The other day, a friend of mine messaged me on facebook chat and told me he just had the coolest yet worse call he’s been to so far. When I further inquired on his call, he tells me how he responded to a fatal MVI (Motor Vehicle Incident), upon arrival the two people in the car were dead, the car was completely crushed and the people squished to pulp. One patient’s head “literally exploded” and blood was everywhere, he said. He also tells me the irony that despite the horrific crash, the only thing that wasn’t broken when the bodies were pulled out was a bottle of vodka. He said he has always wanted to see brain matter and that night he got what he wanted. He tells me it was cruel in a way, but it was fascinating at the same time.
I knew exactly what he meant.
When my friend told me the story above, it brought back memories of a similar call I had done a while back. It was also an MVI, my patient had ejected out of his vehicle and laid on the side of the road when another vehicle ran over his head. It was a gruesome scene, something people just aren’t suppose to see. My partner and I were first on scene, and I knew the situation was grave. In the middle of the road was a crumpled mass of metal with its various parts scattered for meters along the long length of road. As I got out of the ambulance, a lady approached me.
Lady: “There’s a deceased man over there.”
She points to the side of the road, where a blanket laid over a mass.
Me: “Okay, is there anybody else involved?”
Lady: “Yes, the driver of the other vehicle is in my car.”
The lady appeared to be extraordinarily calm and seems to have things well thought out and organized. I thanked her for covering up the body (she used her own blanket from her car) and decided to investigate the person whom this lady claimed to be dead. As I stood over the blanket, dread filled my body. I felt fear rising up from the bottom of my spine, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see what was underneath the blanket. I briefly formed a horrific image in my head in order to prepare myself for what I might see, I wanted to cringe but kept my face stone cold. I grabbed one end of the blanket and lifted. I saw snow-white flesh underneath, I’ve never seen flesh so white before, if someone told me a vampire drank all his blood, I would have believed him. I quickly realize I lifted the wrong end, I saw a massive bloated stomach rising towards the sky, a torso, one leg, no clothing. I quickly dropped the blanket back to its original place. I took a deep breath and lifted the “correct” end. I saw a gentleman, his face didn’t look right, it looked flattened, the skin stretched across his face in a way that was just strange (I honestly can’t think of another word to describe it), his eyeball protruded out, almost dangling, I saw brain matter scattered everywhere along with skull. He was so, so, so, pale. I didn’t see any blood however. I couldn’t have looked at that man for more than 30 seconds, but it was enough. I don’t need to see anymore. He’s dead. I quickly replaced the blanket and walked back towards my partner.
Me: “It’s a code 4, he’s dead.”
Partner: “Okay, I’ll cancel ALS. That was quick.”
Me: “Yeah…well was pretty obvious, his head is crushed and brain is scattered everywhere.”
I approached the lady’s car where my patient was.
Me: “Are you okay?”
Me: “You’re very calm, considering what you’ve just seen.”
Lady: “Well, I work in the morgue.”
In my mind I chuckled, I’m in the middle of nowhere and guess who happened to be on scene to help out but a lady who just happened to work in a morgue. What were the chances of that?
I remember talking to a colleague later on that day, he asked me how I was doing. I said to him that I’m fine, but everything just felt so surreal, it didn’t seem real. The guy on the road, the squishy and moist texture of brain matter, it seemed to be something from the movies. He told me that initially it may seem unreal, but as time goes by, it’ll settle in and feel more real. I told my colleague I was really glad that he was dead, as bad as it may sound. I was glad he was dead because I can’t imagine myself doing CPR on him with that eyeball sticking out, staring at me. Working on that body would mean I’ll be building a connection with him, it would mean taking all the injuries and details into account and in the end, it would’ve just hurt me. I know it sounds selfish, but there are just some things human beings aren’t meant to see. Of course, as a paramedic, we often see things on calls that we aren’t supposed to. However, it never hurts to reduce the amount of exposure.
Some people call it black humour, some call it coping, but like how my friend laughed about the irony of the vodka bottle being intact, I found humour that the person who was on scene works at the morgue. Perhaps it may not seem funny to you, but it’s the small humour in darker calls like this that makes the call just a little better. It soften things, it’s always nice to be able to look back at a call and laugh about something.
I have seen a number of motor vehicle accidents since I started working as a paramedic. I no longer see the rush to get to places. Why rush? An extra 15 minutes? Is the place you need to go really that important? Is it worth risking your life and other people’s lives? I don’t want to end up like the many people I go to help. In a split second, your life can be gone. No goodbye to your loved ones, no dignity. It’s just not worth it. So please, next time you think about putting your foot a little lower on the pedal, spend a second or two and think about the ones you love, is it really worth getting somewhere 15 minutes faster or is it more worthwhile holding the one you love in your arms at the end of the day? The choice is yours.