Outside the Doors: Responding to Medical Emergencies in our Community

Outside the Doors: Responding to Medical Emergencies in our Community

I was driving home on Route 50, on the last leg of a three hour car ride. My little boy and I were singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” at the top of our lungs and I was thinking I could really use a coffee, when the cars in front of me began slamming on their brakes. Probably to stare at some car pulled over by the police, I thought, irritably. It’s taking forever to get home.

But it wasn’t a police car or a stalled out vehicle. It was an accident that must have happened just moments before–I didn’t see flashing police lights or hear sirens. As we drove closer, my heart started to pound. There was a vehicle overturned in the median. All my senses went into overdrive as we crept by: broken glass, a hissing radiator, the smell of exhaust and tire smoke, a woman covered with blood.

Photo by Paul W. Gillespie-The Capital (Aug. 22, 2010)

A few passers-by had jumped out of their cars and were doing their best to help at the scene. “Do you need a nurse?” I yelled out the window. Seems like the answer should have been obvious, in retrospect. Maybe I was hoping they would say, “No, go on, we’ve got it under control here.” But they didn’t. And so I parked my car on the shoulder, told my son to start praying for the people who were hurt. That I was going to lock him in the car and not to get out for any reason.  

As I approached the vehicle, my BLS training came back to me—I assessed the scene. A couple 20-something guys were holding two small children who had either been thrown or rescued from the overturned car. They had some minor injuries and were clearly in shock, but otherwise seemed stable. A woman, hyperventilating and covered with blood, was being cared for by a person who identified herself as a nurse—I wonder if she is one of ours? Another helper lay on the ground, reaching through the car’s shattered window, to gently hold the shoulder of the trapped, unconscious driver.  

I was an ER nurse for many years and when trauma patients rolled in, I felt in control, prepared with my emergency drugs, my gloves and IV supplies, my team. Here, there was a man offering me a roll of paper towels to staunch the blood of the victims. This was much different than anything I had ever experienced.

“Does anyone have a first aid kit?” Three appeared, I couldn’t tell you from where. I started barking orders: “You! See if there are gloves in the kit. You! Get the kids away from the vehicle. You! Put this cold pack on his head. Stabilize his neck like this.”

One pair of gloves were handed to me and I gave them to the nurse caring for the bleeding woman.

I smelled gasoline. Someone yelled, “This is gas leaking, people. Get away from the car.” For a moment, I let myself wonder what would happen if the car exploded. There were still two people trapped inside and about ten helpers surrounding the vehicle. No one budged. Not even the man lying on the ground, holding the shoulder of that trapped, unconscious driver. I was in awe of the bravery of these people.

It had probably only been about five minutes, but it seemed like much longer. I heard sirens in the distance and ran to move my car so the ambulance could pull in.

I found out later that seven people had been in the vehicle when it lost control. According to the news, they were all airlifted to a shock trauma center. The cause of the accident was not known.

This experience affected me profoundly. Among other things, it made me wonder how often this happens. As nurses, we don’t just offer care inside the walls of a hospital. What about you? Have you had to respond to an emergency situation? Did it change you? Has it affected your nursing practice? Tell us about it here.

-Monica Mewshaw, MSN, MPH, RN


  1. Posted by Tom S., at Reply

    My wife and I witnessed this accident happen right in front of us and stopped because she is in a health care field (PT and also a CPR instructor). I remember the first thing she asked for was gloves; which I could not find in our vehicle. I locked both of our sleeping children in the car (they never did wake up, so had no idea what had happened). She tried to help the 2 people trapped as much as possible, however I could see that there was not much that could be done until they were extracted. She asked the people that had gathered around to keep the 2 in the front awake until the paramedics arrived. I agree with the writer that it seemed like it took forever for emergency personnel to get to the scene, however it was probably only a few minutes. I remember several nurses that were travelling in both directions helping the accident victims, as well as a voluneteer fireman who had pulled up. I will never forget seeing the car flip over the guard rail and land in my lane (the far left lane) not more than 150 yards in front of me. Once emergency personnel arrived, my wife and I left; she went home and cleaned out some cuts on her knees from kneeling on broken glass. I was glad that the children seemed uninjured (they were in shock), however their is still something that bugs me about the accident: there were 7 people (2 small children and 5 adults). Taking out the 2 children and the 2 adults trapped in the front seats; that leave 3 adults. Where were they riding? I saw 2 child seats in the wreakage and would assume that I adult was sitting between them (maybe 2). But where was the last 1 (or 2) people? When I first approached the scene, none of the doors were open (all were locked). When I went back to look for the gloves and possibly something to break one of the windows, the doors were unlocked and open. It was at that time that I noticed the trunk was open and there was a man lying underneath of it. Several people motioned for him ton crawl out, which he did. Maybe there were 1 (or 2) people riding in the trunk?

  2. Posted by Kathleen Kelm, at Reply

    I was commuting across the Golden Gate Bridge to my job as a surgery clinic head nurse. My husband’s quick reflexes stopped our car in time, and I was out of it without really thinking before it quit rolling. I ran to the crash and quickly triaged the victims. The worst was a man in a car with a possible neck injury. I jumped into the seat next to him and held his head straight, assuming a weird pretzel contortion of my middle aged body to do so. Softly, I assured him that he would be fine, his totaled car didn’t really matter, and that yes, I would call his mother. After the ambulance arrived, I unfolded my origami self and kept my promise to call. Later, she called the hospital commander and thanked me again, adding that her son was fine now but deeply grateful for the comfort and skill I had promptly offered. Some days I am glad I am a nurse. And wish I had studied yoga instead of pathology.

  3. Posted by Denise, at Reply

    On a boat trip from St. Michaels back to Kent Island my family and I happened upon a young man face down in the water of Eastern Bay. Another young man was trying to pull him out to no avail as he was limp and lifeless. We sped up our boat to help as I too have been an ER nurse for many years. I am accustomed to emergiences but was amazed at how calm my family remained. Everyone assumed a different role and it just worked. My husband and I pulled the lifeless body out of the water trying to protect his c-spine, as I did not know if this was a diving injury (many parts of Eastern Bay are quite shallow). My son took over driving the boat back to shore, my daughter called 911 and my husband and I tried to revive this young man (with the help of my husband) who was dusky, limp and pulseless. Fortunately, we were able to revive him and safely deliver him to shore to the waiting paramedics. I felt so proud of my family and grateful for the timeliness of our arrival–I am certain he would have died if any more time had gone by. The following Sunday, while at our local church servic,e this same young man walked in without any apparent consequence as a result of his brush with death. My children introduced themselves to him and said how happy they were that he made it–his response was so heart warming to hear. He said, “Thank you for my life.” “I saw death and now I have a second chance.” This experience profoundly affected me and my family in recognizing all of life events and our interconnectedness with others–I do not believe that anything or nothing is ever a happenstance.

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