Friday, August 22, 2008

Incident at the Ferry

We were standing on the dock on a glorious day - temperature in the upper 70's, sunny and clear, with a cool breeze over the water. The boat had just pulled in to receive passengers for a leisurely cruise across the lake. Families like ours stood with tickets in hand, looking forward to a beautiful afternoon. Restless with anticipation, children scampered in and out of the gift shop, stared longingly at the fried dough stand, or chased seagulls on the boardwalk.

Behind us and a little to the side there was a loud thump against the wooden boards of the boardwalk. I looked back and saw a youth sprawled face-down on the boardwalk, head turned to the left, arms and legs twitching very slightly. He couldn't have been in that position for more than twenty seconds. A small child near him was crying loudly.

Instinctively I took a step toward him but then stopped and let my mental voice slow my movements down: Is his airway clear? (Yes, for the moment.) Is his family around him? (Yes.) Do they look like they've seen this before or are they in a state of shock and panic? (The little sister was very upset, but the other family members were protecting the boy's head, moving bystanders away, and managing very well.) Do they need help, or would you just be in the way (as so many emergency medical personnel feel when doctors try to step in and offer assistance in a public place)?

I stood by ready to help if needed and kept watch, but I left the family alone. Once the episode passed (like, five seconds after I stepped forward to observe), the boy sat cradled in a relative's arms on the boardwalk looking dazed and very tired. Another relative replaced one of his hearing aids, which had fallen out when his head hit the deck. He had a mild abrasion right under his right eye. Dock personnel with walkie-talkies stepped in promptly to assist.

"What happened, mommy?" my son asked.

An elderly woman behind me was muttering, "At least it wasn't a seizure or something. Poor guy musta' gotten anxious and fainted." I whispered to my son, "Looks like he had a seizure, sweetie."

"Will he be ok?"

"Yes, I expect he will."

"Is he still gonna come on the boat?"

"Not today, lovey."

Very soon after we boarded, from the top deck of the boat, we saw an ambulance pull up to the depot to pick up the boy.

I felt very sad. I felt sad for the boy and his family, who deserved to be enjoying their afternoon on the lake every bit as much as my kids and my family did. I felt sad not to be at their side offering help and support. I felt sad knowing that even I had been able to do that, I had no power to really heal the boy.

Out on the water, the sunlight, wind, and waves were perfect. We had a smooth sail, and a cloudless sky.


Anonymous said...

Hi, i suppose its no different from being in the hospital and passing a code or arrest which you werent called to, just think of the family members being paged while you merely walked by the situation.
Chin up and remember you save countless lives everyday,youve no reason for guilt

T. said...

I don't feel guilty; just very sad. I don't think it would have been appropriate for a stranger, even a bystander who was a trained professional, to just swoop in and interfere in that setting when the situation was well under control and being managed appropriately. But I did feel sad.

It's hard to restrain that strong impulse to "take over" that is perfectly understandable and appropriate in a hospital setting. In the field, though, there are other important variables to take into account, and I didn't feel it would be right to just muscle in and act like the general if I wasn't really needed.

Lisa Johnson said...

My brother has seizures and I've been in this situation a few times while we were out. Whenever we go out together, I know it's always a possibility. But I'm used to it for the most part and know how to handle the situation depending upon the severity of the seizure.

I never thought about your perspective. Of the doctor who might be watching and wondering if we're okay or if she needs to lend a helping hand.

T. said...

I guess I haven't seen enough public medical crises to speak authoritatively on this, but I don't know that there's a lot of wondering in the process - I think assessing a scene involves looking at some very specific criteria and making a conscious decision to step in if those criteria aren't met or to refrain from interfering if all signs point to a manageable/appropriately managed situation.