Taking Care of all the Victims, Not Just the Injured

One of our EMS chaplains approached me recently and made a statement that gave me pause. He told me that our EMS personnel weren’t taking proper enough care of all the trauma victims. Of course, I thought he meant clinically, so I asked for an immediate clarification on that. He shook his head no, that our paramedics and EMTs were doing as fantastic job with rendering patient care, especially in a critical incident. But those aren’t all the victims, he reminded me.

And he should know. Our EMS chaplains go to the scenes where there is a strong chance that either the crew or the family will need Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM):  multiple shooting victims, pediatric cardiac arrests and drownings, horrific incidents of domestic violence with death resulting, fires in dwellings with occupant deaths, the list goes on and on.

We are thankful for their resources; they are available to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, often just a phone call away, and I truly wish every agency had them. They don’t show up and intervene during a chaotic scene, but are just simply there, waiting to help where they can.

Sometimes, we don’t realize we need them until three calls after the “Big Bad One” we just ran, and the weight of what you have seen and done all comes crashing down on you. They are wonderful at getting everyone involved in the call together, and listening and debriefing. And if we need help beyond their resources? They make certain we get it.

But the victims my EMS chaplain was talking about did not include the injured. He told me about a high-speed, multi-vehicle crash that he had been summoned to just a few shifts earlier, with very heavy damage and extrication on more than one car. Several patients had severe enough injuries that they were declared “trauma alerts” (this is when a patient meets certain clinical criteria determined by medical direction that dictates rapid mandatory transport to a designated trauma center, usually for surgical intervention).

victimsThe one patient being extricated, however, was deceased. The crash happened just a few short blocks from this young man’s home, and his mother, alerted by bystanders in the neighborhood that recognized his car, ran to the accident. When the chaplain pulled up and approached the scene, she was understandably hysterical, being physically held up by neighbors, as she watched her son’s lifeless body being cut from his car.

Not one EMS, FD or PD official was anywhere near the mother, to explain what was happening, what they were doing, and what was going to happen next. No one was there to try and offer her comfort or to ask how they could help her. No one was taking care of her, he told me. That should not have happened. There were enough people there.

I agreed. Point taken. It is easy in this industry to get so focused on rendering care to a critically injured or sick patient that we become tunnel-visioned. The family becomes background noise; and we have all done it at one time or another in our career.

I can remember a pediatric drowning, where after pulling the baby from the pool and beginning resuscitative efforts, we took off in a rapid transport and no one explained anything to the family about what was happening with their child, what we were doing to save him, where we were going, or what was going to happen next. Thankfully a police officer had remained with them, and ended up escorting them to the hospital in his cruiser behind us. I felt horrible afterwards; we had more than enough people on scene to be a liaison for the family, and tend to their needs.

There are EMS systems where only two personnel members show up per call, and then they request help as they need it. There are other systems, like mine, that operate on a dual-response two-tier advanced life support (ALS) model; you have more help on scene than you can shake a stick at.

So it behooves us all as professionals to make certain that someone on scene takes care of those other victim, or victims, on those critical incidents where our clinical skills and life-saving interventions are moving faster than our brains. Assign one person to pull the family aside, explain what their unfamiliar eyes are seeing, what we are doing to save their loved one, and what will happen next. Let’s make sure everyone’s needs are met, to the best of our abilities.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Leah Dallaire

Leah G. Dallaire is a highly accomplished freelance writer, editor and consultant with 28 years of experience. She has also concurrently been a paramedic for 20 years; the last 17 she spent serving the citizens of Pinellas County, Florida, which has a call volume of about 209,000 runs per year. She holds an M.A. and a B.A. in Writing & Literature from Union University. She has also just finished her first novel.
Leah Dallaire
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