September 21, 2009
I often wonder how you can describe color to someone's that never seen it, beauty to someone that's never beheld it or horror to someone that's never witnessed it. It's the soul that allows the blind to see. Maybe not in the way we see...but "see" just the same. In spite of all the beauty this world has to offer or the capacity that man has to love and be loved, there's a darker and completely opposite end that's cold, malicious and hideously cruel that should never have to be witnessed by anyone.
A few nights ago we were working like field hands in the local emergency room where I moonlight as a registered nurse. The number of patients we've been seeing lately is unusually high for this time of year - due in part to the frenzied panic being caused by the extensive media coverage given to the potential for a Swine flu epidemic. People are almost falling over one another getting to the ER fearing the worst for even the simplest of symptoms (runny nose, low grade temps, cough, etc).
So, by 4am the nursing staff was dragging around like zombies when we received a call I'll never forget.
I answered the phone and was greeted by one the paramedics employed by the ambulance service. I recognized his voice immediately and was just about to start complaining about him bothering us as we were about to take our first break of the night. Before I could get a word in he calmly said "You guys need to activate the Trauma System." My ears perked up. He continued "I'm in route with a 96 year old female who's home was burglarized and the suspect threw hot grease all over her! She has second and third degree burns over 40% of her body. We've got an IV established and have given her Morphine. We're about 9 minutes out."
At this point my head is spinning. Did he say 96 years old? Did he say boiling hot grease?
Immediately we began to mobilize the trauma team - the ER doc, nurses, respiratory therapists, x-ray personnel, and lab.
Once the ambulance arrived the patient was far worse than any of us imagined. She was awake, alert, talking and her skin had been almost cooked! This poor little frail soul that had no prior medical history was in the fight of her life - a fight for her own survival. We knew we only had a few minutes to get her stabilized enough to be airlifted to the nearest accepting trauma burn center.
In cases of severe burns, especially involving the face, the airway is compromised within minutes. Severe tissue swelling causes constriction on the trachea making breathing impossible. She had to be intubated immediately. Intubation usually isn't the biggest problem - if it's performed in time. Infection is the most life threatening complication. The largest organ in the body - the skin - has been destroyed. Everything must be kept as sterile as possible. You need sterile sheets, sterile towels, sterile gloves, masks...the whole nine yards!
She was intubated successfully and started on a Propofol drip (name ring a bell). The flight crew arrived after daybreak and rushed her off to what I'm almost certain won't be a favorable outcome.
Thinking back I remember almost everyone fighting back tears as they cared for this beautiful soul. We spoke softly and reassuringly to her; even after she was deep in the clutches of Morphine, Versed and Propofol we handled her as gently as possible.
I don't know who she was but I know she didn't deserve what happened to her in the wee hours of the morning Saturday. A life God had granted with good health, sound mind and longevity was destroyed by a soul-less street thug with a heart as rotten as putrid meat.
Once I left work that morning I called my mother and shared with her what I had witnessed. It was during our conversation that I finally broke down and sobbed like a baby as I drove the 30+ miles home. I'll never forget that poor woman's face or stop hearing her moan in pain.
Life - in all it's beauty and splendor - can leave you with images no soul should ever have to see.