It was a beautiful sunny
day in a perfect neighborhood, at a perfect house, with perfect parents and two perfect children.
The six-year-old twin girls
ran across the manicured lawn toward their mother, who was drinking iced tea and talking with her neighbor.
“Mommy, can we go
to the kitchen and get something to drink?” In a stern voice their mother said, “Yes, but only to the kitchen
and then come right back here.”
The girls raced each other
to the front door of the house, yelling, “OK, We will.” They didn’t even slow down at the kitchen. In seconds
they were in the backyard, kicking their shoes off and climbing the ladder.
Mothers have an internal
alarm that sounds when things are not as they should be. It was too quiet. She called out her daughter’s names, loudly.
When they didn’t answer, she began walking toward the house. She yelled their first and middle names. There was no response.
Red flags of fear and panic
flashed in her brain. She dropped her glass of iced tea and raced around the side of the house into the back yard.
Her scream pierced the air. The
neighbor’s hands shook uncontrollably as she flipped open her phone and pressed 9-1-1.
My partner and I were in
our ambulance when the sound of a call being dispatched to another unit brought our radio to life. The dispatcher’s
monotone voice said, “Aid 3, medic 71, CPR in progress,” and she gave the address.
Out of habit, my partner,
Tim, picked up the map book and started plotting the route to the address, even though it wasn’t our call. This was
before GPS units and laptops were standard equipment in ambulances.
Only a few moments had passed
when the dispatcher radioed, “All units responding to this call be advised this is a pediatric CPR in progress.”
Without realizing it, my right foot pressed down on the accelerator and I asked Tim, “Where was that address again?”
Ten seconds later, the stress-filled
voice of the dispatcher said, “All units, be advised this is a double pediatric CPR in progress. Repeat, double pediatric
CPR in progress!”
My foot slammed down on
the accelerator as I turned on our emergency lights and siren. Tim tightened his seat belt and grabbed the map book again.
I yelled, “Where do
I go?” He began a rapid succession of instructions, reading the map, scanning the traffic around us, and visually clearing
his side of the intersections we were speeding through, yelling, “Clear right, GO!”
We were going to the scene
of our worst nightmare: two children in cardiac arrest.
I grabbed the microphone
and radioed our dispatcher, “Central; Medic 6. We’re rolling on that. ETA: four minutes!”
We hadn’t been officially
told to respond to this call, but there was nothing anyone could have done to stop us. She simply said, “10-4, Medic
I remember trying to push
the accelerator pedal through the floorboard and the voice of my partner, constantly shouting to me about the traffic around
us. “Clear left, clear right, watch that guy! Ok, he sees us. Go for it! Easy man, watch him, watch him, OK, clear right.
GO, GO, GO!”
If our ambulance had wings, we
would have flown.
I heard the first two ambulances
radio, “On scene.” We were still two minutes out and only slowing down when absolutely necessary.
It’s hard to describe
the anxiety we feel when responding to certain types of emergency calls, when you know what’s waiting for you, and that
every second counts. “Kid calls” are the worst.
An eternity passed before
we came to a stop behind the other ambulances. We grabbed our equipment and ran across the lawn to where dark-uniformed EMS
personnel were kneeling over two very small patients and performing the unmistakable task of CPR.
Adrenaline and its effect
on the mind and body is strange. Time either slows down or speeds up. Your brain becomes hypersensitive. You see, hear and
otherwise sense your surroundings in enormous detail, or, you become so focused that the brain blocks out what isn’t
needed and you have an acute awareness of what is vital. For me, on that day, I was focused.
I knelt down beside one
of the girls. One medic was doing chest compressions; another was at the head breathing for the girl. I started setting up
an I.V. line as yet another medic prepared to intubate her.
Terse, rapid conversation
passed between the teams. “What happened?”
“They were both found floating
face down in that above ground swimming pool.”
“How long were they in the
“We don’t know, the
mother says they were out of her sight no more than five to ten minutes.”
Instantly I thought, “The
mother. Oh shit, where’s the mother?”
It was then that her screaming
started filtering into my brain. I looked up and she was kneeling on the grass, not ten feet away, crying out, “My babies,
my babies!” Her friend was trying to hold her back, away from us. They were both soaking wet.
I listened to her anguished
cries for a millisecond, and then my brain turned down the volume on her and drew my attention back to the fact that I had
already stuck an I.V. needle into a vein on one girl’s tiny arm.
Critical situations are
all about communication and teamwork. Everything happens very fast. “I need epi here!” “Ok, tube’s
in; listen to the lungs.” “How much do they weigh?” “Hurry up with the bicarb.” “I need
another O2 tank.” “Charging defibrillator. How many joules?” “CLEAR!” And so on, as we tried
to reverse the time that ticked away on two small lives.
We got our girl’s
heart beating again and started getting ready to move her to the ambulance.
Gently lifting the small,
weightless body onto the gurney, it struck me how tiny she was on this adult sized stretcher.
I jumped into the back of
someone else’s ambulance with our girl, and I saw the other girl being loaded into a second unit.
I watched my partner gently
help the mother into the passenger seat of our ambulance. It would be hell for both of them following us to the hospital.
Tim’s hell would simply be the fact that there isn’t much you can say or do for someone in that much pain. The
sounds the mother made would stay with him for years. The mother’s pain, I can’t even begin to imagine.
The doors were closed and
the ambulance began to move. I sat at our girl’s head, ventilating her lungs while the other medic pushed more drugs.
To no one in particular,
he said, “My two girls are just about their age, and I have an above ground pool in my back yard, too.” He paused,
looking down and seeing one of his own daughters lying on the gurney with tubes sticking out of her body. Then he said, “I’m
going to take it down tomorrow.” I offered to help him.
We continued the litany
of things to be done. Rechecking the lungs, I.V.’s, medications and EKG. It was when we checked her pupils that our
hearts dropped. Both of her pupils were fixed and dilated. We knew our little girl was brain dead and that she was gone.
I stared down at that pretty
little face, at the eyes and the big black pupils that didn’t stare back. I silently asked God, any God, to please let
this little innocent child into heaven, or any place where she could sing and laugh and play. “You wanted her, for whatever
reason, so now you take care of her!” I was pissed.
I felt the ambulance stop.
Doctors and nurses flung the doors open and the relative quiet of our unit was turned into a cacophony of voices. Questions
and orders. Movement and teamwork.
We wheeled the gurney into
the trauma room and lifted the little body over to the hospital gurney as we gave report to the Emergency Physician.
I said another silent prayer
and headed outside for a smoke. My ambulance pulled up, and the mother was helped out and guided into the Emergency Room’s
soundproof “Quiet Room.”
That’s where she would
sit, waiting to hear that she could go home with her daughters; to hear that everything was all right, and that the mere seconds
it took to turn perfection into unthinkable pain had never happened. Wake-up; you were having a nightmare.
The ambulance with the second
girl arrived. As she was wheeled inside, one of the medics looked at me and gave a slight shake of his head. Not good.
I wandered between the two
trauma rooms for almost two hours, listening to the familiar sounds of professionals trying to save a life. I popped my head
into the room of the girl we had worked on just as the doctor was saying, “Ok folks, recheck everything one more time,
please. Anything? Time? That’s it then. Thank you, everyone. Are the parents here?”
A nurse said something about the
father being away on a camping trip, but the mother was waiting.
The second girls’
life officially ended not long after her twin sister. I thought about how they had started life, which one of them had been
delivered first, which one second, and by how many minutes.
The nurses quietly began
removing medical equipment and cleaning the girls’ bodies, and the doctors headed toward the quiet room.
Everyone else scattered.
No one wanted to hear the cry of anguish that we knew was coming; it is a cry that cannot be contained, not even by soundproof
We were getting into our
ambulance to leave when a lady hurried up to me and asked, “The little girls, the girls you just brought in, how are
they?” I must have looked down at the ground to avoid eye contact, because she stiffened and put her hands over her
I said, “She’s
inside, Ma’am. Why don’t you…?” She cut me off, saying, “They’re dead, aren’t they?”
It was a statement, not a question. She was looking at our eyes and she knew. What the hell can you say? “Yes, Ma’am.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
She reached out and touched my arm and looked more deeply into my eyes than I wanted her to. I felt her squeeze my arm slightly,
and then she disappeared into the Emergency Room.
When she touched my arm
and looked at me, it was as if she was telling me that she was sorry for us.
It was too much emotion
for me. I was letting myself think about what just happened too much for having twelve hours yet to go before the end of my
shift. I took a huge hit on my cigarette, threw it on the ground and got into the ambulance.
I radioed dispatch that
we were in-service and then we just drove, in silence and waited for the next call.
I went home that night and
casually mentioned to my dad and brother that we had lost two girls that day. They shook their heads and gave a, “that’s
too bad” look.
It’s hard to explain
to people who haven’t experienced a lot of death, many times on a daily basis, just what your day was like. So usually
you just keep it to yourself. “How did it go at the office today honey?”
Four days later, the phone
at my house rang. When I answered it, my heart nearly stopped. It was the father of the two little girls.
He started the conversation
by telling me, point blank, “Mike, I just want you to know that there was nothing more you could have done to try and
save my girls. Not gotten there faster; not tried harder. God wanted them and that’s that. You and everyone else did
all you could do. Don’t ever doubt that.”
He had been camping that
week and told me about the last time he saw his two daughters. He said the reason he was telling me this was because he needed
to know about the last few moments of his daughters’ lives. “I want to know, Mike. I need to know. Please, tell
I put myself in his shoes
for a moment, desperately needing to make sense of the senseless. I sat down, and for the next hour we relived that day together.
It was one of the toughest hours of my life.
I didn’t know it,
but throughout the phone call my father was standing behind me, listening. As I hung up the phone I began crying like I’ve
only done a few times in my life. I sat hunched over with my head in my hands. My dad came over to me and put his arms around
He knew. He had lost a daughter,
my sister, when she was five years old. He had carried the small white coffin down the church aisle himself. He knew.
I never heard anything else
from, or about, the man and woman who lost their two girls that day. I’m not sure I wanted to. I was a veteran of death,
but those two or three hours took something out of me. I cannot imagine what it was like for them.
I hope that it didn’t
tear them apart. I hope they have both found happiness. I hope they have been able to cope with the loss.
The loss of two little angels.