Thursday, March 4, 2010


It had been an ugly shift. A 35 yr old female had passed away in front of us, the resuscitation effort had failed and the patient was pronounced after a 40 minute effort at the hospital. The call went OK, but as usual, there were a few small things that could have gone better.

That had occurred mid afternoon. The follow-up and procedures forms had taken up some time as had the re-stock and equipment clean-up. Dinner was late for us on Engine 224.

At around 10 PM,I had finished up the paperwork for the shift and was watching a little TV with the crew when the doorbell rang. As I still had my boots on, I was first to the door. A middle aged man and his wife were standing at the door, as was a twenty something female.

The introduced themselves as the family of the young woman that we had unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate earlier. In the 30 years that I have been doing this, this is the first time that I have had the family of a patient show up at the station after an unsuccessful attempt. They had no information as to how their daughter had passed, and wanted to know what had happened. A difficult conversation to say the least.

I told them what had occurred, what we saw and briefly, what we did. We didn't go into any details that would be considered HIPAA violations or get into dosages or protocols, we just told them what happened.

After about 30 minutes, they left. I called my district commander and told him what had transpired. He was as surprised as I was that the family had dropped in and was OK with our talking to them. I am sure the folks over at headquarters have some reservations about us discussing things with the family, but I felt that they had the right to know the basic details as to how their daughter died. I view it as a customer service thing.

One of the things I have always liked about my gig is that my role in a tragedy is short lived. The event occurs, we handle it and then we return to the sanctuary of the station and move on. Our exposure to the human drama that the family experiences is often intense, though very brief. This visit was outside that norm. Frankly, I found it unsettling and I didn't care for the experience.

My unease pales to the strife that the young woman's family is now forced to deal with. I just need to get over myself. My only hope is that the family found some shred of solace by our answering their questions, this incident will be on their minds for a long time.

Thanks for reading,


  1. We ran about 2am on a guy vomiting blood. We were on scene in about 3 minutes and there was blood everywhere, including a gallon bucket full. He was conscious and had the "impending doom look" in his eyes, and he coded as we got him on the stretcher. His family, including wife and kids ages 6-14, were in the room. Resuscitation was unsuccessful-cancer had eaten away his esophagus, causing the bleeding.

    After riding along to the hospital, we realized that in our haste to go, we left a piece of equipment behind at the house. As the firehouse was on the way, we stopped and picked up some towels and a biohazard bag. We knocked at the door, and the teenage boy let us in. He was out of it, playing computer games in the same room that was covered with blood, and didn't know his dad was dead yet. We decided to let his mom tell him, but cleaned up the mess as best we could.

    Three years later, a lady walked up to me while at a Dr's office for our FF physicals. It was the man's wife. She explained who she was, gave me a hug, and thanked us for doing everything we could for her husband and cleaning up. She also thanked us for not telling her son, so that she could be there when he found out.

    That is one of many cases where we took a little extra care of a patient or their family, and I am as proud of those actions as any of the first due fires that I've had.

  2. Strong work John, proud as you should be. In the end, this silly job is about people.
    Thanks for your comments.

  3. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    Both your story and the one by John are horrific and yet I am glad to know them. Thank you and all your colleagues for what you do every day.

    I want to address your comments about "getting over yourself" and not wanting the sustained contact. I don't think this is wrong.

    There are two kinds of intense commitment. One is permanent, like raising children. One is temporary, such as teaching school. In the latter, you are intensely involved with a student for nine months. And then you let them go. It is still a social, human endeavor with maximum importance and impact.

    The mistake we often make is confusing the two. Teachers now do a lot of parenting, but it is temporary. People often call EMT/ER for items that should be handled by a more permanent relationship with a physician.

    In this case, you signed up to do intense, short-term care for an entire community. The length of your single relationship is 'as long as it takes and no longer'. Do not beat yourself up about this. Your permanent relationship is to your profession, your team, and to the city at large. The intensity, though short for any one-on-one, is nevertheless durable and full of positive impact.

    When this event occurred, nobody was wrong. But you had to switch gears somewhat, because it was different than what you signed up to do.

    Sincerely yours,
    Ann T.

  4. You done good Capt. I'm thankful this never happened to me. Not sure how I'd have handled it. Just curious Capt, why did she die so young?

  5. Thanks Ann T.

    Peedee - Although we won't know for sure what caused her death until the autopsy is complete, it appears that she died from a common disease which is usually easily controlled. Occasionally, it becomes an acute condition and takes someone out.

  6. Ok, so diabetes or more than likely asthma I'm thinking. what a shame. I've run a few of those types.