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Sue Bush
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EMS: Courage And Compassion In Action

By Shawn Godfrey
12:00AM / Monday, March 19, 2007

Shawn Godfrey is operations manager for the Village Ambulance Service and a certified paramedic.
Deep Wounds

Welcome to "EMS:Courage and Compassion In Action," a weekly column written by Village Ambulance Services Operations Manager and paramedic Shawn Godfrey. Godfrey's columns will appear on Monday and will focus on the reality of the emergency services medical profession.

Suicide is one of the ten leading causes of death in the United States, resulting in approximately 30,000 deaths per year. Suicide exacts a significant toll on the lives of the citizens of Massachusetts. Our Commonwealth loses an average of 500 lives to suicide each year. The subsequent suffering, trauma, and loss devastate the lives of family members, friends and co-workers.

Prior to the start of my emergency medical service career, I didn't realize that, in most cases, the EMT (emergency medical technician) has more interaction with the suicidal person than other emergency responders. We are the first to witness their environment; to comfort them, and ultimately get a general impression of their personality.

Unfortunately, we also see them at the height of their vulnerability. For example, some victims, while realizing the injuries won't actually kill them, will superficially lacerate their wrists as a way to initiate a need for help. We also see those who are far more serious about it, actively seeking a method, but uncertain if they’ll actually follow through with it. Then there are those we must attempt to resuscitate because the method has been effectively carried out.

The Unthinkable

One early winter morning, I was dispatched to a call for a “possible self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head; male victim.”

As I arrived, I could see two women through a large bay window, frantically hurrying to greet me at the front door. Both were physically distraught and were breathing heavily. Their skin was pale and the horrified look in their reddened eyes uncovered the true gravity of what I was about to embark on.

“I think my husband tried to kill himself,” the older of the two women said, as she swiftly opened the door.

“Please, hurry. My dad is in the basement,” the second woman pleaded.

The cellar stairwell was dimly lit; however, a small window allowed the alternating beacon lights of our ambulance to color the walls red, which cast an eerie atmosphere that made one think of how hell might appear.

I made my way down the stairs to the basement. A police officer was holding a shotgun as the patient lay face-down and motionless in a large pool of blood. A First Responder, who was kneeling beside the victim, confirmed that the patient still exhibited signs of life, including a slow, faint pulse and shallow respirations. I quickly made the decision to try and resuscitate the patient.

Reaching Out

As we rolled the patient onto his back, we observed implausible destruction to the patient’s face; his lower jaw bone, nose, and left eye were gone, and strands of his hair lay strewn on the floor.

Using a portable vacuum device, I repeatedly suctioned blood from the patient’s malformed mouth, and inserted a breathing tube. Following further stabilization, including oxygen administration, intravenous line insertion, and bleeding control, the victim was immediately extricated on a backboard from the cellar to the ambulance.

During transport to the emergency department, I asked the victim to squeeze my hand with his. Unexpectedly, he clutched my hand and vigorously began squeezing. This exam indicated the victim suffered no acute neurological deficits, and based on this, I formulated a system for the man to answer my questions in transit: thumb up for “yes” and thumb down for “no.” Extraordinarily, the man answered every question with an oriented response.

Going Home

Following further stabilization in the emergency department, admission to the intensive care unit, and extensive reconstructive surgery, the man returned home three weeks later. Due to the injuries sustained, he now suffered left eye blindness and lost all ability to speak. His only means of breathing came by way of a small hole in the front of his neck, and his upper and lower jaw was grafted using bone from his upper back.

I would later learn that the patient was distraught over a marital situation. Apparently, he knelt down, prayed, and then placed the shotgun under his chin. According to medical reports, the patient is alive today because, during the gun’s discharge, the thrust inadvertently tipped the patient’s head back too far, ultimately causing significant soft-tissue injury rather than death.

I have not seen the man since this unfortunate event; however, I have heard that he and his wife began counseling with hopes of improving their marriage and their lives.


This is just a one example of how suicide can deeply impact not only the victim, but family and friends of the victim as well. Mental illness can bring out the unthinkable in all of us, so each statement made by the afflicted must be taken seriously. By simply listening and responding to threats or ideations of self-harm, each of us can be important contributors in the fight against suicide-related deaths.

References used for this article are:

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Center for Disease Control

Vital Registry of Records and Statistics, MA Department of Public Health
Your Comments
Post Comment
I have only one comment.
Suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem. If more people would realize that, We wouldn't lose so many to suicide.
from: Small town Girlon: 04-01 00:00:00-2007

As someone who spent one night a week for a couple of years as a volunteer on a Suicide Hotline, I appreciate your stirring account of what actually happens when suicide is attempted and almost succeeeds. As a trained Samaritan Suicide HotLine volunteer, the first question I asked when I had a caller on the phone was: are you planning to kill yourself; if the answer is yes:do you have a plan, a method, the means and a timetable. This allows the caller to truly understand the enormity of their decision. If they say yes, I would ask when and how? Keep in mind that the person is calling a Suicide Hotline and the first thing we need to establish is how close they are to actually committing suicide. More often than not what they really need is someone to listen to them and accept them. By asking open-ended questions and really listening to them in a nonjudgemental way the suicide hotline callers would usually end the call by thanking me to free up the line in case someone else was trying to call.

This was one of the most rewarding volunteer jobs I ever had.
from: Angelaon: 03-30 00:00:00-2007

Definately an eye opener!
from: Colon: 03-25 00:00:00-2007

Having had a personal experience with a family member commiting suicide it is one of the most difficult things to understand. For the people left behind it is a hard thing to live with. Great story shawn!!!!
from: jodion: 03-21 00:00:00-2007

sad story! hope all is well with him...
from: bernieon: 03-21 00:00:00-2007

I never looked at a column as having such an impact. You have a lot of comments. This is my first time reviewing iberkshires and Im impressed so far. You are all good writers.
from: Bob V.on: 03-21 00:00:00-2007

Great story.
from: Jackon: 03-20 00:00:00-2007

I think everyone goes through a tough period in their life. Family betrayal can be difficult to deal with, but I'm not sure if attempting suicide is the answer. This man obviously had underlying problems that needed attention. Maybe people who read this can gather their life's priorities, and rethink the unthinkable. You just may have saved a life. Wink.
from: Mikeon: 03-20 00:00:00-2007

Shawn as usual great article. Suicide is a hard thing to deal with when you work in EMS. As you mentioned we are usually the first to see this in a patient, and must deal with this early to help the patient get the professial help need. People working in EMS can even have a high suicide rate. Keep up the great work, read ya in two weeks.
from: Beakeron: 03-20 00:00:00-2007

The "unthinkable" can happen to any of us. Good luck with future stories.
from: Mike S.on: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

Articles like this are not only tough to read, but probably even tougher to post. I commend iberkshires for choosing to publish it.
from: Sandraon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

Once again you show us the painful reality of the job you do. My heart breaks for the man who believed suicide was the answer. A situation such as this is not the first we think of for EMT's. It is my hope they are calls that are few and far between. Keep up the great articles, Shawn. You make us think beyond our own small problems. ;)
from: GOLD DEUCE GIRLon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

Another great story.I think alot of us have thought about suicide as the answer to our problems at one time or another in our lives,whether we admit it or not.
from: winnieon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

Good story Shawn suicide can be hard to talk about you always figure out a way to let the community know about even the toughest subjects.
from: Meon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

I think this is a great article. These are issues the public need to read about. Well written.
from: Missyon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

Again Shawn, great article. Although traumatic to family, friends and responders its nice to hear that one incident turned for the better and the family as a whole is getting help. Is not often we see positive results.
from: Carrieon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

This is so disturbing and heart wrenching. I don't know how you do it. I hope you have a good psychotherapist to get you through your shifts.
from: Annaon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

I fully understand. My husband took his life three years ago and we are now just recovering. Thank you.
from: Elaineon: 03-19 00:00:00-2007

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