Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Up, Up and Away

The "ride along" program with the hospital's helicopter EMS unit allows folks to hang out with the "in the sky" medical team and even join them in the air for a half-day (that would be 12 hours in medical lingo.) During that time, the ride-along person (that would be me) gets to be pastorally present, surrendering to whatever comes along. I found this very much like being on call - you just never know what might arise.

My first assignment: check out the aircraft with one of the team. She explained the emergency exits, the plug for my helmet's microphone, the "off" switch for the aircraft's power and how to take the transponder with me ("in case of a hard landing"). I learned about where the fire extinguisher was. I learned how to use the seat belts, which basically wrap over the shoulders and across the lap like a straightjacket. I learned my role: "When you are seated, your job can be to look out for other aircraft. Using the clock-method, you might say, 'Plane at 3 o'clock' or 'Tower wire at 9 o'clock,' okay?" Oh, um, okay!

Methodically, she checked out the safety of the aircraft in between instructions and safety education. Clearly, this woman was comfortable with multi-tasking.

Next, back to the common area of the base. It is a comfortable but not fancy space with couches, a 32" TV and WII device, a cold draft flowing under the front door, and good lighting. The decor includes various greeting cards, notes about safety and a window-enclosed American flag given by a unit of the armed services in memory of the 2004 flight crew that perished in an accident. We hung out in this common area as the two medical team (my chatty buddy nurse and a very focused, serious-looking paramedic) and pilot inventoried their gear and shared light conversation. Serious-lady was also taking down the base's Christmas tree.

Fairly early, we got a call. In the base office, there are no overhead announcements or fancy buzzers or ringing bells or flashing lights. It was a telephone call, just as benign as any other call. Chatty buddy got the basic info, called out in a gentle voice that we were going to such-and-such county hospital and off we went.

I followed chatty buddy closely. Her easy going nature allowed me to ask her naive questions without an ounce of shame. As we approached the aircraft, she paused and looked at the pilot. My chatty buddy waited for him to change from the "fist" gesture to a "thumbs up" sign - just like she taught me in the check in. Hey, they really use this stuff!

We lifted off within minutes of getting the call. I was still smashing my helmet into my head (wow there's a lot of foam in this thing) and finding the buckle when I heard chatty buddy communicate to our hospital that we were outbound to pick up a patient. When she then radio'd ahead the other hospital, we found out that he was a big person. Very big. Like 375 pounds big. "We can hold the weight, no problem" the pilot replied to us all.

We flew about 8 minutes. I was alternating between "looking out for other aircraft" and adjusting the amazing wrap-around seatbelt when the pilot announced "2 minutes" until landing. The serious-lady took over the radio communications and got further details about the patient.

We landed without even any kind of bump. Heck, I've landed harder on my office chair when returning from a chaplain visit. Once we were on the ground, I fumbled with my helmet and seatbelt and walked quickly (kind of ducking, like they do in the movies) toward the waiting ambulance. They drove us around the parking lot to the emergency center entrance of the other hospital.

We traveled in a pack and I felt so honored to be in this company. These two strong, athletic, female paramedic/nurses, me, two gigantic EMS men with bright green jackets and a stretcher. We arrived en-force in the unit where we picked up the patient. (Well, they all shifted him from his bed-like-medical-device to the skinny board used in the aircraft.) We all herded out, placed him in the ambulance and rode through the parking lot. He WAS a big guy, so I really appreciated why they used an ambulance to move him and not even think of wheeling him down the parking lot between the cars.

A second set of EMS folks arrived to assist in loading the big guy into the aircraft. As four EMS guys and the two paramedic/nurses moved him into position, they all realized that the only way he would fit is if one of us did not go back. Serious-lady looked right at me and said, "Sorry, you'll have to stay here." Then she radio'd back to let our hospital know that one "of us" stayed at this other hospital. I really felt fine about that.

I grabbed my helmet and walked behind the security guard. He was directing traffic in the parking lot next to the heli-pad. Security guy was very talkative and his pride at serving in this once-in-a-while capacity ("I retired from the military so I know how to direct aircraft") was contagious. I, too, felt like I was part of something bigger. It so was not about me but our group effort in working with Big Guy to get him to our hospital.

I was starting to get the idea about care, about how we are part of something bigger...

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, "I'm not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don't belong to this body," would that make it so? If Ear said, "I'm not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don't deserve a place on the head," would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

1 Corinthians 12:18-20 (The Message)


  1. Amazing as always

  2. great story, thanks for sharing yet another wacky Vicki adventure!

  3. I was lifted up with you and stayed behind for the sake of the team effort with you...enlivened by it all.

    Parts of the body, pieces in the puzzle, that won't be there unless we offer ourselves.

    I know a very tall man who flies the helicopter for our hospital. Now I understand how his size can be a help. And his heart is as tall as his stature, as I could tell the folks are in Spartanburg, too!

    Vicki, thank you so much for sharing!