest.

When the elevator door opened on the third floor, the whole Fire crew literally took 1 step into the hallway, did an about face and went poof. And at that point, I couldn’t blame ’em. The smell of human decay is singular, unmistakable, unshakable. Some EMT showed up out of nowhere acting all cocky and loudmouthed about something, I don’t remember what, so we let him go in first. He opened the apartment door and then we all had to move out of the way while he ran retching in the other direction and then was never heard from again. Poked my head into the apartment, not breathing through my nose at all. Didn’t see anybody, just a dingy old onebedroom, cluttered with old magazines and piles of clothes. I peeked alittle further in, but the door was one of those swings shut quick behind you joints so I kept one foot blocking it. The air was thick and nasty and ahhhhh yes, there on the couch was the gentleman, lying peacefully on his back in a state of total Indiana Jones style decay/damn-near mumification. I hadn’t noticed him because he was so perfectly still, obviously, and so many different colors that a human being should never be. 
It’s possible that I said “Where’s the dead guy? Oh.” But I can’t confirm that.
Anyway, we made a quick retreat, ganked PD’s paperwork so we could write the guy’s info down from the safety of our air conditioned ambulance and then went out to breakfast.

The next night we started out with a 55 year-old dementia patient who’d turned up dead on the floor of his nursing home room. He was on the young side, but otherwise, it was the same nursing home “we just saw him alive 5 minutes ago” routine, when clearly he’d been down much longer. It’s maybe one of the saddest parts of my job that I’ve come to expect that kind of utter-incompetency and negligence from nursing homes, but that’s what it is. He probably didn’t have a chance but we did what we could. The family showed up halfway through, and we tried to have them stand outside but the son, a tall cat in his late 20s who was fasting for Ramadan and had been an EMT for a few years, just stood there shaking his head and saying he’d seen it all before. Family reactions are hardest when the death comes out of the blue, there’s no time to brace for the impact and it just seems to sweep people up and knock them over like some angry wind. The son stood there solidly while the patient’s wife bawled on his shoulder. I don’t like prolonging the uncertainty. As long as we’re working on him, all that maybe maybe shit gets drawn out, when really, it’s not a maybe maybe situation. So i call, get a time of death and that’s that. The son thanked us and then swooped around his mom like a big bird and the true mourning commenced.

Then some lady called us because her back had been hurting for like 18 years and she just couldn’t take it anymore.

At six or so that morning, an asthmatic woke up barely able to breathe. He told his brother to call 911, put himself on a treatment and died. We got it as a DIFFBREATHER first, “…unable to speak in full sentences…” (never good) and then as we approached it became a CARDIAC ARREST. The brother had started CPR right away, and the EMTs were doing those real good ribcracking compressions, and the guy was only fifty-something, so everything was basically in place for him to pop back around, but still, he was flatlined, which is the deadest rhythm your heart can possibly be in, and he didn’t change in the first 20 minutes of working on him. I did a round of compressions, felt the crunching of breaking ribs beneath my hands, then handed it off to fireman and stepped out the room to call Medical Control.
Passed the guy’s ancestor shrine on the way down the hall. I was on hold with telemetry, so I just gave them a nod and mumbled ‘go take care your homeboy,’ and then the doctor picked up. Laid the presentation out to him, got a few more medications to give and came back in the room. The EMTs are still pumping on his chest. I push the meds, we do some more CPR and then stop to check a pulse.
“Pulse!” the EMT yells. “Strong one!”
Indeed it is – a good solid pounding up his carotid artery. His blood pressure’s a healthy 148/72, his heart’s a little fast, but that’s to be expected considering everything. Okay. now we have to move. People that come back like that can look really really good until all the sudden they’re not, and then there’s a tiny window when you might be able to get ’em back stable but it’s real touchy, and really, they need an ER at this point. So we scoop him up, gather our shit, carefully carefully lift him on the board, because if we dislodge the tube right now it’s a wrap, and bustle him off to the ambulance. Downstairs we recheck everything: his heart rate is still good but his pressure’s diving. The recently-undead can be so finicky and unpredictable with their blood pressures! It’s not low enough to intervene yet, and given said finickiness I tend to be a little tentative about putting major gamechanging medications on board prophylactically, which is what the lieutenant on scene thinks we should do.
So i hold back on the dopamine, and sure enough when we get him in the ER and they take his pressure it’s through the roof high, 180/100 or something, and any kind of intervention would’ve skyrocketed it into guaranteed stroke territory. We give the report, the doctors are always a little wideeyed that such things happen outside of hospitals, and they take over. Before the shift ended we check on him up in the CCU and he was in an induced coma, his body being inundated with cold fluids to preserve the tissue, but he was still alive.

WE ALMOST LOSE A KID

One of the biggest decisions a medic has to make is Grab-n-Go or Stay-n-Play.
Most of the time it’s relatively simple- trauma’s are always grabngo as I’ve talked about before, because trauma patients really need a surgeon to help them, so whatever we do to ’em we do it enroute to the hospital, ideally. Most medical situations are the opposite: we ‘re equipped to do for an asthma or heart attack what any ER would do in the first line of treatment anyway, so it’s worth taking the time onscene to get the IV, the EKG, do the full workup.
Kids can seem like they fall into the inbetween category. When a kid is critically ill it feels like a trauma job because people are freaking out, tensions are high, there’s a certain element of chaos that makes you wanna go go go and be gone no matter what. Adding to that tension is the high compensation/sudden plummet thing that kids do. Unlike adults, who will spend hours sometimes circling the drain, kids tend to compensate and compensate and compensate- sure they’re struggling but they look okay, right? and then suddenly they’ll just turn blue and crash completely and  die in a matter of seconds. A good medic knows that, and it makes us anxious to pass the potato, but we also know that what happens in those fleeting moments between life and death determines whether a patient makes it or not.

So this kid was big for 13. A hundred and seventy-five pounds actually and foulmouthed to boot, and he was standing outside his house at 3AM flagging frantically at us. He stumbles over to the ambulance as we roll up, his pants falling down. “I’m gonna fuckin’ die!” he screams and jumps in the bus, crapping himself as he goes. Now, people saying they’re gonna die- you know that’s neither here nor there. You get the people that say it over a fight with their ex and then you get the people that look fine, say they’re gonna die and then do exactly that, which yes is creepy as hell. But you can’t fake crapping your pants- it’s always a bad sign whether asthma attack, heart attack or trauma, it means the body is giving up less essential functions to concentrate on the only ones that matter.  The mom came running up a second later. The boy laid out on the stretcher, gasping and started turning blue. I mean, the kid literally used his last drip drops of life force to  make it to us and then everything started giving out.

Moments like that, the world goes into slow-mo. Actually, we were moving pretty fast, but it felt like hours as I moved across the bus and pulled open our medicine kit to find a syringe and the epinephrine. My partner was dealing with the oxygen, setting up an albuterol treatment, and I’m wondering if the kid’ll even be breathing by the time we get it to him, but I can still hear his tight little gasps and his mom sobbing for us to help him. 
The stupid epi comes in stupid little vials that you have to crack open and extract the liquid from painfully carefully with a needle. It sucks. drip drip drip. 0.1 mgs and I need 0.3. Drip drip drip. Gasp…gasp…gasp. “Please, he’s turning blue! Help him!” I hear the shushhhh of the oxygen (Finally…only seconds later though…) and Mike straps the mask onto the kid’s face as the treatment seeps out in a little cloud. It’s a start, but epi is the real turnaround medication. Finally I hit 0.3 mgs, grumbling, and I stab the kid in the arm and push the meds in and exhale.

But he’s looking worse. “I think we’re gonna haveta tube,” Mike says. I nod, throwing the defibrilator pads on the boys chest so we can get a read out on the monitor and shock if we have to.  A tube is a last ditch effort for someone in respiratory failure. It’s for when the body simply can’t breath for its self anymore and so it allows us to do the breathing for the person. His heart rate turns out not to be so bad- it’s 110, which is about normal for someone having an asthma attack. (Kinda bad woulda been much much faster that, 140 or 160 but really really bad woulda been slow, anything below 70 would signal him sliding straight down the drain at any second.) His oxygen saturation is crap though. That’s the percent of o2 that’s gettin to his blood. It’s normally %97-%100. Someone struggling to breath might be down to %80something and we’d be pretty concerned. This kid’s is %54.

Mike opens his mouth to intubate but the boy is clenched up. It means he still has some fight in him, but still…I take a quick look to see if there’s an IV to be gotten, but he’s large and nothing popping up. The moment to move has come. The first lines of medicine are onboard, the oxygen is flowing. Stay and play is over. I put on the machine gun scatter siren and blast off to St Johns, giving the notification breahtlessly as I go (“13 year old…male…(pant pant)…imminent respiratory arrest…(pant pant)…vital signs are as follow…(pant pant)) and make it there in 2 minutes flat. Mike has popped an IV and some more meds in on the way, bless his soul. I can tell the epi has done its thing before i even get out of the driver’s seat- the kid is coughing and crying. People who are about to code don’t cry. He’s moving air. I hop out and by the time we roll him inside Little Big Man is actually talking, almost in complete sentences.  “Jesus Christ!” he pants. “I almost fuckin’ died!!”