Our final stop was at the Katrina Memorial. I was honored to be there with an important member of the NOEMS community. Ken told me the large concrete tombs contained all the unclaimed bodies from the disaster. I asked him how many EMTs’ and paramedics’ homes were affected by the flood, and he said, “Many.” I then asked how many came to work to aid during this tragedy, and he said, “Most of them.”
For my second day, Ken arranged for me to ride with paramedic T.J. Boudreaux and Alex Sung, MD, in another specialty response vehicle.
In New Orleans, doctors like Sung, from the LSU emergency medicine residency program, work alongside EMS as support on calls and to provide medical direction if a question arises. I found Dr. Sung to be a valuable mobile resource to the EMS system.
Also valuable to NOEMS were the rescue unit and Gator vehicle T.J. took me to see. I was amazed to see a rescue unit equipped with extrication equipment that, in my county, only firefighters would use. The Gator is only slightly larger than a golf cart and looks as if it should be used for off-road purposes. It looks aggressive, and I can imagine it being very useful when extricating patients from the narrow, congested streets of the French Quarter.
NOEMS has an electric cart, called a “GEM,” which is used at busy events at the convention center. Patients can be attended to initially on scene, then transported by Gator or GEM to ambulances waiting nearby. Working as a team this way to facilitate rapid treatment and transport in some of New Orleans’ unique settings helps ensure the best and most efficient care for each patient.
I felt a strong sense of teamwork as we encountered different crews during the day. My initial thought was that some paramedics might feel intimidated having a doctor on calls for which they were ultimately responsible. What I found was that the crews and the doctor worked as a cohesive team on scene and in the ambulance. The primary focus remained on the patient and how the team could provide the best treatment.
Our last call of the day was for a patient in a v-fib arrest with a return of spontaneous circulation. A citizen who had initiated CPR prior to EMS arrival was relieved by fire personnel once they made contact. We were second on scene behind the FD, and every person assumed a role. They saw the problem at hand and stayed on point.
When the ambulance arrived, everything was set up for transport without delay, and the patient was taken Code 3 to the closest emergency department. But the crew’s dedication to the patient didn’t end when they turned over care at the hospital; there I noticed the crew responding to the patient’s wife and her needs as well. This made me remember how important it is to take the time to pay attention to the needs of patients’ families in sensitive situations, rather than moving straight to the paperwork.
I enjoyed my stay in the Big Easy. I ate, drank and walked New Orleans. I was entertained by the life on Bourbon Street, educated by the World War II museum, creeped out by the cemetery in the St. Charles District, nourished with high-quality Creole cuisine all over the city, and deeply humbled by the destruction still visible. After viewing NOEMS in action through the lens of my camera, I can truly say their system is top-notch thanks to the hardworking EMTs and paramedics who answer calls for service each day in New Orleans.
I was privileged to meet them. Let’s not forget that our extended EMS family in New Orleans stills struggles with what most of us take for granted—and from that we can all learn a few lessons.