NORTH HAVEN — When my pager went off for the first time, I had just settled in for a second cup of tea, further delaying the household chores I had scheduled for this Thursday of my February break. It took a second to place the sound, then as realization hit, I scrambled around making sure the house wouldn’t burn down in my absence, threw on boots and a coat, then hopped into my car.
Jump kit? Safely in the trunk. Radio? I remembered the script crew chief April Brown made me practice a few days before. “North Haven Ambulance to Knox County. First responder en route.” After six days on call, nervous anticipation had given way to action.
My path from student to responder began in November when a joint North Haven/Vinalhaven emergency first responder class began. Offered through Atlantic Partners EMS and taught by Jeremy Damren with the assistance of the crew chiefs from both islands, the class gathered 14 students for six, eight-hour days, alternating between the North Haven school and the classroom space in the Vinalhaven Fire Station.
Although I knew my North Haven classmates well, I didn’t know the Vinalhaven students before the class started. Within hours we were palpating each others’ abdomens, practicing holding each others’ cervical spines, or pairing off to practice assessing vital signs. Emergency medicine is intimate stuff.
Lots of things combined to push me into class this fall.
The impulse to prove my commitment to North Haven, my adopted home, never goes away. My term on the planning board was about to end, and I was ready for another type of public service. I had finished the course work I needed to fulfill my secondary English endorsement and I missed reading, studying, practicing new skills. Add to that my family’s medical background – my father is an ob-gyn at Franklin Memorial Hospital, my mother was a NICU nurse and my sister, now an obstetrics resident at Cooper Hospital in New Jersey, once picked me up at the Philadelphia airport sporting a blob of bile on her tiny white sneaker.
It was inevitable.
As soon as an EMR class was offered that fit around my teaching and play rehearsal schedule, I was there.
Once I arrived on the scene, things fell into place. Though nervous, I felt prepared and the experienced crew communicated my tasks clearly. The patient got to where the patient needed to be, as Dave Macy, a driver and the crew chaplain likes to say
After April, Dave and I cleaned the ambulance and replenished supplies, I headed home. Almost three hours elapsed from the page to the beeping of the ambulance as Dave backed it into the bay. The remarkable events of an emergency call tuck neatly between the everyday things you must accomplish. One minute you’re looking at an EKG with the nurse practitioner, the next you’re finally Swiffering the kitchen floor.
Through the class and being on-call, I felt camaraderie, support and purpose. Jeremy Damren, who works for the Maine Emergency Management Agency setting up mass casualty incident scenarios when he isn’t guiding aspiring EMRs and EMTs, agreed.
“I would come back in a second to teach another group as dedicated and professional as this one,” he said. “This class had a uniqueness about it.”
All seven students from North Haven are planning to serve on the ambulance crew as are many of the Vinalhaveners. At the time of writing all but two of us have finished both the practical and the written tests. April said she felt lucky to have so many new “competent, compassionate skilled practitioners joining our service.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully relax while the pager is clipped to my pocket, but I know that I was taught well, and that our crew is practiced, and the patients will go where the patients need to be.