Thursday, July 21, 2011

The End

My boots hit the hot tarmac one last time as I walked away from my Paramedic station. I couldn't help but turn my head and look back one last time as about a million thoughts went racing through my mind. I did not go home that day and the sweltering summer breeze accompanied me as I went for a long walk. I was by myself and just needed some time to reflect. It was all over. 1 year in Saudi Arabia, almost 18 months of keeping this blog and over 21 months since I applied to the SRCA in 2009.


Here is just a taste of how to sum up this adventure. Imagine you had just fallen asleep 15 minutes ago after being awake for 24 hours then suddenly the radio explodes with a request for help, seconds later your inside a car going over 200k an hour with lights and sirens, blowing red lights, going the wrong way down a one way street and just moments later you arrive to world war 3. There are bodies, blood, smoke, and twisted metal everywhere. You hear screams for help all over, no one speaks English and its up to YOU to sort this whole mess out.
A Paramedic's job is to turn Pandamonium in to order, to control your own fears, sadness, adrenaline, and focus on fixing a problem when everyone else around you can not or will not. Then when its all over you return to your station and do the same thing all night, all day, everyday. This has been my life and for every one story I shared with you on here hundreds more went untold.
 How do I wrap it up in 1 simple blog entry? What started as a small personal  blog for a couple close friends and family members quickly spread to many friends, associates and actually paramedics from all over the world. Thank you for all who have followed my blog, emailed, messaged and spoke with me during this amazing adventure. In addition to this also the local citizens of Saudi Arabia who have also sent me messages comments and emails of support and gratitude.


 I learned a lot and I mean A LOT about myself both professionally and personally during this entire experience.  I have no regrets about coming to Saudi Arabia and working as a Paramedic. It was a good time in my life and I needed a change. I saved some money, gained amazing work experience, the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and it forced me interact with new and different people I would have normally never met. I lost 30 pounds while here and I am feeling healthier than I have in years. I got to travel and see a new part of the world while I was on this side of the earth including 7 new countries I had never been to. I also feel extremely calm, professional, and proficient in highly stressful and dangerous situations that require critical thinking and decision making as a result of my colossal exposure to insanity here.

With that said it was not all lolly pop lanes, rainbows, fairy tales and gum drops. It was a major sacrifice for me both at a professional and personal level.
Personal sacrifice: including the freedoms we often take for granted in most of the western world. It really made me appreciate the USA and freedoms I miss like wearing whatever I want, saying whatever I want, my hobbies, the live music I enjoy, pubs, places and activities I normally frequent, bicycling around the city, mingling (its segregated and different here), also having friends that are like minded and have the same interest as myself.
Professional: It was also challenging at work when I was running critical cases back to back on day and night shift suffering from severe sleep deprivation. In addition to this the lack of properly trained medical personal available, my life being in jeopardy to some degree everyday mostly from responding to accidents and other traffic related incidents in this country but also from violent and armed patients, lack of police support or back up, hazardous materials, fires, explosions, and things Paramedics would normally wait to be "secured and safe" before entering in the U.S. but not here. I have been punched, kicked, attacked with a knife, had a gun pulled on me, I have been stuck with dirty needles, Ive been knocked back by an explosion, I have been in 3 separate motor vehicle accidents while responding to emergency's on duty. 


There where days I woke up and hated everything, I just wanted to go home, then there where the days I woke up smiling and really making a difference for people who needed it. I remember being so proud the first time I cardioverted someone by myself, and also feeling so low looking into a fathers eyes as I held his dead 8 year old boy and having to tell him there was nothing I could do to bring him back.  I don't remember all there faces but I will always relish the asthma attacks I made it to in time to reverse, the hearts I restarted, The people I brought back from unconsciousness or death, The ones I risked my own safety for in order to rescue them from entrapment, The broken bones I splinted and the medication I gave to ease there pain and suffering. I will also remember staring into some of there eyes as they literally died in front of me and I was the last thing they saw.

It was an amazing test for myself mentally. I have experienced the highest of high's and lowist of low's while here. I have experienced the absolute extreme's of every emotion possible during  this 1 journey than I have in my entire life. 1 simple blog is not nearly enough for me to really express to you this entire experience, merely a glimpse inside of it.
The amazing amount of trauma and call volume I have had here is unlike anything except maybe war. In the year I have spent here (most of which at what was once the busist ALS station in Riyadh) I have probably racked up 5 years worth of experience.

This is my 2nd time working in the middle east and will probably not be my last.Will miss all my Saudi partners who I am proud to call my friends. I have cycled through four of them in a year.  Also thank you to the many other people I have met from Saudi Arabia who have made this a truly humbling experience I wont forget for the rest of my life. It has been an honor and a privilege serving the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I hope I was able to save some lives or improve the outcomes of some who may not have had an opportunity otherwise. I typed this out while in a coffee shop in London  where I am taking some much needed time off. I will be taking a break and starting some college classes soon in writing in hopes to improve my writing for my next writing project. Then its off to my next Paramedic adventure somewhere in the world. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

THUMBS UP


The heat from outside hit me like a sack of door knobs as I exited the comfort of our cozy air conditioned ambulance. It was around 115 degrees and windy but the wind felt more like a blow drier on full blast bombarding my face. I was called to a construction site for an accident.
 I began searching through the workers at the building site and it wasn’t long before I found my guy. He had been cut by “something” according to bystanders. (I later found out  “something” was a power saw)He had no other injuries. He was pale and another worker was holding the patients arm up in the air to help stop the bleeding. I assisted him out of all chaos and heat into the calm quite ambulance for further evaluation.

After removing the bloody napkin that his friends had used as a bandage I found my first surprise. There was only a bloody stump where his thumb should have been. Pointing out the obvious, I exclaimed “where is this guys thumb?” which was quickly translated into Arabic by my partner. No one was quite sure but all fingers seemed to be pointing in the same general area on the ground some distance away. I ordered his team of co workers out on a special mission. A treasure hunt they would soon not forget. Arm to arm, sifting through the sand searching for a body part. It was not long before one of them was holding my prize up in the air. Ding Ding Ding We have a winner! I thought to myself.

The severed thumb was quickly presented to me moments later. I was now holding it and examining it like gemologist might examine a diamond. It was in pristine condition, almost like it had been surgically removed. I stood there and conitnued examining my precious prize probably longer than I needed to. I thanked my treasuring hunting friend for recovering it and got back to work. Due to the type of cut, time that we recovered the amputated part, and follow up care we gave there is a very good chance that the thumb could be reattached.

I managed to start an IV on the patient and gave him a hefty dose of IV morphine which he was very grateful for. The guy who was hating life and just had his thumb amputated was now smiling thanks to morphine. I love giving morphine to people who really deserve it because you become there new best friend. Anyway, The bleeding had been controlled at this point so I just placed a large bandage over the stump to protect it from infection and also so the patient did not have to look at it. I put the severed thumb in a special sterile bandage and placed it in a container on Ice.
We rushed him and his severed digit to the hospital. Upon our arrival to the emergency department I was giving my hand over report but the pushy triage nurse was not listening much and for some odd reason decided to open the container, “what’s in here?” She said as she started sifting through it, “This guys amputated thumb” I replied. She let out a scream and jumped back then starting yelling at me. I guess she learned patience is a important virtue to have. I gave her thumbs up on the way out the door but I don’t think she appreciated my humor.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The smoking gun



I jumped over the concrete barrier and slid down an embankment with my trusty trauma bag slung over my shoulder. As I surfed down the dirt and debris in the darkness I thought to myself I was probably going to recover a body, not treat a patient. Covered in dirt I continued sliding down until I reached my patient. At first site it appeared I was to late just as I had thought. He's left leg was severely deformed, he was unconscious, pale, cool, and had blood oozing from his mouth. He had been ejected from the car he was driving and went on quite the journey. The Mechanism of injury and energy transfer was amazing. During impact he busted through the car’s windshield which sent him flying through the air 6+ meters. He managed to clear the concrete road barriers and landed on a steep embankment where he continued his journey, now on land, sliding down several more meters to his final resting place and where I had now managed to find myself beside him. 

I checked for a pulse and to my surprise the man regained consciousnesses and looked at me. There was not much room to work and we where wedged in a tight spot. As soon as another united arrived I had them start lowering me down equipment and a backboard. The area he was stuck in was small. There was only adequate room for me to secure him to the backboard, place a neck collar, open his airway, relocate his leg as best I could, and splint the leg to the backboard. I then sent him up the embankment using a human chain to pass the backboard along to the top. Another ALS unit had arrived by now and I took the other Paramedic with me onto the ambulance. The other Paramedic was from South Africa and we began making small talk as we worked on the patient and started IV's.

I took charge of the airway and began suctioning blood and debris from it while the other medic began a head to toe physical exam, which as part of standard procedure includes cutting all the man’s clothes off and palpating down his body. I was pretty focused on the airway and had not been paying much attention to the other medics assessment until he said “Hey Mike I think you better take a look at this” Before I even looked up at him I knew this was not going to be good. Ill be honest though I was in no way prepared for what I was about to encounter.

I turned my head just in time to stare down the barrel of a pistol. The medic and patient both grasping a fully loaded 30 caliber revolver with the barrel pointed in my general direction. It was ready to fire and the patient began to fight us. I dropped the suction equipment and got my hands on it as quickly as possible. The patient was very confused and had a head injury and was not completely aware of what was going on. However he became combative and really wanted to get his hands on that gun. We struggled over it for a few moments until I finally managed to be the one holding the gun. I made sure the trigger was not cocked and kept the barrel pointed to the ground while the south African kept the patient secured to the stretcher. 

There is a wall in the ambulance separating the driver from the back of the patient care compartment. Luckily there is a small window you can slide open. I tapped on the window to summon assistance.The  driver opened it but he sure wasn’t expecting the present I had for him. “ here hold this, be careful its loaded.” I said. He tried saying something but he had already taken the gun before he had time to even see what it was. I had already shut the window before he could make a rebuttal. Once we arrived to the hospital the nurse and security refused to take the gun as part of the patients belongings. Our supervisor arrived and we handed it over to him, along with a large 10 inch knife we found concealed on the patient. We waited until law enforcement arrived and all the proper paper work was filled out. I went back to the hospital the following day to recover some of our equipment that the hospital needed to borrow. I asked the doctor how our patient was. He ended up having a closed head injury, fractured cervical vertebrae, fractured femur, and some internal bleeding but managed to get stabilized fairly quickly and is expected to make a good recovery. I am not sure what became of the weapons, but they are being held in a safe place for him until he is aware, makes a full recovery and does some explaining. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Curbside Carnage

There I sat, like a minister of death praying for war listening to the radio, I waited there hoping and wishing for a case. Our air condition had been broken for 2 days now and I sat in our sweltering hot station wallowing in my own juices due to the fact it was over 100 degrees F outside. A dead mosquito and some grains of sand stuck to my skin and all the energy had been sucked out of me. I just needed a case so I could get out of the station.

That case finally came at 430am as I lay there in the dark, hot, sweaty and miserable. I jumped at the oppertunity to get out of the hot station and hit the road. I could hear dispatch calling ambulance after ambulance from several stations across the city all to the very case we where just sent on. Update en route to the scene confirmed there was at least 10 people injured including some that where listed as critical. My partner floored it and we flew down the highway. I started playing things out in my head and trying to prepare myself mentally for possible injuries and scene management issues with a large accident.

Flashing lights, twisted metal, bodies, and a large crowd began to form in the horizon as we approached.  We entered the event horizon of this catastrophe and our unit was directed right into the middle of it. The ussual unruly mob of bystanders and on lookers stood in our way. The fire department who where busy cutting entrapped people out of cars had to help create a gap in the crowed as we slowly drove into the middle of this mess, there was no going back now. Time seemed to slow down and there was an erry silence inside the ambulance despite being surrounded by all this mayhem. I looked outside from our almost sound proof window to see people bleeding laying on the ground all over, people crying and screaming walking around with dirt, sut and blood on there faces.We navigated our way right to the middle and stopped. It was almost like a movie watching it from the inside of our unit. The silence I was experiencing from inside was soon broken the moment I cracked the door. It was like the front door opening to an amphibious landing ship full of soldiers at the beaches of Normandy on D day.

I tuned out all the noise as best I could. I had become accustom to all the chaos around me by now after a year as a self proclaimed flesh mechanic in Riyadh.  I grabbed the trauma bag and off I went. I could see other EMT's and Medics arriving and pouring in behind me to help. The first man I came to was bleeding badly from the head and the bone from his leg was sticking out.  He had been pulled out of the car into the dirt and had broken glass and sand all over him. He was pale, cool,. clammy in shock and had no palpable radial pulse but was breathing. Another U.S. paramedic arrived as I was assessing the first man. I told him to continue triaging the others while I managed this guy.
 I ensured his airyway was clear and we placed a large bulky dressing over his  bleed. I got some of the EMT's to help me place a neck collar on him,  and package him up on a backboard with some oxygen. Another EMT worked on his broken leg. We started a large IV whilst this was going on and checked for any other injuries. The guy looked like crap and I was not sure if he was going to make it. but there where so many others and there was not much more I could do for him. Time was of the essence.  I left him with the EMT's and another Paramedic once he was ready for transport and went to check on the others. A man came up to me with a broken arm begging for help but I had to tell him to wait with other "walking wounded" until we gathered all the people who where unable to walk and critical. I wanted to make sure we did not miss anyone in this mess.

Like a dysfunctional easter egg hunt I went searching through the vehicles, debris, pieces of flesh, groups of rescue workers and crowd for the injured. We had more than enough resources at the scene now including some doctors and I just wanted to ensure all the critical patients on the scene had been found, stabilized, and transported before we left. I loaded up the last  patient that was unable to walk my partner had found. He was showing early signs of shock and had been hit by a car as a pedestrian. I jumped in the ambulance with him and our journey to the hospital began. He got a full work up and was treated for shock. His condition improved en route and he was successfully delivered to a hospital further away from the accident to scene to help distribute the large volume of patients across multiple facility's. Its important to do this during large accidents so one hospital does not become over whelmed and under staffed. I think our guy will be fine.

I found out later what happened. Apparently only 1 or 2 vehicles had a car accident and the people where transported by ambulance with no problems. However there was such a large crowd of bystanders and onlookers that had stopped to check things out or ran over to help that oncoming traffic hit a group of the bystanders and also caused a car pile up. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Easy Street

Silence..... Serenity.... The Sun was shining in the clear blue sky as a gentle breeze swept by. It had been like this for hours now and only the peaceful songs from birds off in the distance could be herd. My apathy was a distant thought as I stepped inside my new home away from home. It was inviting me to have a sit down as I wafted in the pleasant aroma of fresh tea and coffee being made. A smile began to slowly stretch across my face and I conceded to the aroma.

Mean while outside our sparkling clean ambulance shimmered in the sunlight. It was washed, waxed, armoralled, and detailed daily. Wait, did I say ambulance? Thats right I was at work. But wait this is not the internal burning inferno of  hell I normally describe to you.
I took a deep breathe and looked around, had I finally died at work responding to a call and now I had gone to a better place? I had plenty of close calls and  it would seem so but that was not the case. I was actually at work at my new station. As I mentioned in an earlier post I was rewarded for all my hard work and was transfered to a new medic station. It was a special duty assignment located in a very high profile and secure area.  It was the opposite of my old station in every way. Ive been here for almost a month now. The story's I wrote to you about at my previous station where just the tip of the iceberg of what I actually encountered out there. If I wrote you about every critical case I encountered the past 9 months I would have to write multiple times a day every day... but not now haha.

The new stations nice, almost to nice for me and I missed my old station sometimes. The chaos, carnage, anarchy, and destruction from my previous duty assignment. Was I crazy, Was I an addreline junky? God I am picky, first I complain about things being to crazy then I complain about them not being crazy enough. However if I liked it or not I needed a change and this was my new duty. I have already found positive attributes of working here, and I am only here until the end of July. I can sleep a few hours on night duty now which is pretty remarkable. I only work with 1 other person and we no longer use another crew for transport, which is better for me. I found now that I try and say good bye to every patient or shake the hand of everyone I deliver to the hospital and personally wish them luck if there conscious... something I never use to do much. I had regained some of the emotions and feelings that make me a human being. However I still had what it took inside me to go back to the insanity and get things done quickly with a strait face.

In addition to this I did some more community outreach this week and gave another presentation on road safety, this time to the British International School of Riyadh. Ill try and drum up some business for you guys to hear about later this week. I know hearing about other peoples misfortune and listening to exciting experiences is more interesting to read about!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Break a leg

Just a quick story:

I can hear the screams through the thick crowd. I do my best to push and shove my way further into the large group of on lookers thats gathered. I continue following a path destruction thats all around me. I begin honing in on the screams until I reach the patient. He does not speak Arabic or English so non of us can communicate with him. However its safe to say he is saying some pretty vulgar things in Hindi. He is laying on the street supine and his leg is severely deformed and in a very unnatural position thats placed his foot next to his head. As he lay there screaming in pain he stairs at his deformed foot just inches from his face. However he is unable to move the extremity and his bones are so broken that there is no structure left to his leg. We feel for a pulse in his foot and of course there is none. The whole leg moves like a gummy worm and requires several of us to support it. 1 sharp piece of broken bone is starting to cut its way out the leg so we must move it very carefully. We can not transport him with his leg in this crazy position and with no pulse so we have to relocate it.

We give him the maximum start dose of morphine for pain that we can give and also give him another medication to sedate him so he will not be completely aware during the procedure. We carefully relocate the extremity to a neutral inline position and splint it. Its about this time the helicopter lands I send him off with the chopper crew and attend to the other patient who is dead. He lay there in the street surrounded by fruit and vegetables covered in blood. I place some electrodes on his body and run a quick flat line ecg rythem strip to attach to my report then cover the body with a blanket.

So what happened to these guys? Well from what I gathered someone possibly fell asleep at the wheel and drove there car into an open air street market hitting some fruit and vegetable stands killing the 1 man and injuring the other man with the broken leg.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A twist of events

As I mentioned in a previous posting, we have ran so many critical calls that our minds had adapted to our environments. We could do our jobs flawlessly like robots, but at what cost? What about our empathy and caring.... Had we lost some of it or all of it along the way? What about  our personal lives? Help others and then help yourself...  Sometimes the hardest life to save is your own. As a medic how does one save themselves?


I stepped outside my dark hotel room into the bright hallway when I caught the attention of 2 of the other U.S. medics eyes. "jesus, you look like S**t Mike" they exclaimed. I just mumbled agreeably as I made my way outside to hail a taxi and get to work.  Dark bags under my blood shot eyes squinted in pain. Off to work... I have now been in country longer than most of other western medics. I am salty and short timing.


  Upon arrival to the station I dropped my gear inside and went for a walk to the local store. As I walked down the busy dirt road covered in old plastic bags, rusty cans, paper, wrappers, needles,  and other random debris I enjoyed the amaturer  graffiti that covered every business and every wall around me. Many of the businesses window's where broken and all of them where covered with bars. As I continued my journey for a redbull I observed all the children living in poverty in our neighbored.


 They all had there soccer jerseys on and loved playing soccer, unfortunitly they only had a dirt field and used garbage with stones to mark the field goals. By the looks of there raggedy soccer ball it was unbelievable it still held air. I was based in a very poor neighborhood that taxi drivers refused to go to at night. I serviced the poorest, and busiest area in the city. In addition to that my coverage area expanded for miles outside of my response area due to the shortage of Paramedics and doctors. I never got a break and with back to back day/night shifts I did not sleep. The other american medics could not believe how I did it. Some of them had came for ride a longs with me, one day was enough for them... but no one could believe I had been working this station for 8 months everyday. 


I have been working as a rapid response paramedic at the busiest station  in Riyadh Saudi Arabia (a city the size of Los Angels) for about 8 months as of writing this. The incredible shortage of Advanced Life Support staff has resulted in severe sleep deprivation, overtime every week, exposure to an incredibly high volume of critical cases, and places my safety in jeopardy on a daily basis in multiple ways, including 2 ambulance accidents I was involved in and a combative patient that I received a dirty needle stick from, a man with a knife that tried to stab me, an explosion that knocked my colleague to the ground, and the list go's on and on. I was not just a medic working a regular job I was fighting a freaking war with the streets of Riyadh.


 The critical cases I see have began to blurr together for me, from explosions, to gun shots, to stabbings, to huge car accidents, people being struck by cars and assaulted, abused, heart attacks, strokes, baby's being born,  and many many other things, thats just in the past 2 weeks. Even the medics in Iraq and New York City I have spoke to do not see the kind of volume. I am proud to serve the community I do, and to also have the busiest station, but a break would be nice.


I could deal with our heavy call volume, bad niegorhood, and frequent safety hazards... Sure they run a toll on me, but there where other factors in place. The ambulance crews I use to enjoy working with where switched around and theres been a lot of conflict with the new crews and I. Work has been very stressful lately.


I have been a real train wreck.... BUT today things started looking up.


As I write this today is my last day at the busiest ALS station in Riyadh. The manager from a brand new station called me today.  The station is in a very secure nice area where many high profile patients live. The call volume is much slower and the crews  seem great.  I was transfered there effective today and I feel great. I will be the first medic at this station and can not wait to start. In addition to this I moved out of the hotel today that I have been living in for the past 8 months and finally got my own apartment on a western compound!
It appears I am on easy street now, fate had saved me from burnout. Don't worry Ill still see crazy exciting things to share with you all. Ill make sure of it!