Monday, June 15, 2009

You Never Know Who You'll Meet

[12 Sep 2006 | Tuesday]

Current mood: contemplative
Category: Jobs, Work, Careers

Crazy story. I had to come all the way back home just to write this (well, not really...I had to teach, too).

Anyways, I was up north (Barton City) like I said I was going to do. My parents and most of my aunts and uncles all had a swell time talking and reminiscing about the old days when they were growing up. Anyways, mid-Sunday, they all headed back home, leaving my Uncle Paul and I to fend for ourselves for the day. First day of the NFL football season, seemed pretty easy to fend for. After the Lion's game, we headed to Mikado, where we had gone to church earlier that day, but also because there also happened to be an American Legion Post there. My uncle is prior Navy as well, and we figured to grab a few beers.

We walked in, there is about ten people huddled around the bar with only two seats left, way back in the far corner of the bar. We sat down at the bar and ordered a couple beers. The guy next to me introduces himself as Dennis, and then proceeds to introduce us to everybody else at the bar. Really friendly fellow, exactly what you'd expect in a one-horse town like Mikado. Dennis owns a local business up there and lives up there all year round. He mentioned that he was prior Navy as well, and we started chatting like we had known each other for years.

I somehow mentioned that I was a paramedic and Dennis finally launched into "my story". I won't be able to do it justice, but it's something I just had to tell. Dennis said he started his Navy career (10 years all told) at boot camp in San Diego way back in the late 50's. After that he went to Corpsman school, where he obviously became a corpsman (read: military paramedic for those of you that don't know). After that, his first duty station was to be a submarine, the USS Thresher, one of the first nuclear submarines ever built. Due to a flight scheduling problem with TWA, he made it to Maine to join the crew just a tad late.

Good thing too, because the Thresher, after going out on sea trials without Dennis, never came back. It was one of two US Navy nuclear submarines that went down with all hands aboard. The Scorpion was the other submarine that was lost. Both went down relatively around the same time in the early 60's. The US Navy, after both disasters, revamped a couple of major programs that they believe was the cause of both sinkings. The US Navy has not had a problem since then and has since not lost a nuclear ship or submarine. It also just so happens that my Uncle Paul was on one of the ships that was sent out to look for the Thresher after it went down. Weird coincidence!

Dennis was reassigned (he never got on a submarine the rest of his career) to a Marine unit and saw duty as a corpsman/medic in Vietnam. He was doing helivacs, riding the side baskets of helicopters, caring for his injured. He gave me a unique perspective to really think about. Anybody in our line of work knows how amazed some of these docs and nurses are when we bring a patient after we intubated the patient in a snowbank in the middle of the night or lying in vomit (or worse) or having gotten large bore IV's while driving pell-mell through the streets. Some of these nurses have a hard enough time getting a 20 or a 22 gage IV in an AC. Some of these docs can't or couldn't intubate in a nice clean and sterile ER (with lots of lights). We do the impossible. Well, I think Dennis did it one better. He used to do all that, including surgical airways and other field surgeries, while hanging in a patient's helo basket while flying through the air! Perspective is everything!

He eventually got out and came back to Michigan where he became a police officer in Detroit. He then joined Detroit FD as a firefighter and when Detroit EMS split off from FD, he became an EMT and a paramedic. He was one of the first paramedics in the State of Michigan. He also described a CPR assist device designed by himself and a few other EMT's/medics that basically incorporated a belt that alternately tightened and loosened (compressing the chest) using a Briggs and Stratton 1 1/2 HP gasoline motor that sat on top of the patient during CPR. He said it worked pretty good except for the (obvious) carbon monoxide poisoning that some of them got.

It became fairly obvious to me over the course of our two hour conversation that he was particularly proud to have done what he did over the course of his life. He has no regrets and he made the most out of the life he was given. To really give it perspective, imagine if TWA hadn't screwed up his flight plans and he had gotten on board the Thresher. Nobody would've been there hanging from a helicoptor saving a fellow soldier's life as he did. Nobody would've been there to pull trapped people out of burning buildings or destroyed cars as he did. Nobody would've been there to help deliver the children he helped deliver. Nobody would've been there to administer CPR, intubate, defibrillate and administer drugs to the people he gave a new lease on life to, and nobody would've driven the ambulance to the hospital because he wouldn't have been there.

I'm not a big believer in fate or destiny, but it appears to me that there was a reason there were only two seats left at the back of the bar, next to a certain kindly gentleman in a small town called Mikado.....

Dennis, may the wind be at your back and the sun in your face!



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