Is There A Doctor In The House???

One night back in college a friend and I were walking across campus when a couple of very drunk kids staggered past.  They were weaving, slurring their words, and barely able to stay upright. We were headed in the same direction they were – a dorm at the bottom of a densely wooded hill.  During the winter students would take trays from the cafeteria and ride them down the hill, that’s how steep it was.  My buddy said “this could be entertaining” because he didn’t think they’d be able to make it down the stairs in one piece. The concrete stairs were ancient, cracked, and difficult to climb in good weather - at night, with snow and ice, you really had to be careful.  

 The woods thinned out as you neared the stairs, enough so you could see the building lights.  All of a sudden the two guys broke off the path and began stumbling through the woods, racing towards the dorm.  They didn’t know, or were too drunk to remember, that the woods came to a stop at the top of a retaining wall, high above a parking lot.  There wasn’t a fence, a situation that got remedied shortly after the incident I’m describing took place. The wall was around 8 feet high where it met the stairs, but where they were headed it was closer to 30 feet.

We yelled at them, but they kept going until they suddenly dropped from sight.  “Holy sh*t!” I couldn’t believe they’d done it.  I hoped they’d gotten lucky and landed on a snowbank, but when we reached the bottom of the stairs a minute later, we saw both of them facedown on the asphalt.

 A few students had already gathered around, and I recognized two of them - premeds, on their way back from a study group.  Those guys had just gotten a big break – the first people on scene were sober and would know what to do.  I yelled at {A} and {B} [initials only - they’re both practicing physicians now] to look after the guys and that we’d go to the guard shack to call for an ambulance.  This happened in the mid-eighties, the dark days before cell phones, remember?  So we had to run back up the stairs, then another half mile to the shack, where we tried to persuade the guard it wasn’t a prank, two kids really were hurt and needed an ambulance.  He wasn’t 100% convinced, so we stayed there to be sure he completed the call.  The drive from town to campus took around ten minutes, I hoped if they really pushed it they could be there in seven.

 When we got back to the parking lot, one of the guys was lying on his side in the fetal position.  Whenever someone tried to move him or asked him a question, he’d groan.  That was good, it meant he was breathing and was at least semi-conscious.  {B} sent a couple of female onlookers to wait for the ambulance by the front gate and guide it down when it arrived.  Pretty clever – drivers don’t always stop when guys try to flag them down, but everyone stops for girls.

 The other guy was seriously hurt.  A puddle of blood had formed under his mouth, and his right leg was bent at a weird angle. {A} told me he’d been taking his pulse and it was getting weaker.   It was cold enough that you could see everyone’s breath, and it was very clear this kid wasn’t breathing.  His chest didn’t move at all.   I knew basic emergency care:  Restore breathing….stop the bleeding….protect the wound….treat for shock.  I looked at my watch and started to panic - at least five minutes had passed since they’d fallen.  We had to turn him over and start mouth to mouth right away!  I said to {A} and{B}, “If we don’t get him breathing right now, he’s toast.  Help me roll him over onto his back”.  Then ……….. silence.   {A} stared at his shoes, {B} was giving me a strange look, and no one else said a damn word.  WTF, I thought – they’ve gotta know the ambulance won’t be here for another 5 minutes….. then I understood.  They didn’t want to be involved if we ended up hurting him.  They’d invested a lot in their careers already, and being prosecuted or sued would eliminate their chances at ever practicing medicine. 

 I did a quick inventory of what I’d lose if things went badly–tools, clothes, an old car and a stereo - and decided to go for it.  People had brought blankets out from the dorm, and I used one to immobilize his neck as best as I could.   My buddy was a lifeguard, so he knew the proper way to turn injured people over.  He grabbed 2 bystanders, told them they were now volunteers, and showed them what to do.  Slowly and carefully, we turned him onto his back.  I thought it went great, until I saw that his mouth was filled with a substance that resembled a gray washcloth.  I’d seen something like it the summer before when a local fisherman had caught a shark.  When he was hung up by the tail, its intestines had spilled out of its mouth.  In the dim light of the parking lot, that’s exactly what this looked like. 

I started feeling sick and couldn’t watch anymore, so I turned away and pretended to help the other guy.  He’d fallen from a lower height than his friend, and seemed OK except for road rash on his hands.  The knees of his jeans were torn up and bloody, but I doubt he was feeling any pain.   I heard my friend say he cleared the kid’s airway.  Shortly after{B} began mouth-to mouth, she said, “He’s breathing”.  The raspy, gurgling sounds weren’t reassuring, but I told myself “at least he’s breathing again”.  Now everyone started wondering where the hell the ambulance was.  Finally, flashing lights appeared on the road below campus, but the couple of minutes it took them to reach the lower lot seemed like hours. 

 When the EMT’s arrived, they seemed to be moving in slow motion. I resisted the urge to scream at them to hurry up, and watched in silence until they began loading them into the back of the ambulance.  If I stuck around any longer I’d end up having to deal with the Dean’s office, so I decided the better part of valor was to go get a drink, preferably several. 

 After that night, none of us talked much about the accident, I’m not sure why. Maybe we felt we should have done more for them, but I don’t know what that could have been. The kid who’d fallen near the stairs was released the next day.  His friend wasn’t so lucky.  He needed pins in his leg, and went through a year of cognitive rehabilitation to help him recover from his brain injury. Eventually he returned to school and graduated a couple of years behind his class. 

 At a party senior year, {B} told me the kid would have died if we hadn’t gotten him breathing when we did.  Hearing that made me feel better about what we’d done.  But the sad truth is that I don’t know if I’d have the courage to do it again because of the way personal injury attorneys operate these days.

sweetnessfollows09 sweetnessfollows09
51-55, M
Feb 10, 2010