After missing out on an interesting call we’re still posting near the killing fields when we get a call for a GSW about twenty blocks from the one that went out only fifteen minutes ago. Finally, something interesting!
It’s dark now and Jim is navigating through the hood with our strobes illuminating graffiti covered fences as I map out the call location on my iPad. Given the close proximity and time-frame to the last GSW it’s reasonable to suspect that this may be an extension of that scene or possibly a retaliation by affiliates of the victim. Either way it means the vibe in the hood has changed and this is a very dangerous time to be traveling the streets. I pull my ballistic vest out of my bag and strap in the velcro attachments as I’m giving directions to Jim. It’s not something I wear all the time but it seems appropriate right now.
When we’re maybe fifteen blocks from the scene the dispatcher tells us that we’re clear to enter and police have secured the scene. Making the last turn to the street we see the fire engine and six police cars that were parked in a hurry. I tell Jim and Don to get the gurney as I want to get to the patient quickly – this is going to be a stat call and I want to be able to visualize any wounds before the patient gets bandaged up or put on a back board.
Walking up to the scene an officer meets me and accompanies me to the victim. We have to push past a crowd of people who look as though they were having an outdoor barbecue with party tents and folding tables and chairs. I can see the firefighters kneeling in the grass with officers holding back the onlookers. Secure scene my ass! There are way too many random people standing around just feet from my victim – and me.
I’m happy to see Darren, my neighbor, who’s the lieutenant on the fire engine that beat us to the scene by thirty seconds. “Hey KC, good to see ya. We’ve got a twenty year old male, single GSW under the right armpit, no exit wound. We’re working on getting him boarded now.” I thank him as I head over to check out the patient.
Darren’s crew is as dialed in as they come for this kind of call. They have the patient stripped to his boxers, the oxygen mask has already been applied, and they are about to slide the back board under him as I kneel down at his head. A quick greeting to the patient tells me that he’s alert for now and that his airway is good. I give a quick listen to lung sounds to confirm that he’s moving air and feel for a radial pulse which tells me he still has a decent blood pressure. All good so far.
I inspect the wound, which is just where Darren said it would be, and I start looking for additional wounds or an exit wound. As I run my hands down the ribs on the opposite side from the GSW I feel a lump under the skin that moves around when I push it. Fuck me! That’s the bullet! It entered under the right armpit, mid-axillary, and is now resting right next to the left floating rib. That’s directly through the kill zone!
There are basically three possibilities: straight trajectory through the torso; ricochet trajectory bouncing off of bones to end up on the other side; or the luge option where the bullet entered at such an angle that it skated to the other side following the ribs in a circumferential trajectory and bypassed the internal organs. I really hope it’s the last option.
We have him loaded in the ambulance and start transporting in an incredible four minutes and thirty seconds. I brought Darren’s fire-medic with me and I have Don in the back with me. Treatment is fast and methodical from two medics that have done this many times: bilateral sixteen gauge IVs, Asherman chest seal over the wound to reduce the chance of a sucking chest wound producing a collapsed lung, keep re-assessing and go find a trauma surgeon.
After all of the basics are covered I turn it into a teaching case for Don. In an ambulance, traveling with lights and sirens, bumping down the road, I’m walking Don through everything we did and having him re-assess. I have him take a blood pressure in the most challenging of environments using all of the tricks I’ve shown him today. I quiz him on the anatomy that is in danger given the different possibilities of bullet trajectory. I have him feel the abdomen that is now filling with blood and appreciate the rigid distention that only comes from internal bleeding. He then feels the bullet under the skin as I guide his hands and I watch Don’s eyes get big and round. And finally I point to the trends that we’ve been watching over the last six minutes; skin signs going shocky, heart rate increasing by fifteen percent, blood pressure dropping by ten percent, respiration increasing, oxygen saturation dropping. I’m explaining shock and compensation as I roll into the trauma bay filled with this year’s new crop of doc-lings and the rest of the trauma team.
If you wish to make an impact for one year, plant corn; if you wish to make an impact for a generation, plant a tree; if you wish to make an impact for eternity, educate a child.