Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Tough Day on the Job

I originally started this blog as a way to keep my family informed of things going on with my running as well as in life. It's like keeping a diary, only it's available to complete strangers as well. And as with a diary, you record fun and exciting things that happen in life as well as the sad or more unpleasant things. This is from the latter. As a firefighter (and paramedic) I see a lot of devastating things. The following may be tough for some people to read so if you're sensitive to bad things that can happen to kids, you may not want to read on. I feel weird writing about this, my husband is also a firefighter/paramedic so I'm lucky enough to be able to open up to him. But sometimes I just have to put my feelings down in words in order to start the healing process. It's similar to what Scott Dunlap experienced a while back. I know some people will understand.

No firefighter likes to run calls that involve kids. Since having my 2 girls (age 3 1/2 and 15 months) I've actually become better at running "kid calls" as we call them. I never use to understand children and I was never comfortable around them. My girls have changed that. I'm much better at getting down on their level, understanding them, comforting them, treating them. But on the emergency call this morning, being able to relate to my own kids made it much more difficult to perform. A 14 month old girl was in her crib next to a window. The window had the kind of shades over them with the long cord that hangs down. The baby got the cord wrapped around her neck and her father found her not breathing. We arrived at the house to find CPR being performed. Dad was holding a 3 year old little boy in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably. For a moment, it was like walking into my own house, 2 little kids, same age as my own, except for one big problem. The baby wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse.

We took over CPR and my first job was to try and establish a good airway using an endotracheal tube. I've never intubated a baby. Training tries to prepare you for this but until you've actually done it in real life, you don't realize how absolutely terrifying it can be. This baby's life was in my hands and my first instinct was to just pick her up and cuddle her in my arms and make her all better, the way any mother wants to. I almost lost it, but my years of training took over and I did my job. I was careful to not look around the house too much because I would see children's toys and stuff and it would make my eyes well up with tears. I had to treat this baby as a patient, keep myself distant, not let it become personal. There would be time for that after we got the baby transported. It didn't help that the parents were right there, watching my every move, crying and saying they just wanted their baby back. I just wanted their baby back too.

The helicopter arrived and we got the baby transported to the local hospital with a pediatric ICU. At the time of transport, she still was not breathing and didn't have a pulse. But kids are resilient and I can only hope they were able to bring her back at the hospital. At this time, I haven't heard from the hospital so I don't know the outcome.

I have a 50 mile race coming up Sat and I feel like Scott did when he ran Mt. Diablo. I can only hope the many miles spent along the American River bike path will prove cathartic. There may be tears. I haven't let myself go yet but I know it's there. Right now I would give anything to hug my own kids. They left this morning with my mom to spend a week with their grandparents on the central coast. I know they are safe and well taken care of and I can't wait to see them again.

Postcript: I just heard from the hospital, the baby didn't make it.


Anonymous said...

We do are jobs because we have heart, though we try at times, we cannot guard our hearts from the tragedy we see and we are laid bare to our emotions. There are no shields, weep for her loss, but take heart in the fact that you and your crew did the best as you could with a tragic situation. You have a good heart and it will see you through.

Gretchen said...

Thanks so much for sharing this Catherine, even though it's so sad. I had a bad day at work this week as well where I came home in tears, but stories like this really put things into perspective. I guess those kinds of days will happen in your profession, but honestly it's good to see that the professionals are not numb to the tragedies. You just have to know that everyone did what they could, and remember the days when you are able to save those lives. The anonymous quote above is very poignant.
Looking forward to HK tomorrow. Take it easy on yourself, as you know, sometimes running really strips us down to the emotional level. I'll look for you, maybe we can run some together!

Catherine said...

Anonymous and Gretchen,
Thank you both for the kind words. My mind agrees with you both, it just takes the heart a little longer to catch up.
Gretchen, I would love to spend some time running with you. I'll keep my eyes out.

Peter Lubbers said...

What a tragic event. You did the best you could, and we are grateful to have paramedics like you around.
Our thoughts are with the young family.
Take care,

Vicki said...

My heart goes out to what you went through at work. It never gets easier, does it? I can relate with working in a field where you have to deal with the most terrible tragedies most people don't see. Those in fields outside of fire, law enforcement or emergency medical services may not fully understand the pain and loss we experience along with the innocent victims. As Gretchen said, it's really a good thing that you do FEEL in a situation like this and are able to heal through the sadness. I'm glad you haven't allowed yourself to become numb to it all. It shows you care about the people you are trying to help, and really believe in the job you do. Let your heart take all the time it needs to catch up, and run strong tomorrow!
Take care my friend.

Scott Dunlap said...

Catherine -

From all of us parents, I can't thank you enough for being strong when the situation required it. I hope the miles brought you some solace on Saturday. It was great to have you with us. You looked great out there, and I DID see you smiling. ;-)

Looks like you got your Western States qualifying time on your first try! Congratulations. Looking forward to the post.


Gretchen said...

Hey, nice job on Saturday lady! Sorry I missed your finish, I was worried about falling asleep on the drive home. I wanted to pass on a pair of Innov8 running shoes to you as congratulations on your awesome finish. They are from Scott originally, and he agreed that you deserved them. You can email me from my profile (I think!) so send me your address and I'll mail you the gift cert. Hope your recovery is going well!