I Forgot to be Human
I remember the day vividly; it was beautiful hot and sunny day in 2013. I cannot recall the exact day or month, but the details of that day are forever imprinted into my brain. It was just another day at the base, we checked off the aircraft and went inside to do our daily duties. I had not been on the job long at this point, maybe a few months if that. I still had creases in my flight suit if that tells you anything. The tones dropped and my pulse went up. Lifesaver 4, scene flight request, Talladega county, Alabama. Luckily, we were green for weather and we accepted, it was go time. IRENE, F***ING IRENE! Walk around performed, our bell 407 fired up and we took off. Talladega was a short flight time for us, once we got to altitude and the pilot called his info to air comm, we quickly got coordinates and scene info. We would be rendezvousing with a ground unit at the local hospital heli pad. Air comm, “Your patient is a four-year-old female struck by a vehicle.” Externally, I responded, Ok, let’s go, internally, I said “F***.”
As we circled Baptist hospital, I could see the ambulance already backed up to the Heli pad. We landed without incident and went to do our thing. As I approached the ambulance I could see blood coming from the bottom of the side door. “Well that’s a first I thought.” It would be the first of many throughout my flight career. As I climbed in, I remember seeing white hair beads in the young black girls hair. I will spare the details of her appearance, but one can imagine the scene. She was unresponsive on the stretcher in care of two medics. This would be the first of three failed intubation’s I would experience in my flight career. Due to major max-face injuries, throat trauma and an arrogant baby flight medic, I couldn’t get the tube. Mike and I placed an LMA and decided to go, baby girl wasn’t long for this world. We loaded her up and headed to Children’s hospital. We had not even gotten to altitude when she lost her pulse and coded. For those unfamiliar, coding someone in a helicopter is like wrestling a midget in a closet. It is damn near impossible to run a quality code while flying. We had a twenty-two-minute flight time to Children’s hospital.
We never go a pulse back. The trauma team at Children’s did a phenomenal job, but this little angel’s injuries were to much for her little body to endure. Dr. Winkler, Children’s head of trauma gave us a silent and stoic nod when the team called time of death. I do not recall the time, but I remember her white beads hanging off the edge of the bed. I remember looking through the glass at her lifeless little body and having a strangely numb feeling. Some of the nurses came out and said sorry. I stopped and talked to my friend and old partner Debbie who was one of the respiratory therapists on the code team. She patted me on the back and said sorry. I was more worried and pissed off about missing a tube to see the larger picture. I had been in this ER many times throughout my ten plus year career. We cleaned the blood from the aircraft and returned to base. “Just another day in the flight world. You win some, you lose some. Well, that was a learning experience. Mike, what could I have done different? Am I cut out for this? Am I supposed to be here? We don’t miss tubes at Lifesaver. Why can’t I stop f***ing thinking about this?” These are just some of the things I remember saying to myself over the next few days. I made a host of excuses why I had missed that tube, why she died and what wasn’t my fault. I tortured myself over that flight for a long time. Honestly, she was dead as soon as that Tahoe hit her, it wasn’t my fault. Some of the best could have missed that tube, right?
It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t the tube that was bothering me. It was the fact I had watched the life drain from that little girls body. I remember the pop of her sternum as I started doing CPR on her. I remember, the white beads in her hair. When I left work the next morning, I stopped to get coffee and an energy drink. I looked down at my boots and realized that my black flight boots were covered in blood from yesterdays flight. Upon further inspection, there was still blood on the legs of my flight suit. Well that is weird I thought to myself. I paid for my coffee and monster, loaded up and went home. It was a somber drive back to my house. I was single at the time, so my dogs were the only ones there to welcome me. I took the garden hose to my boots and thought about her white hair beads. After showering and a quick breakfast, I began my daily routine of drinking, nothing to hard early, beer. I remember sitting on the couch thinking about her white hair beads and the fact that the package store was about to open. A twelve pack was always a good start to the day, but I do not recall how many I had that day.
That flight bothered me more than I wanted to admit, but I choked it down and it eventually became a distant memory, or so I thought. As my career progressed and the flights came in, that flight was pushed to the back of my memory, except those white hair beads. I would see beautiful little girls all the time with hair beads, I would think of her. I never knew her name, just the little girl with white hair beads. Our base was one of the busiest in state, so there was no shortage of flights to lay on top of hers, but she stuck with me. Maybe it was my ego about the tube, maybe it was her white hair beads, I dunno. I remember one of the nurses at the base giving me crap about missing the tube, not the fact that we had a bad flight. She is always with me, a distant painful memory from years past. I saw a little girl today at the park with my beautiful little girl, she had hair beads. I looked at my precious little angel and I teared up. I teleported through time back to Talladega, Alabama on the heli pad at Citizens Baptist. Today is May 17th, year 2020.
One of the biggest mistakes I made that day and throughout my career was I Forgot to be Human. That call would bother most people, if not, you are a sociopath. I did not give myself space to mourn that little girl. Someone’s daughter, grand-daughter, cousin, friend. As we do with our mental garbage cans, I stuffed it down, ignored it and tried to drink it away. I donned the mask of my flight suit and superhero mentality and pressed on. Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life. My ego, the identity and pride prevented me from honoring what I was feeling. The booze prevented me from processing that day. It is normal, what I was feeling was normal. It is ok, we see bad stuff and it is ok to be human. Our ego will tell us to suck it up, press on, stop being a b****, etc.; The white hair beads will always be there. It took me a long time to realize and admit that it is not normal to watch a child die. It sucks, to see something so beautiful and innocent be taken so early. To be honest, it is not normal to watch anyone of any age die, but children definitely sting more. I made a mistake and did not allow space to feel human.
When we refuse to let ourselves feel human, we create damage mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, proverbial cracks in our foundations. When we do not allow for healing, we set ourselves up for greater injury down the road. We must take out the trash. One can only stuff it down for so long. The mind is like a garden, you have to pluck the weeds. It is less work and easier to pull weeds as you go. Most of us just let it run wild until our gardens look like something out of a horror movie. This is where depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, obsessive compulsive disorder and numerous other mental health issues arise. This is where Dis-Ease or Disease lies within often made worse by substance abuse. We mask the human with anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and booze. Yet, the white hair beads are still there, and they still hurt.
Today, hundreds of miles away from Talladega, Alabama and seven years later, I smiled when I teared up. “You human son of a b***** I thought, look at you, feeling. It is ok bro, cry. Remember that precious little girl and her white hair beads. Protect your daughter and son the best you can, you are doing ok. Take the trash out and don’t forget to be human. If you have white hair beads that stick with you, reach out. Get some help and be human. Like I said, it’s ok to be human. It is a normal physical and emotional reaction to an unnatural event, but you have to get help.
You are doing Great.