IDA was the Critical Response Unit’s first trauma patient that day but not the first traumatic event they’d responded to during their shift.
Earlier that afternoon a different type of medical emergency had unfolded at an alarming rate.
While there was no blood, it was no less frightening to witness an elderly woman almost die on a stranger’s living room floor. The ICPs had been dispatched to a unit block for a 67-year-old woman with respiratory difficulties.
The paramedics arrived within minutes to find Maria (not her real name), collapsed on the couch of a neighbour she’d never met. She was suffering what appeared to be a major stroke and had become unresponsive with an obstructed airway and rapidly diminishing life signs.
The woman had knocked on two other doors in her unit block before finally finding a neighbour who was home. When the Vietnamese man answered, she just said ‘call an ambulance, I’m in trouble’ before taking a few steps inside and flopping down.
The Vietnamese family stood back in stunned silence as Caitlin and Paul responded in a manner that looked very much like a scene from a medical show on TV and starkly revealed the gravity of Maria’s condition.
A second crew arrived and the large Filipino woman slid to the floor. The four paramedics worked together to assess and treat her in a tight three square-metre space.
The paramedics worked frantically to prevent an imminent cardiac arrest and to regain her consciousness. They sliced open her shirt and bra with scissors before applying defibrillator pads to her chest.
Suddenly there were monitors and cords everywhere and the living room was unrecognisable from 10 minutes earlier as the paramedics vigorously worked on the patient for what seemed like an hour.
Caitlin calmly asked for the “green bag” from the CRU containing the advanced airway kit equipment from the CRU. Sprinting to the car, I feared the consequences of taking too long.
Shortly after, the duty manager arrived to help the four paramedics and they all lifted Maria on to a stretcher.
Trying to be useful, I tried to clear their path by moving chairs and kicking shoes out of the way. Caitlin and Paul abandoned the CRU and climbed into the ambulance with Maria.
Paul then asked if I was comfortable performing manual air ventilation on the patient to free up one of his hands.
Ventilation is very task-focused and Paul needed to operate the airway instruments with a difficult airway and oversee Maria’s whole treatment as Caitlin prepared and administered critical drugs.
I tentatively took over under his guidance, relieved to be useful but more nervous about the responsibility he’d entrusted me with.
I sat alongside Paul and concentrated on the rise and fall of Maria’s chest, gently squeezing the airbag and assisting as she took slow, laboured breaths.
A few minutes later we pulled up at the ED and I gratefully handed the bag back to a paramedic.
These are the untold stories of courage, compassion, dedication, resilience and inspiration of a caring group of remarkable and selfless first responders in two of the toughest towns in Australia.
Read more of the Extreme Medics series throughout the month.