To a young man,
I left school after morning classes were finished and arrived home expecting to take a short nap before I was scheduled to begin my first EMT shift. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to pick up my required EMT pants and belt. I quickly drove across town to the store with another medical student to pick up the items. After finally arriving home to take a pleasant nap on the couch, I could not fall asleep with the building anticipation of my night shift. I told myself that the chance of me experiencing anything extremely traumatic was slim, so I did not expect much other than the opportunity to interact with some patients and learn from the paramedics.
Little did I know what would occur that night.
The first several calls involved a variety of medically related issues, and I was able to perform primary assessments and take vitals on patients. I was grateful for the paramedic’s permission to construct histories and reevaluate patients on the way to the hospital. I felt both confident and secure enough in my ability to assist the EMS team. I began envisioning myself taking control of future situations and understanding the necessary procedures needed to be done for recovery. With the support of a strong, committed team of healthcare professionals, I believed that no patient would have to suffer once in my care.
That night I also began subconsciously to judge other people more than I thought I ever would as a future health care professional. I witnessed patients not take their prescribed medicine, call EMS for help for no apparent reason, drink excessively until they were unresponsive, and ingest illicit substances for recreational use. I judged these people completely off my initial perception and interaction with them, not caring about their name or their life at home. I only thought about their vital signs, treatment options, while dumbfounded in most cases by their apparent lack of care or knowledge about themselves.
At roughly three in the morning while I sat with my paramedic team at a local fire station waiting for potential calls, the radio call sounded aloud amidst the quiet and humid morning. We were alerted that two patients had been struck by an electrical generator and were isolated inside a restricted power area. For the first time since my first call of the night, I was excited to help assist in the first trauma call of my career.
We arrived to meet several police cars and fire trucks already on the scene. Shortly after we had positioned the ambulance half way down the hill leading to the power area’s entrance, another ambulance had arrived. I exited out of the back doors of the ambulance to see a group of police officers and firemen shining a light at two figures in the distance. I walked down the hill carrying needed supplies and walked towards the officers. I could see two unclothed young men in the middle of a small electrical power facility. I stood in complete bewilderment that they had scaled the tall barbed-wire fence and completely ignored the warning signs of potential shock. I began to chuckle at the apparent absurdity of the situation, and I thought of any possible reason why they would be there. I could not think of anything.
After some time, it was reported that both individuals had been severely burned and flight EMS was immediately notified. Law enforcement was in contact with the power company to shut down the power to the generator facility to allow the firemen and paramedics to safely enter the scene. My paramedic shouted to bring the stretcher down to the entrance of the facility and bring the burn blankets. When the scene was confirmed safe, EMS entered the electrical area while I sprinted to the ambulance to prepare the stretcher.
As I returned to the entrance, the first patient was being escorted out of the restricted area and loaded onto the first stretcher provided by the other ambulance. He was severely burned and loaded quickly for transport. Anxiety began to creep down my arms as my hands began to sweat, and I looked up to see you hurriedly carried to my stretcher. I helped load you and jumped in the back of my ambulance en route to the EMS helicopters that had landed on the interstate. My paramedic began ordering me to help her begin an IV and calm you down. I sat in front of your head and assisted with the start of the IV.
I looked down at you to find that your whole body was severely burned. From your burnt hair to the peeling of dead skin revealing your muscles, I could barely concentrate amidst your screams and calls for help. I looked into your eyes and tried to calmly converse with you to cooperate with the paramedic who was inserting the IV needle into what was left of your skin. What seemed like an eternity were only several minutes before flight paramedics entered the ambulance, and we quickly transported you to the helicopter. I maintained conversation with you until I lifted you up into the helicopter and saw the doors close. I sprinted away with the stretcher to witness the roaring helicopter and its bright lights rise and fly away into the dark night sky. I experienced an adrenaline rush that I would never forget; however, what followed that feeling was very different.
I felt hurt.
My heart was broken for you. I realized that I had no control over relieving any of your distress or discomfort. Despite my ability to efficiently transport you from the scene to the flight paramedics, I felt defeated.
I cannot get the image of you out of my head. I can sometimes still hear your screams echoing in the background of the night. I remember the touch of the remnants of your skin on my gloves and the smell of your burnt hair and skin. I still can see into your eyes that were calling out for help. I wanted to tell you that I went home that morning after my shift and cried in the shower. I looked down at my hands and realized that they had just held someone in desperate need. As I sat down in my shower with the warm water falling down my face, you made me realize many things.
You taught me that there are many things in this life that are out of my control. As a future physician, I know that I will not be able to heal everyone that I serve. You taught me how my previous judgments that night were a result of blind ignorance. I should have paid more attention to my patients’ integrity and inherent values. I realized that many people in our community come from homes that are unable to pay for medication. I realized that drug users could be suffering from depression and that some parents choose to feed their children rather than pay for their needed medication. I realized that I wrongly judged you and so many people.
I do not know anything about you, yet I know everything about who you are. You are one of my many brothers and sisters on this earth who I want to serve with a full heart. I do not care about the reasons why you ended up in that electrical generator; however, I care about treating you with respect, tenderness, and love. You made me want to love more and falsely accuse less. You have motivated me to study harder, to serve more compassionately, and to love relentlessly. Every morning and night I pray for you. I do not know whether you survived this horrible accident; yet know that your spirit will always be with me. You have left a lasting imprint on my heart.
Tee – a friend
About Tee Griscom
Tee Griscom is a first-year student at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. He was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, before heading to Furman University for his undergraduate studies. Football brought him to South Carolina, and he participated on the varsity team for a little over a year before deciding to focus more of time on studies and community involvement. He graduated Furman in May 2014 with a degree in Religion.
University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville requires that all first-year medical students become certified as emergency medical technicians and spend a set number of hours each month serving the community as EMTs.