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Editorial: Not Just ‘Traumas,’ But Human Beings

“Car vs. bicycle.”

“Fall from height, unresponsive.”

“Shooting victim.”

“Motorcycle crash.”

These are some of the dispatches we hear, the calls we run, and the traumas we see. For EMS providers these words from a dispatcher prompt a heightened awareness and a quick check of an algorithm or mnemonic to get ready for the call.

Once on scene we may objectify the patient as a “trauma” instead of a person. We need to help as quickly as possible. Using the best science and training, we laser-focus on interventions and, most important, rapid transport. The Golden Hour is too long; we now abide by the Platinum 10 Minutes. Get the patient packaged and off the scene as quickly as possible.

But isn’t there time to think about these patients as human beings? Shouldn’t we slow down a bit and be compassionate, reassuring, and maybe even crack a joke or two? What would happen to our patient care if we got to meet up later with the human beings we treat on these calls?

EMS providers rarely know what happens to our patients after we drop them off at the hospital. We almost never get to see them again. I recently got to hear from some of these trauma patients in a continuing education class; they donated their time to address our providers.

As a trauma center, Virginia’s Inova Fairfax Hospital runs a Trauma Survivor’s Network (TSN), one of more than 70 TSNs in the U.S. It brings together survivors and their families to share best practices around recovery, provide peer support, and enhance survivor self-efficacy. The group performs community outreach and shares with first responders their experiences about their recoveries. All the survivors visiting us acknowledged the incredibly therapeutic benefits of the TSN. 

They weren’t the only ones who got some therapy.

The “fall from height, unresponsive” patient, Clay, praised EMS providers for their ability to combine their human side with their technical abilities in a traumatic, chaotic environment. “The medics who treated me were my best advocates,” Clay said. “They were my medics. They made eye contact with me on that terrible backboard, they touched my shoulder often, and they made me chuckle when I was feeling nervous.”

Rebekah’s experience with EMS at her motorcycle crash is still vivid in her mind years after the incident. “This was one of the most intimate moments of my life, perhaps more than the birth of my children,” she said to the audience. “You were there first. You were there with me.”

The crash broke multiple bones in her leg, and Rebekah found herself depressed, out of work, and unable to play her favorite role of mom. The trauma took away her identity as an independent woman. 

John, a bicyclist who was hit by a car, has no memories of his trauma. He and his wife like to make up “sexier” stories about his injuries, his favorite being one that involves Tom Brady, Brady’s supermodel wife, and John’s leap from a bedroom window. After a year of rehab, John is back on his bike.

“These are survival stories,” said John. “We can only overcome trauma with help.”

While each of these survivors stressed that they will never be fully recovered, they learn to integrate their injuries within their lives and go through a grieving process that, for most, never ends. They thanked us profusely, noting that “their medics” were kind, reassuring, proficient and professional, and, most important, compassionate. I was grateful that these survivors reminded me of our grace under pressure and willingness to do a job most would never consider. Mostly I was grateful to be reminded that compassion endures and that these patients are not just “traumas,” but human beings. 

Try to remember this when you’re dispatched on your next call. It is as appreciated and perhaps even longer lasting than the work you do getting your patients treated properly and on the way toward recovery. 

Addendum: As we went to press for this March issue of EMS World, we learned of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Our thoughts go out to all those affected.

New Board Members

The team at EMS World has made some changes to its editorial advisory board. We’d like to express our deepest gratitude for the service of those who are outgoing. They showed dedication and a commitment to collaboration, and we wish them well as they continue to influence the world of EMS. Following in their tradition of excellence are nine new board members.

Please welcome and congratulate the following:

  • Blair Bigham, MD
  • Jane Brice, MD, MPH
  • Juan Cardona, NREMT-P, MPA, CEMSO
  • Jeremy Cushman, MD, MS, EMT-P, FACEP, FAEMS
  • Linda Dykes, MBBS, FRCEM 
  • Anne Jensen, BS, EMT-P, CP-C
  • Baxter Larmon, PhD, MICP
  • Anne Montera, RN, BSN
  • Babak Sarani, MD, FACS, FCCM

Please see the March print issue for the current list of our esteemed board members, along with their clinical positions, affiliations and locations.

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