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My Two Cents Worth - March 2015

Posted 8 years 45 days ago ago by Randy Mains


“The doctor told me I’d never walk again,” former Utah flight nurse Stein Rosqvist told the group with obvious emotion. “I saw that wheelchair being pushed towards me down the corridor and said, ‘That’s definitely not for me.’”    

    Through months of physical therapy by a nurse that would not permit him to say, “I can’t,” Stein walks today. His is just one of the stories I heard during the three-day digital story workshop I attended recently in Denver, Colorado.

    Denise Ward, a former flight nurse and crash survivor recalled her own harrowing story that occurred while flying in a brand new aircraft, six months after Stein’s crash:

 “The tail rotor trunnion was defective and came off in flight. We began spinning and crashed on a mountainside. The front of the aircraft was torn off. I could see the pilot lying face down. Judging from the injury to the back of his head, I immediately knew he was dead.”

    Director of Safety for Metro Aviation, Tarek Loutfy, shared his greatest fear with our group. “I dread the day when I may have to knock on the front door of one of our people to tell their family members that their loved one was killed in a helicopter crash.”

    Some stories had rarely been revealed. Greg Schano, a flight nurse at MedFlight of Ohio, said, “I haven’t even shared my story with my mom.”

    Communications specialist Zachary Doran and flight paramedic Mandi McComas, both from Carilion Clinic Life-Guard, recalled an incident where Mandi, brand new to flight nursing, narrowly escaped a mid-air collision with two F-15s flying above, and below, her and her team. Zachary was on duty that day and explains what happened. “After the initial radio call, the pilot added, ‘There are two more,’ … then silence. Until I knew they were OK, it was the longest minute of my life.”

    Those were just a few of the stories told at the Fifth Digital Safety Story Workshop, the brainchild of former flight nurse and Director of Research at The Center for Medical Transport Research Dr. Cathy Jaynes, aided by her Research Support Coordinator Pat Jones. “The FAA is very impressed by what we do here,” Jaynes told us. “It’s the new face of safety education.”

    A week prior to our arrival, the seven of us were asked to consider a personal story that only each of us individually could tell, one that answers the question:  What does safety look like? In addition to Cathy Jaynes, guiding us on the journey to create our own personal three- to four-minute documentaries (digital stories) were seasoned facilitators Daniel Weinshenker and Mary Ann McNair. Our stories would be added to the 33 digital documentaries already posted at www.tcmtr.org, to act as teaching tools and agents for change in strengthening the HEMS industry’s culture of safety.

    On the first morning of the workshop, we learned about the elements of digital storytelling. We watched several examples to give us an idea of what we were going to create, and then formed a ‘story circle’ where each of us in turn shared our personal story with the group. The facilitators asked us to find new and deeper meaning when telling our story, to delve deep into our emotions of the event: How did we feel afterward? How did it affect our colleagues, our family members, and our lives? Had we been changed in some way? If so, how? What did we learn? Each listener in the room gave the storyteller feedback, asking questions to make them think more deeply about their minidocumentary and how best to tell it.

Our group then split so that each of us could be alone to compose a 300- to 400-word script. As we crafted our story, we received feedback from the facilitators until we were satisfied. Then we individually went with a facilitator to record our voice-overs.

When all narration had been recorded, we were given our own personal Apple laptop loaded with video editing software. We arranged pictures and video clips we’d brought with us to be included in our documentaries. If there was something missing, it was filmed there. In my case, my hands were filmed cutting out names of those who had lost their lives in a medical helicopter crash. 

Once everything was assembled (voice-over, clips, pictures, sound effects, music, etc.) we were shown how to insert them onto a storyline while the facilitators worked with us individually to add effects, polishing our productions to professional quality.

In those grueling three days, to my personal amazement, I managed to put together quite an impressive four-minute documentary. It detailed how, because of three hazardous attitudes I’d exhibited one night—invulnerability, ‘machoism,’ and ‘get-there-itis’—I nearly managed to kill myself and the doctor and nurse who had entrusted their lives to me.

It was January 1979, when HEMS was new in America. I was piloting an Alouette III, pressing the weather to pick up a 5-year-old girl at an outlying hospital who had been beaten unconscious by her stepfather, when I inadvertently flew into the low overcast. It was all I could do to make a slow 180-degree turn referencing the crude flight instruments, descend, and break out of the clouds at 450 feet. I told that particular story so that other pilots might identify those same attitudes in themselves and thus break a link in a possible forming error chain … and live to fly another day.

Late afternoon on the last day, when we’d all finished our stories, popcorn was popped, two champagne bottles were uncorked, we toasted one another celebrating our accomplishment, and then we watched each digital story in turn. It was a very emotive event; there was not one dry eye in the room at the end of that screening.

A visceral bonding takes place when a small group shares such personal and intimate stories by exposing vulnerabilities, revealing mistakes made, and reopening emotional wounds. Picking at scars once thought healed takes great trust and bravery. We all hope our documentaries will act as teaching tools and help promote change in strengthening the HEMS industry’s culture of safety. That would be the greatest gift of all. 

About Randy: Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected]