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A Byproduct of being an Air Medical Pilot

Posted 3 years 188 days ago ago by Admin

When I was chief pilot at San Diego Life Flight air medical program, on my time off, I enrolled in a seven-month EMT class. There have been several incidents since taking that class where I’ve had to use those skills to lend assistance to people in need.  That is one reason I think everyone should take, at very minimum, a first-aid course. You never know when you may be in a position to be of medical assistance or to even save a life.

One example is an incident I wrote about in an article for My Two 2 Cents’ column in the September 2015 issue of Rotorcraft Pro Magazine entitled, “To Save a Life.” In that article I recalled an incident where I literally saved a young Pakistani boy’s life in 2005 by giving him CPR after he drowned in a hotel swimming pool. I could see that the ‘lifeguard’ who took the lifeless form from the water was doing nothing to revive the boy other than shaking him up and down. Appalled that the hotel ‘lifeguard’ had no first-aid training and unwilling to see the boy die in front of my eyes, I stepped forward and took the boy from his arms, lay him down, and proceeded to give him CPR. After about 4 four minutes of giving the boy mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to my great relief, I brought him back from most certain death. I was working as an offshore helicopter pilot for Abu Dhabi Aviation in the Middle East at the time, a country that has no good Samaritan laws meaning, had the boy died, I would have most certainly gone to jail for murder.  

More recently, something happened to me this past week that gave me a deeply profound personal appreciation for what first responders and medical personnel everywhere face on a daily basis during this time of the Corona virus pandemic. I was unwittingly put in a position faced with a medical conundrum, which could have turned into a moral one had the elderly cyclist I had stopped to help, suddenly stopped breathing after falling off his bike and being knocked unconscious.

It happened when I was driving home from the hardware store around midday on a quiet, two-lane street about a mile from my home when I witnessed an elderly bicyclist coasting to a stop about 25 yards in front of me. He slowly pulled off to the right of the road which was delineated by a small raised hump in the road. As he stepped off his bike he suddenly lost his balance, his bike turning 90-degrees causing him, as if in slow motion, to do an forward over-the-handlebars face-plant at the edge of a neighbor’s front lawn.  

As I passed by slowly, I noticed he lay unmoving on the ground and could see he wasn’t getting up so I pulled over to see if I could lend assistance. Kneeling down at his side, he remained appeared totally lifeless with blood beginning to pool around his nose and face turning the grass red.  

I leaned my head down to determine if he was breathing. I was relieved to see that he was. His respirations sounded normal but he remained unconscious. I spoke to him several times to try to rouse him but I got no reply. He was out cold.

A minute or two passed and a car approached, slowing down when he saw us at the roadside. I flagged him down. A man got out, and I told him to call 911 for an ambulance, which he did.  

As the man who’d stopped to help talked to the dispatcher on his cell phone, I offered a short report to him to relay that the cyclist was in his 60’s, unresponsive, breathing regularly, and had a pulse of around 75. Leaning my head down to the cyclist’s head, I got close enough to see he was bleeding from either his nose or his mouth.  I was loath to move him to inspect further for fear of moving his neck in case he may have suffered a neck fracture.  

The man spoke to the dispatcher on his cell for about 2 two minutes answering questions put to him, which by this time I estimated the cyclist had been unconscious for 4 four or 5 five minutes or so.  The strap of the cyclist’s helmet was really tight so I reached under his throat and carefully released it.  

My thoughts at the time were I didn’t want to move his neck or try to move (untangle) the man’s legs from the bike as he was breathing OK, his face slightly cocked off from the vertical but toward me allowing him to breathe, so I thought it better to leave well enough alone until the ambulance arrived.

When the man on the cell phone finished his call to the ambulance dispatcher, I left the cyclist’s side to run to my car where I grabbed a roll of kitchen towels that I keep there;, I returned, placing several towels under the cyclist’s face to sop up some of the blood and perhaps stop the bleeding. That’s when the thought struck me. What if he suddenly stops breathing? Would I perform CPR on him considering the threat of possibly being infected by the coronavirus? I knew the answer immediately; I wouldn’t have hesitated because I could not have watched and done nothing aslet a human being expire in front of me without my taking action. 

The man began to stir slightly after being unconscious for perhaps 10 minutes but he wasn’t coherent and I advised him not try to get up. He made a few feeble attempts but I consoled him by telling him to lie still until the ambulance arrived while holding pressure on his back to keep him from moving. Several more minutes passed until the ambulance arrived.  

The EMT class I attended nearly four decades ago, and my time as an air medical helicopter pilot that steeled my nerves to perform with a (relative) cool head during much worse medical emergencies I’d seen, allowed me to call upon rusty skills that helped me look after that man in need. More importantly, that That event gave me a much clearer appreciation for what the first responders face every day when they go on an emergency callout. For their unselfish, indeed brave efforts, I salute every one of them for voluntarily putting themselves in harm’s -way, for they are, by very definition, well and truely heroes.

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].