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Sue Bush
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EMS In Action:The "Devils" And "Angels" On Our Shoulders

By Shawn P. Godfrey EMT-Paramedic
12:00AM / Monday, February 19, 2007

Village Ambulance Service Paramedic and Operations Manager Shawn Godfrey
Welcome to "EMS:Courage and Compassion In Action," a twice-monthly column written by Village Ambulance Services Operations Manager and paramedic Shawn Godfrey. Godfrey's columns will appear on every other Tuesday and will focus on the reality of the emergency services medical profession.

Drunk driving is the nation's most frequently committed violent crime, and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this senseless act takes the life of a human being about every 30 minutes.

Looking at the latest available statistics, the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities is declining only slightly. In 2005 an estimated 17,500 people died; and last year approximately 17,100 people died, according to NHTSA. It is a stubbornly persistent problem that can only be conquered through community awareness, education, and more stringent punishment for the offenders.

To say “the devil works in mysterious ways” is simply an understatement when searching for ways to cope with the unfortunate aspects of our job, especially when tending to needless tragedies, like the death of a mother and her children at the hands of a drunk driver. Couple that with the already everyday testing of an Emergency Medical Technician’s (EMT) patience, and you have one fiery recipe for human disdain.

This story touches on that disdain:

As we pulled up to the crash scene, we could see the two mangled cars. They were now just smoldering heaps of metal and plastic ready for hauling to the nearest vehicle junkyard. The leaking automotive fluids formed a rainbow-colored sheen on the roadway, while a thin layer of ice, from the snowstorm a day earlier, reflected a kaliedescopic chaos of spinning, blinking red and white lights. Despite this and the frenzied behavior of passer-bys who had stopped to help, the silence between my partner and I was deafening.

We slipped on our protective gloves, disembarked the ambulance, and approached the wreckage. My partner and I opted to work separately so that we could search each vehicle for potential crash victims. An apprehension of what's ahead always enters an EMT’s psyche while moving toward something so visually devastating.

The driver, and sole occupant of my assigned vehicle, was screaming “Get me out of this damn car now! My leg hurts!”

“Why are you moving so ***damn slow? My leg is broken and I can’t breathe!” he shouted.

“I am doing my best, buddy, just sit tight,” I responded.

As I scanned through the interior of the vehicle, I saw beer cans strewn across the floor. The stench of stale alcohol filled the passenger compartment and I could smell the sweet odor of liquor with each breath the patient exhaled. Immediately I was outraged. Was I angry at myself for selecting this particular vehicle to triage or was it because I was obligated to assist the drunk?

I realized fully that he had to be cared for like any other injured person and I jumped into the car and shielded him while the fire department extricated him from the distorted, misshapen seat. I had to keep him conscious so that he would breathe. Or did I? The devil, now on my shoulder, was again working in mysterious ways. I wanted so badly to leave him; to help the real patients this criminal may have injured, or even worse, killed.

My partner returned to help me. “What do you got?” he asked.

“An approximately 25 year-old intoxicated male with a possible leg fracture and difficulty breathing. We should have him extricated any minute,” I answered.

“What do you have?” I inquired and understood that if he were now assisting me and my patient, only two alternatives remained: the victims were uninjured and refusing medical treatment or they were DOS (dead-on-scene).

He hesitantly answered “a woman and I assume her two children; all dead.”

My partner and I transported the drunk driver to the emergency department, where he was treated and ultimately released into police custody.

It's difficult to understand and empathize with an individual who has made certain decisions in their life, especially when these decisions have resulted in dreadful repercussions that impact their life and the lives of others. But as a healthcare professional, it is my obligation to overlook these biases; biases that could easily devour my soul when challenged with adversity like this.

I haven’t the solution, but from a paramedic’s point of view, I can only reinforce that if people could see what emergency responders see: the death, the destruction, the grieving families, they wouldn't consider drinking and driving. It's difficult for ALL emergency responders to accept that innocent people, who were living, breathing human beings just hours earlier, are now dead because of one’s needless decision to drink and drive.

My partner said it best: “If the devil is ever on your shoulder, look to the other one. There just may be an angel sitting there, ready to help you not to drink and drive.”
Your Comments
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If everyone listened to the "angels", the world would be a much safer place to live.People should listen to that little voice telling them some decisions aren't always a good idea.
from: Janeton: 03-01 00:00:00-2007

Things in life like this never cease to amaze me. I hope the courts sent this guy up the river, and the family up to Heaven.
from: Matthewon: 03-01 00:00:00-2007

It's sad but true! Good story!
from: Charleson: 03-01 00:00:00-2007

My cousin died 5 years ago under similar circumstances. The drunk driver only went to prison for six months. So, needless to say, I believe the laws should be tougher!
from: Alexon: 02-26 00:00:00-2007

What a way to educate the community! I really enjoyed reading this, despite the outcome.
from: Helenon: 02-25 00:00:00-2007

Very good story...Is there a way to contact the writer?
from: Ahkmedon: 02-24 00:00:00-2007

Good story or is it a story. Well aweful things happen everyday to good people. Somethings are better if your not there to see them. Well good job opening our eyes to what really happens out there.
from: Jeffon: 02-23 00:00:00-2007

I give you EMS workers so much credit. I could never deal with what you see on a daily basis. I want to thank you for all you do.
from: Leoon: 02-23 00:00:00-2007

nice story keep up the good work.
from: bernieon: 02-23 00:00:00-2007

Another great story. I pray everyday that my teenage daughters never make the decision to drink and drive. It is frightening to even think of what could happen to them or someone else. Keep up the great work!!!! I look forward to reading the next story.
from: jodion: 02-23 00:00:00-2007

Great Story!!! I especially love "kaliedescopic chaos of spinning..." Great imagery. Makes you really think about how real this is.
from: BORATon: 02-22 00:00:00-2007

Is this the forum needed to stress such issues? It just seems so controversial. Thank you.
from: Bernadetteon: 02-22 00:00:00-2007

Wow! Another great story,you really have a way of putting it into words.It is sad that so many people take drunk driving so lightly,it is an act that ruins many lives.
Keep the great stories coming Shawn.
from: winnieon: 02-22 00:00:00-2007

I don't know how you do what you do but all the blessings to you.
from: Annaon: 02-21 00:00:00-2007

What a sad series of events. Hope people get the take-home message. Great work!
from: Matthewon: 02-21 00:00:00-2007

Great illustration of tragic, but real, events. I hope people learn from this and the many other stories out there.
from: Alecon: 02-21 00:00:00-2007

Great article Shawn!! It is unfortunate, to have it come to something dire, like injuring other's, because of your sickness. We do need more views like this to help people see the true consequence's. I learned my lesson years ago, at the hands of my father. It is an experience I will never forget!
from: meon: 02-20 00:00:00-2007

I give you tons of credit for your frankness regarding the personal affect of facing such tragedies and having to wrestle with private disgust and professional duty. Aside from its important job in reminding us of the tragedies caused by drunk driving, this piece offers a starting point for an honest discussion about the affect of personal emotion on professional responsibilities, and begs the following question: With all the support medical professionals offer the community, what community support is there for medical professionals before and after they face truly horrific scenes?
from: Amyon: 02-20 00:00:00-2007

Despite a sometimes saddening premise, I keep coming back to read the stories for their positive messages. Thanks.
from: Jorgeon: 02-20 00:00:00-2007

There but for the grace of God go I.... It is unfortunate but true for me to admit that there have been times when my sobriety were in question and yet I got behind the wheel and drove. Being older and wiser I learned my lesson without such dire consequences. I am certain it is the same for many people. Heartbreaking story but one that needed to be told. Great job, once again, Shawn. You tell your stories in an impressive and compelling manner. ;)
from: gold deuce girlon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Another amazing story I must say there is a fine line in the world of EMS between "Devils" and "Angels." We need more angels in this field. Thank you for your story and I look forward to the next one.
from: Suzyon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

It's so unfortunate individuals make poor decisions and a life is taken. I have been in your shoes and seen what you have seen way too many times...when will people ever learn? Thanks for opening the eyes for those who are reading this...for it will be remembered to someone when they are getting into their car after having a few drinks and with that- this article, because of you, will save a life. Your incredible!
from: Nikkion: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

You have a problem with your security code. "G" and "6" look too much alike
from: Natalieon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Shawn great job. Getting into a vehicle after drinking alcohol whether the vehicle is a car, a motor boat, or any motorized vehicle the consequences are the same. You drink, you drive, you lose. Unfortunately the devil (The DRUNK) always wins most of the time, which for us in EMS have no contol of. Read ya in two weeks.
from: Chuckon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Great story! It's sad but true.
from: mentaledic7on: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Hi Dad. I feel bad for the family. The driver should go to jail.
from: Jared (the writer's 10 y/o son)on: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Great choice of topic Shawn. As parents we tell our children not to drink and drive but it a strong message from a different perspective.
from: Caraon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Great story, but an unfortunate circustance. Drinking and driving kills!
from: Nateon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Thank you so much for all that you do!
from: Sallyon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

Thank you for taking the public blinders and political correctness out of drunk driving crashes and telling it like it is: You drink, you drive, SOMEONE ELSE DIES.
from: Garyon: 02-19 00:00:00-2007

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