Part One: Ice Road Paramedics

Part One:

Picture this: One of those walk bridges over a canyon. You know the kind that sways when you walk on it, and has missing boards, and all you can hold on to is the fraying rope, and you are suspended 1000 feet up over rocks and a raging river. Well, it wasn’t quite like that, but if I tell the story enough that’s where it will end up.

Let me begin. Picture this. It is a nasty winter day. You are at work at your EMS job. You’re sitting back in your warm recliner, feet propped up, eating a hot meatball sub, watching Die Hard on the wide screen TV as the sleet clatters off the windows. One partner is snoring, the other is laughing manically as he texts on his Blackberry.

Got it.

Now picture this. A man arrives at the home he shares with his brother who he last saw this morning. The man does not have his key, so he knocks on the door, but no one comes, so he walks around the house through the deep snow peering in the windows. In the living room, he sees the TV on – Die Hard perhaps — and he sees his brother sitting in his chair. His head is slumped down. The brother knocks hard on the window, but his brother does not respond. He is dead motionless. The brother in the snow shouts and bangs again and again. No response. He takes out his cell phone and dials 911.

With me still? Nothing really unusual here. You could change the scenario to any potentially serious 911 call. A car off the road. A man down in the snow. A baby not breathing. And as for the responders, you could change that up to. Maybe instead of the big screen TV, it is a scratchy old set dug out of the trash with tin foil on the antenna. Maybe instead of Die Hard, it is American Pie. Pizza instead of a meatball grinder. Maybe the crew is sitting in an ambulance on a street corner watching the movie on a portable DVD or an I-phone. One partner – snoring or texting – instead of two.

Nothing unusual here. Either way — the tones go off, they call your number over the radio or your pager vibrates. One way or another, you get up – leaving John McClain to fend for himself – and soon your sirens are wailing and you are on your way to another run.

Now you have been lucky so far during this storm. All your calls have been at nursing homes or doctor’s offices and all the hospitals you have transported to have had covered awnings. You have barely gotten your boots wet. But you know this won’t last.

The address is in the mountains. You partner thinks he has been there before. Thinks it is a regular, but the address does not seem familiar. You know the road, but the street number doesn’t recall anything. The CMED dispatcher has no information for you. You wait to hear if the cops are out, but nothing comes over the radio. A part of you is expecting to hear them put out and a minute later (after they have kicked in the door) hear “CPR in progress,” but nothing.

When you get on the road, you see the cops patrolling looking for the number. One cop turns around realizing he has just passed it. “I guess I haven’t been here before,” your partner says. The driveway you discover is barely visible. It is likely a dirt road, but who can tell with all the snow. There is brush on either side of the road, barely passable for a police car. No way for the ambulance.

You get out and walk. No house in sight. The road is like an ice rink that hasn’t been cleaned by a Zamboni. It’s a good thing you are wearing your Fort Smith Boots in this sleet storm because the water and freezing slush and ice are treacherous. You walk carefully. The last thing you need is for you or your partner to go feet up in the air, head and butt slamming to the ground. Talk about a call from frozen over hell. Over the radio you hear one of the officers say he will come back and get you, but no car appears. You hear now his cruiser is stuck. Still no word from the other officer who is surely trying to gain access to the house that likely holds a cardiac arrest to test you and your crew’s mettle. You start to think about how once you get there — if you get there — you are going to get the patient out. You picture your crew doing CPR in the sleet all the way back to the ambulance here on this wild frozen trail in this first episode of a new reality TV show “Ice Road Paramedics.”

Finally at the end of a bend, the road drops down a hill where you see the two cruisers. There is a small turn-around but the road is sheer ice. You consider throwing your house bag down and using it as a sled to get down the hill, but you are worried that you will not be able to stop, only to shoot off the end of the land and into the raging rapids in the gorge below. That’s right — icy, churning rapids. The house which you now see is on the other side of the raging river (I am exaggerating slightly — it is more a raging mountain stream).

You make your way down through the snow on the side of the road. It is there that you first see the bridge — a ricketedy wooden foot bridge — thirty feet above that insane niagrous Artic megastream. You can’t believe what you have discovered. You think you know your town, but you have never been here before, never knew this place existed. The house is in fact on an island, completely surrounded by moving water.

And on the other side, a man inside a still locked house, slumped down in his chair. You can make out now the shape of a police man standing by the front door, raising a crow bar and smashing it against the door that will not open. Bang, Bang Bang!

And now you must make the crossing…

To be continued in Part Two: The Bridge

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