Published - Texas State University
Sunday, November 10, 1996
Like most cops, moonlighting at an extra job is pretty normal. One of the assignments I have is working in the Emergency Room for a few nights a month. The ER is a crossroads or focal point where the paths of family violence, drug addiction, crime and tragedy often intersect. A crowded routine of uneducated and under-insured patients with no health care alternative find long lines and lengthy waits. Amidst is all is the medical emergency, the family tragedy, the victim, and all of the human compassion and empathy that come along with them. It is from this unique perspective that I will relate my thoughts – watching from afar the unfolding events – assisting where I can, listening and learning more about our World.
It is Sunday, November 10, 1996 at 11:00pm. I am watching the clock. The Doctors are giving dictation. The nurses are doing what they normally do, filling out charts, moving patients, waiting for test results among many other things. My radio clicks with an EMS tone. The paramedics are sent to an accident and car fire on Highway 21. I tell my favorite nurse that we have a wreck.
At 11:15pm, the EMS radio breaks the ER ambience. A stressful voice calls from the field for the Doctor. “A 19 year old male, ejected from the vehicle, seriously injured, c-spine step off, head injury, couldn’t locate pulse, has one now, extreme trauma. Second patient ambulatory on arrival, now secured spine, conscious.”
The sense of calm and routine in the ER is replaced by focus and concentration. There is an impromptu gathering. The doctor gives directions. The ER is on the move. The Trauma Room, closest to the door is prepared. Suction, sheets, gloves, oxygen and other medical implements are readied. X-Ray, Lab and respiratory personnel are standing by. The radio is silent for several minutes.
11:25pm, the radio opens up in that odd and somehow nondescript dialect. The voice is different now than before. “Flat line, no transport” the paramedic reports – as if somehow relieved.
11:40pm, the ambulance is transporting the second patient. He’s ten minutes away.
11:50pm, the 19 year old male patient arrives. The smell of diesel fumes precedes him, rushing through the crash doors as he is wheeled inside. He is covered in dry blood. His clothes are cut off. He is completely taped down and secured to a backboard and c-spine collar. He has an IV attached to his arm. The senior paramedic hastily walks to everyone standing nearby and whispers, “he doesn’t know his friend is dead”.
The ER team has begun its assessment, checking for broken bones, signs of bleeding, head injury and the like. He’s asking about his friend. The physician in charge walks to the end of the bed and pauses for a moment by his feet. She works her way around the many activities underway and stands to the left of his head. She leans over his face, locked down from movement and looks into his eyes. “Are you ready for this?” she says. “Your friend was killed.”
By midnight my relief arrived. I gave him a quick briefing, handed him the hospital pager and walked out the door. In ten minutes, I was home.
The young man who died this night in San Marcos was nineteen years old. Alcohol is considered a contributing factor in the one vehicle accident. Test results will resolve that question. I have been there and done that a hundred times in my career. For me, the bigger question is why we continue to try and re-invent the wheel. A parent, a teacher, a friend or a cop can enlighten anyone of youth with the many lessons of wisdom. Seldom do the lessons sink in. Every new generation of young people seem destined to repeat the mistakes of so many people who have come before them. There is a reason that young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are injured or killed in automobile accidents at a far higher rate than any other age group.
When I came to this town, to this university and to this Greek system, I like many of you did things that today make me cringe. I was lucky and never suffered the consequences of my actions. I always made it home, avoided trouble and never got arrested. It’s not that I didn’t know better, I just didn’t realize how serious some of these things really are. I was just darned lucky.
It is the consequences that should always be considered when making the decisions that as young people you must make. Whether to have another drink, to drive a car, to experiment with drugs or whether she said “no” or not are just four of the many questions that the consequences of which can have life long implications. The wheel has already been invented. The questions have already been answered. All we really need to do is listen.
It is easy to run wild and thoughtless about the fallout of what you’re doing, or how to get away with something you know is wrong or dangerous. It is not so easy to think ahead of time about how to avoid a problem, to prevent the aftermath, or to anticipate the consequences. On the other hand, it is a whole lot smarter, safer and responsible.
Someone dying is always the worst-case scenario. There are so many equally tragic events of lesser magnitude that can forever change your future. For this young man, the consequences of his drinking and driving were his death and the injury of his friend. The consequences of his death will live on in members of his family, his colleagues and friends for as long as they will remember.
Listen and think before you do. That’s the moral of this story.
Carl H. Deal III
San Marcos PD
“Be Smart, Be Safe and Do Good Things”