Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Not long ago I was the lead paramedic on a cardiac arrest of an elderly woman who had collapsed in her home.  When I arrived the woman's frantic son was looking on as two fire department paramedics and an EMT were starting CPR and additional advanced life-support treatments.  I could see the terror in his eyes as his mother lay on her back in the middle of her living room.  He paced back and forth asking questions, looking to do anything that he could to help, to make a difference.

As the lead paramedic this was my scene to control and orchestrate; decisions were made and treatments started according to the very latest in resuscitation literature and guidelines.  The woman was placed in the ambulance with ongoing good CPR by one of the EMTs; rhythm strips, IV's, drugs, endotracheal tube, shocks, more drugs.  Despite our efforts the woman wasn't responding and was pronounced shortly after our arrival at the hospital.

Sitting alone in the ambulance I worked on my report trying to remember the details of the call.  Quickly I became hyper-critical of my performance, thinking about what I could have done differently, anything that would have led to a better outcome.  I beat myself up for several minutes going over the events in my mind, until finally I looked down at my clipboard and saw the woman's smiling face on her drivers license staring up at me.  I remembered that I had hastily grabbed the card from her son so that at least I would have a name when I arrived at the hospital.  She smiled at me as if to say, "Hey you did the very best that you could, so stop beating yourself up".  In a moment I realized that the call wasn't about me and my performance but rather the woman who was somehow forgiving me, smiling from a piece of plastic.  I pushed my report aside and strode back into the hospital to seek out her son.  I think that's what she would have wanted me to do.

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