Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Deja Vu, Monsieur

Sit down to dinner with Tim, D squared, and Eric. Chaplain is a few tables down and comes over with his radio: "Guess what guys? GSW to the chest 15 mikes out."
Five minutes later "chaps" is leaving "Sorry guys, but the patient just rolled up." Eric is up and gone in a flash. This seems to be the recurring chow routine. Still missing at least a sip of coffee before we check out. Tim and I collect the leftover trays and make our way.

Patient hits the trauma bay:
Entrance wound to his left chest, but no time to look for an exit wound yet. First up is starting some big IV's, a central line, and several Army personnel on the left placing a chest tube. Eric is at the head of the bed and gets the patient intubated. Chest tube in place, and we get an initial flood of blood: hemothorax. "Can we re-infuse it?" someone asks. "No, we don't have the autotransfuser connected. We will have to connect one as soon as we can" I say as the patient continues to slide downhill. "That's it, we need to open his chest." says Eric with a sense of urgency. Clammy patina and color is quicky turning ashen, the color of cold gravy. Our surgeon: "Grab the lines, grab the chest tube. We are going to the OR now." I'm somehow grabbing IV's, pulling off trauma bay monitors, and balancing the chest tube collection chamber while on the move.

Operating Room:
Anesthesia machine on, hot line powered up, barely controlled chaos as everyone flies around the room: grab sterile instrument sets, hang the fluids on pressure bags and crank up the fluid rates. Eric says "I want 4 units of packed blood cells now. Who is the runner, and I need you to move now" as the patient looks, well, blank. "Someone feel again for a pulse." No pulse, chest compressions started, our two surgeons throwing on sterile garb while simultaneously starting the thoracotomy. No time-every second is more precious than the last. Eric and I are pushing fluids and now blood as fast as our hands can move. Extra hands are recruited to help us pump blood and fluids even faster.

The temperature outside: 110. For the first time, the OR temp is climbing beyond comfort. We just have to turn the AC on for relief. V and D squared walk over to turn it on, and....nothing. We know the heat works-been using it for months. We know the fan works-been using it for a few weeks. We now know the AC units are down-both of them. In no time, everyone is drenched in sweat. On call for this flight, I'm stuck with the flight suit on. As soon as the patient is stabilized I will be working on a flight to Al Asad as quickly as possible. Suit is soaked before the case is over, and my night has just begun.

I have it easy compared to the guys scrubbed in. They are wearing sterile gowns/mask/gloves on top of uniforms. No chance to step out of the room for relief or to hydrate, they are on the verge of heat exhaustion after an hour. Eric becomes the official Gatorade representative.

Blood arrives. Eric and I both grab one along with blood tubing. "Just keep the blood coming, and we are activating the blood bank as of now. Make it happen". The Army moves lightening fast, the Big Voice is calling out basewide for donors, and we have life saving whole blood in what seems to be minutes. The whole blood is a huge score for the patient: we are now giving him warm oxygen-carrying hemoglobin along with replacing the clotting factors he is losing to his injuries. Martin resects the patient's left lung: the round went right through it. Arterial line placed and Martin finishes damage control and is satisfied he stopped all of the thorasic bleeding. He starts closing the chest back up and places two new chest tubes to drain any residual blood. Blood chemistry and hematocrit counts are almost perfect despite the significant losses of the patient's own volume. Another save.

It's nightfall. Around 10 PM and the temperature is still 100 degrees.
So much for desert temperatures dropping precipitously at night. Yeah, I always heard that one too.
Patient does well. I'm giving blood in flight, groping for IV lines, changing out the oxygen tank, tweaking the ventilator settings to prevent high airway pressures, writing down vital signs and medications given on a piece of tape on my flight suit, and searching for the drug access port so I can give some sedation and paralytics.
We touch down on the medical helo pad, and I run ahead to give report to the accepting physician.
The Blackhawk is in no hurry to go back to Ramadi. It's their bird and my priority status was just relegated to "passenger". They go to the "dust off" and we sit there for 30 minutes before going to the fuel farm for more JP-5. The helo is blacked out, and the rotor spin drowns out any chance at hearing anything. The adrenaline rush is winding down now that I safely passed my patient off to the Army CSH, so I close my eyes and shut down mentally for a few moments.

Sensory deprived moments: Strapped into my jump seat sandwiched between the crew chief and flight medic as the turning rotors rock me into a rythmic trance after hours of trauma, surgery, and flying. The cabin feels like a miniature furnace late into the night. Smelling the requisite aroma of hot engine exhaust, hydraulic fluid, and a dozen other lubricants, propellents, ect. But this is a dedicated patient evacuation helicopter, so take the normal industrial smells and add a mixture of flight suits soaked in sweat, the patient, and the faint metallic smell of blood, old and fresh. A smell I will not soon forget........


Bag Blog said...

Awesome story! I'm glad for the save. Summer certainly comes quickly in Iraq. We are still in tornado weather - warm and humid, thunder storms every day. It is a typical spring, but soon our days will be in the 100 plus degrees. Nothing like yours, but hot is hot.

Cynthia said...

Great save, Soldier......nicely told. Keep finding those moments of trance.


David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/11/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

mamaworecombatboots said...

Caught up as you are in the urgency of the moment, I doubt you are considering the significance of what you are describing--the life of a young warrior, saved by the efforts of you and your team. Another family who will not look out the window to see those military men at the door. Another young man with the chance to make it to his own old age. I am awed. I am grateful. God bless you all.

alexa kim said...

Smells... the only word we can come up with in English to cover smells that aren't odors, fragrances or aromas. The most powerful memory trigger in humans... and you never know when one is going to sneak up on you out in the real world. I don't know if the smells you will never forget could possibly be mixed by civilian life living... I refrain from hoping or fearing for you... I will wait to hear from you how it is should it happen.

karin in tx said...

Wow...as always your word pictures take us there with you! Saying thanks for all you do seems so very inadequate...so I leave you with many prayers for strength, safety and that beloved peace that passes all understanding. God Bless you.

Debbi (no 'e' on the end) said...

Your writing is so amazing....you take us all with you. I am also so thankful for the save. Bless you all for what you do.

1IDVET said...

Very well written.
Engrossed all the way through it.

Thanks for your service and keeping it real.