All week I had been trepidating over what was going to happen Thursday night, when we would do our night scenarios. Kirk told us that some teams have stayed out till 3am, and I’m a 9pm bedtime kind of person. There was just a lot of unknown around the whole thing, and he was telling us 42 people were getting bussed in to act as patients, and we were being given lectures on mass casualty incidents…
Ashley Lewis gave us some awesome lectures on search and rescue earlier in the day, and it was so endearing how she was a self-proclaimed “map geek,” and called herself out when she geeked off the deep end. All of the presenters have very clearly loved their subject matter, if it wasn’t already apparent by them making the choice to come from states all over the east coast. It was especially cool to be given a lecture by a woman who looked under 30, and yet was an expert in tracking human and animal footprints, has a master’s degree in geography, and was revered by our other instructors. I’m not a huge fan of the term “girl power,” but it seemed to apply well to her.
After a pretty full day of lectures, and a couple scenarios saving our fellow classmates from “anaphylaxis” and stranded by ankle injuries, Kirk split us into 2 teams, and designated Matt (from Australia) as the Incident Commander of my team, and Chrissy (USA) was the IC for the other team. My role was on one of the hasty teams, which would scope out the position we think the patients might be, triage the patients in order of medical needs, and report back what we’ve found and what resources we need. So I was prepared with my light pack of snacks and water, two light sources, flagging tape to mark patients, emergency blankets and one garbage bag for an emergency shelter. Catherine was the leader of our small team of her, me, and Mike, and she had the radio to communicate with IC back at the lodge.
Around 7 we were told that a plane carrying 12 passengers had crashed. We were given a point last seen on the map, and the direction the witness has seen the plane moving in, so we drew up the radius we needed to search, and picked the trails that would be most likely to be close to it. The medical and rescue team would need to carry up litters and supplies, so they needed us to tell them which trails to take to get to us. There was another hasty team working alongside us, so we split up trails to check, and tried staying in touch with each other along the way as we hiked, shining our flashlights off the trail, searching in the dark for people, yelling out “search and rescue,” and waiting 10 seconds to listen for a response. It was much harder to see anything out there than I thought it would, and I was still a little jostled by the scenario the day before in which our “patient” pulled a gun and shot me and another guy on the medical team. So my worst case scenario here was that the plane was hijacked and we were making ourselves targets for the hijacker.
We lost contact with our IC, and had to use the medical team who was on their way to meet us as a relay on the radio. I was impressed by how professionally everyone was treating the whole thing.
The other hasty team found our patients by a fire and let us know where they were, which was luckily close by. Before I saw they fire, I could hear a woman screaming, which was a little unnerving. As we got closer, I saw that the other hasty team of 3 was there, and they were calling out for us to look for more patients—they only had 4 patients, and we potentially had 12 to find.
“There’s a baby missing that they think might be over here,” Catherine told me as I caught up. So we walked within eye and earshot of each other into the brush away from the fire, looking for the baby, which I was hoping I wouldn’t find.
“There are no more patients,” one of the organizers (who were following us) called out, so we went back to where the patients were. When we got back, the hysterical woman was holding her baby, which was apparently dead, and she was screaming to get closer to her husband, who wasn’t moving 30 feet away, but had 2 people taking care of him. Jim was physically restraining the woman, whose yelling was getting in the way of people hearing each other, or talking into the radios.
I went over to 2 patients who only had one hasty team member with them to see if they wanted help, and was assigned to do the secondary assessment on someone who was marked green, and seemed to only have an ankle injury. He was sitting pretty calmly, which I appreciated, and hung out with him, asking a bunch of questions and helping to apply a good splint. I made sure to pat him down for weapons, even though he thought it was a little overkill, as one of our patients the day before had pulled a gun and shot 2 of the medical team, including myself, while we were trying to bandage him up. We decided to try and not carry him out, but rather help him walk out, but we were in a ravine, so in order to get out of that first, the best thing to do seemed to be having him pull himself up the hill backwards with our hands under his armpits. It took a while, and he was definitely tired by the time we got up to the trail. At that point I sat with him and waited while decisions got made about the other patients who were worse off. The pilot, who was being assessed by Catherine, had chest pain and some shortness of breath, but all of his vitals seemed to be grossly within normal limits, so people were considering walking him out. However, he had a history of hypertension and smoking, which increased his cardiovascular risk, so it was an iffy decision, make even more iffy by the fact that he collapsed after walking a bit, continuing to complain of shortness of breath and chest pain. There was an argument between Catherine and some of the other medical team members as to whether he should be carried out, and eventually the decision was made to walk him out again. When he started walking again, he fell down and passed out, presumably from a heart attack. Catherine tried doing compressions, which she was again told was unnecessary, and he did die anyways. So now the death toll was up to 2 out of 5. We decided to leave him there and come back to recover his body once our red patient was taken care of. So a couple of us started walking out Jason, the ankle injury, with 2 people under his shoulders and two people carrying his legs, while the medical team addressed Casey, the patient with the skull fractures and fractured femur, while his wife continued screaming in grief and fear, clutching her dead child.
Six of us helped Jason down the white trail—the fastest way down, but definitely not wide enough to accommodate all of us, and the steepness at times was definitely precarious. Jordan remembered a great way to help carry people by fashioning bunny loops out of rope with a big knot in the middle for the patient to sit on while the two people at his shoulders draped the bunny loops over their own shoulders to distribute his weight better. I was pretty impressed with her ingenuity. J
It took us about 40 minutes to get him down the trail that usually takes 15 minutes to walk, and when we got to the bottom, Casey’s medical team wasn’t far behind. We found out he had suffered a seizure and died along the way, potentially due to the delay in placing a tourniquet above his ruptured femoral artery, and due to his body being exposed to the cold … now 3 patients dead.
We were given the option to dispatch a helicopter to recover the pilot’s body, but only if we could say exactly where he was on a map… I had pretty significantly lost my sense of direction once we were off the trail, so was very glad when Garrett stepped in and decisively told Mark, one of our paramedic instructors, where he was, and then we were done. Except the other team still wasn’t back, so after putting away our stuff and making sure the patients were all okay, headed back up the trails to see if we could help them with their carry-outs, which eventually got us all back into the lodge a little past midnight.
It was definitely a new experience for me to be out hiking with a group at midnight with flashlights and headlamps, carrying a litter of a person who could drop dead of a heart attack otherwise. What was hardest for me, though, was the sound of a woman screaming for her baby through otherwise silent woods, and walking towards it, afraid of what I might find, and the limitations of my capacity to help.