It’s the afternoon. I am at my parents' home chilling with them when I get a text from my college roommate’s fiancee, Ting Ting, “Dude come out bowling with us.” I had just returned from an epic 3 month backpacking trip around India and Southeast Asia. I was fresh out of fellowship and needed a clean break. Instead of diving straight into full-time employment, I decided to, for once, just find myself. No, this is not an Eat, Pray, Love adventure, and if you call it that you are a dick.
So anyway, back to Ting Ting. I was jet lagged, but there was something about being home that was not as exciting as biking along the Mekong River. I had my first shift the next day and was feeling a little antsy. Not sure how rusty I was going to be. Screw it. I text her back, “I’m down, see you guys soon.”
We bowl, but I am distracted by my upcoming shift early the next morning. We have good banter and I tell them about my trip. I realize that I really suck at bowling. I look at my watch and decide that it is time to head back. It’s early, but at least this way I can attempt to have a good night’s rest.
As I am driving home, I start seeing red brake lights go off in front of me. I am in the fast lane, anxious to get home so I could be well rested for my shift. The flow of traffic slows and almost comes to a complete stop. This is so odd. Why is there traffic? This is probably the result of some lame fender bender and people are just gawking at the accident. I see the cars in front of me start moving to the right, and as I get closer to the accident my eyes widen at what I see.
There is a ring of cars parked around a person lying on the asphalt of the 110 freeway. I think for a second and then park my car. I get out, and as I approach the people surrounding the guy on the ground, I realize that he is in a pool of blood. I immediately start processing the scene.
I talk to the guy. He is protecting his airway. He is breathing. He has a pulse. He tells me he was riding his motorcycle when a car chased him down and shot at him. “Were you hit?” I ask. He has no idea. His clothes are pretty much ripped off, and he is covered in terrible road rash. Then I see it. Three small holes in his chest and belly. He was hit. I am driving my dad’s car and don’t have any supplies with me. Not even a stethoscope. What if he develops a tension pneumothorax and needs to be decompressed? What if he loses his airway and needs to be bagged or intubated??? I have nothing.
I realize how helpless I feel.
He tells me that he cannot move his legs. I instruct one of the bystanders to hold his cervical spine.
Lights and sirens approach. Thank God. Two officers step onto the scene. One looks at me with a deer in a headlights stare. The other one asks what happened.
“40ish year old man status post high speed MCA (motorcycle accident) with multiple puncture wounds to the thorax and abdomen. We need paramedics here now,” I tell them.
The cops look at me like I am speaking an alien language. One of them finally responds, “What are you, some kind of nurse? Well, you are medical control at this time.”
Where the hell are the paramedics.
I start talking to the motorcyclist again. He is still protecting his airway. Luckily, five minutes later Fire rolls up. Some young kid with a douche mustache gets out of the truck and rushes to the patient as the rest of the crew starts getting equipment out from the truck.
I update him, point out the puncture wounds, tell him to check his BP (blood pressure), and scoop and run.
He looks at me, registers my suggestions, and in a condescending way says, “Sir step away.”
I tell him that they should needle the chest if he loses his pulse en route.
He dismisses me and under his breath says, “We know what we are doing and don’t need your help. Please step away.”
I look at him, shocked at his brash response, and raise my eyebrows. Despite the fact that I was using some medical lingo, he must have thought I was just some riff raff. It must have been the camouflage shoes I bought in Hong Kong when my other pair of shoes were stolen. So far, the paramedics haven’t done anything I need to intervene on, so I bite my tongue. Pick your battles. Not the time to get into a dick waving competition.
They finally package the patient and leave the scene. I stand there on the freeway taking in what just happened. If anything had gone down I would have been totally useless. I had nothing to save this guy in the car. I couldn’t intubate him, crich him, decompress his chest. There was nothing I could do.
I get back in my car and sit there as traffic is stopped and the police are collecting evidence of the scene. So much for trying to get home early.
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Dr. Zahir's Author Bio Below
Emergency Medicine Doctor. County Trained. Hobbies: Golf, Haikus, Cheetos Aficionado.
Photo Credit: Interior of a surgery with two operators, one letting blood from a man's arm, the other giving treatment to a man's back by David Taisniers