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Home > Topics > ALS

My wife made me rescue a near-dead trucker

I jogged back to the trooper and asked if I could help. I identified myself as a medic based out of Phoenix. When he replied "Thank God" I knew I should have stayed in the car.

By Michael Ellis

It was 1996.

My wife and I, and our two kids, were traveling to visit her parents in Texas for Christmas from Phoenix. I was a medic in a level one trauma center in Phoenix, and a flight medic. 

On Interstate 40 about 60 miles east of Flagstaff, Ariz., we came upon a traffic back up — Which was odd considering it was past midnight. I could see flashing lights in the distance. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the scene, where I noticed an 18-wheeler on its side, half in the median and half in the passing lane. 

As I made my way past I noticed a single highway patrol car with a single trooper directing traffic. My wife asked if I was going to stop. I was hesitant as the temperature was in the teens, and not seeing any other medical personnel on scene I really didn't want to be stuck there for hours. She reasoned that someone could really be hurt, so I swung into the left lane, took my emergency light from the console and popped it onto the roof as I climbed out of the nice warm blazer. 

Zipping up my jacket against the bitter cold, my blue light casting reflections in the rapid falling snow, I jogged back to the trooper and asked if I could help. I identified myself as a medic based out of Phoenix. When he replied "Thank God" I knew I should have stayed in the car. The trooper told me the weather was too bad to get a helicopter out, but an ambulance was on the way from Winslow, 40 miles away.

We jogged over to the over turned truck; upon arrival I then noticed the windshield was covered in blood. I climbed up the side and peered into the cab. The driver was a bloody heap lying in a ball by the driver side door. I told the trooper to go to my vehicle and have my wife get my trauma bag from the trunk. As he ran to my blazer, I lowered myself into the wrecked cab. 

The driver was unresponsive. I checked for a pulse and got a weak see thread one radially. The patient had snoring respiration and was bleeding from multiple cuts on the head and face. His left arm was obviously fractured.   

I turned and mule kicked the windshield out. As the trooper ran back with my trauma bag, I had him help me extricate the driver as carefully as we could. I wasn’t overly concerned with c-spine as his airway was my immediate concern. We laid him on the road and I opened up my kit, quickly donning a pair of gloves, then using my flashlight I checked his airway. There was a lot of blood in his mouth along with a few broken teeth. I cleared his airway with my hand-held suction unit, inserted a nasal trumpet, then placed a cervical hard collar on him.  The trooper went to his car and returned with a small oxygen cylinder and a non-rebreather.  

After getting him on O2 I asked how long before the ambulance would get there, as we needed to get the patient off the road. He radioed dispatch and the reply was 10 minutes out. By this time other people had stopped and provided us with blankets.  I heard the siren faintly and looked up the highway, seeing red and blue strobes headed our way. I did a quick secondary and made mental notes of what I found to pass on to the ALS crew when the ambulance arrived. 

The ambulance pulled up and the driver jumped out and circled around, opening the back to get the gurney and backboard. The passenger opened the side doors and grabbed their grey box and O2 bag. The four of us secured the patient to the backboard and placed him on the gurney, racing across the icy road to the ambulance. Once inside, I inquired who I needed to give a report to. 

The driver looked to be about 19 if he was a day. And the passenger looked to be about 90. The deer in the headlights look was my first clue something was wrong; glancing at the patches on their jacket sleeves cinched it. 

The younger guy was an ECA (emergency care attendant, basically a first-aid trained driver) and the old guy was a basic EMT. It was then that it dawned on me I was stuck with this guy. I asked if an ALS unit was en route. The response of course was no. They were the only ones on.

Cursing under my breath, getting mad at my wife for making me stop, I asked the trooper to go tell my wife to follow the ambulance because I couldn’t leave this patient now that I had started care. He acknowledged, thanked me for stopping, then shut the doors. I told the kid to drive like a bat out of hell to the closest hospital: Winslow, 40 miles away. He climbed into the driver’s seat and away we went, sirens blaring. 

My wife was hot on our tail in our four-wheel drive Blazer, blue light still flashing on the roof. Looking around the bus I noticed it was a fully stocked ALS unit. Come to find out, the medic went home sick. 

I quickly cut off the patient’s shirt, attached him to the monitor, opened their grey box and put a 14 gauge in the patient’s antecubital vein with ringers running. I had the EMT splint his broken arm as I tried to control the bleeding coming from the multiple lacerations on his face and head. Grabbing the stethoscope, I listened for breath sounds and became alarmed when I didn’t hear any on the left side. Palpating his chest, I noticed multiple broken ribs on the left side. Glancing at the monitor he was becoming tachycardic and hypo-tensive.  He was circling the drain fast. 

Impelled for incubation, got him tuned and had the EMT bagging him. I found a 14 gauge 2 3/4 inch catheter and quickly needled his chest releasing a crap load of blood.  I grabbed the headset for the EMScom radio and called into the hospital in Winslow. 

By God’s grace the doctor that got on the line was one that I knew from Phoenix; he was moonlighting in Winslow over Christmas. I gave him the run down, told him how far out we were and asked if he had any orders. None that he could think of, outside of giving the patient some drugs to put him under. Concerned about his ICP I told the doc I would give him some versed, but that was it. Once he was decompressed his vitals improved slightly, but enough for my satisfaction. 

It took us almost an hour to get to the hospital due to the weather. Upon arrival the doc and I shook hands, I gave the trauma team (such as it was) my report, then went and sat at the nurses station to write out my report. My wife came in for a cup of coffee and I stepped out to watch our blazer as the kids were asleep inside. They had not moved or stirred the entire time. 

The trucker wound up with a fractured left arm in three places, all of the ribs on the left side were broken causing a tension pneumo, his spleen was lacerated but encapsulated, a non-surgical pelvic fracture, and a small subdural that didn’t require surgery. He spent a couple hours in surgery, then went to the ICU where he would spend Christmas. The trooper came in as I was leaving the ER and thanked me for stopping, taking my name and address.  

We stayed in a hotel in Winslow that night as I was exhausted. When we got up the next day to continue our trip, the snow was beautiful. We stopped by the hospital so I could check on the patient. I met his wife who had arrived from Albuquerque that morning. The nurses evidently talked me up pretty well as the wife hugged me tightly and thanked me for saving her husband’s life. 

As I thought about it as we were driving, I couldn’t be mad at my wife anymore for making me stop because he most certainly would have died. The Arizona highway patrol awarded me and the patrolman that were there that night both life saver awards.  Weeks later and I got the opportunity to meet John. He definitely looked a lot better standing next to his wife than he did when I first met him.

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Bridget Lerato Dickson Bridget Lerato Dickson Thursday, May 29, 2014 7:56:28 AM Wow I'm speechless, all I can say is thank God you were on the road that night and saved a life.
Liz Lease Umstott Liz Lease Umstott Thursday, May 29, 2014 8:39:07 AM Thank God you were there with your talent.
Michael Mikhailik Michael Mikhailik Thursday, May 29, 2014 8:44:47 AM God works in mistirus ways .What are the chances of someone stopping to help and the one person that did just happen to be a Paramedic with his personal bag of goodies .
Patrick Kennish Patrick Kennish Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:02:15 AM I'm as green as can be (NREMT-B less than a month) and also keep a trauma kit in my car. I do find it interesting that a lot of people I know have these kits but also would try not to stop. There's no judgement in that observation but I do find it interesting that a lot of us keep all this gear for just such a case and than are hesitant to stop. Great save though! God bless and stay safe.
KrisAnn Sisk KrisAnn Sisk Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:44:14 AM Awesome save!
Melody LaShomb Melody LaShomb Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:28:29 PM amazing -awesome-you were there at the right time
Anastasis Stefanakis Anastasis Stefanakis Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:36:43 PM He had...the right whife...!!!
Alastair Ems Alastair Ems Thursday, May 29, 2014 4:22:01 PM An amazing story! This is why we do the job we do. For moments like that.
Arron Norman Arron Norman Thursday, May 29, 2014 7:14:51 PM Good job!
Dawn Karges-Kiernan Dawn Karges-Kiernan Thursday, May 29, 2014 7:49:14 PM I am so proud of you! Glad you stopped. I would have too.
Randy Bruns Randy Bruns Thursday, May 29, 2014 7:59:01 PM The patient was definitely lucky you did stop and give care. I find it disconcerting though that your wife had to make you stop and how angry you were at times at your wife for making you stop. I wasn't a Navy Hospital Corpsman and work my way from Basic to Paramedic to drive by people in need because I was busy or it was cold or raining or snowing. My wife got more upset at me because I almost always stopped, let the officers know I was a medic and asked if any help was needed. I didn't care if there were multiple rigs on scene, a two minivans crash could be 14 victims. If no help was needed I left, but there was multiple times they needed an extra set of hands for patient care. I rode many a ambulance that I didn't work for to help out. Living in a rural area I had my scanner on in my vehicle all the time and listened for those panicked transmissions from officers first on scene. While I was not chasing ambulances, those panicked voices told me help was needed, especially if I knew I would get there before a rig would. Again, I'm glad you were there for the truck driver and did what was needed with a great outcome. I am disappointed in someone as uninvolved as you wanted to be winning anything. Just my opinion.
Becky Richey Becky Richey Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:42:02 PM What excellent writing skills, this guy should write a book!
Cristi McCuistion Alexander Cristi McCuistion Alexander Friday, May 30, 2014 4:29:23 AM Rock on! Great job
Raymond Conner Raymond Conner Friday, May 30, 2014 7:59:48 AM This is what we do. It is too bad all states don't honor your EMS training. Where politics have spoiled what we care about. Good job to the medic that rendered care you did what you are trained to do.
Volunteer Mobile Emergency Response Unit Volunteer Mobile Emergency Response Unit Saturday, May 31, 2014 9:43:59 PM When I was with the Fire Department, I bought my own jump kit full of medical supplies to help 4 people. When it comes to any wreck we are trained to act not react although, if it puts you in danger don't attempt it. I understand why you did not want to stop and yet you did, it is called compassion! True to our oath, to first do no harm I am the first one to admit YES I do stop. I have had to help land medical flights in the roadways alone while deciding who was I able to save out of 6 very injured people and yes, kids thrown from vehicles that were reduced to engine blocks and had had a whole life ahead of them made this task hard to do. I had a kid laying in fire ants,repetitive questions that turned into not answering verbal commands, neck resting on the street curb . Medic asks me "who IS flying first? I reassessed the 16 year old's airway, it was patent-unrestrained 16 yr old with a subdural, repetitive and in fire ants? Of course! Anaphylaxis to follow in the chopper as we washed him down before we flew him ...naturally. Medics finally see my fast "sticky note triage tags on the 5 other victims and laugh at me after we cleared scene. Sticky notes? REALLY? I said I didn't want them to get confused and yes I was so tired when I was done that I still have no idea how I got quick access and control of the scene before I had any useful help but it was worth it to know someone is NOT going to loose a son today. I can say after a 4 page report and being bitten by ants, two and a half hours in the Florida Sun, I was once again on the way to daycare to pick up my Daughter Katie. Good thing my Co/FF Paramedic friend was also co owner of the "daddy day care" with his wife Cheryl who ran it. I would have been in HOT water if my 3 year 18 ,had to spend the afternoon with A paramedic and his wife! THANK YOU BAY FLIGHT ! ( Tampa General )
Waldo Treehorn Waldo Treehorn Tuesday, June 03, 2014 2:00:32 AM "Impelled for incubation?" Wow! Made my short-hairs stand up and salute!
Allan Aspinall Allan Aspinall Tuesday, June 03, 2014 5:37:56 AM Its times like these that I thank God for providing people like you who are willing to suffer personally to reach out to others like the truck driver in their hour of need. All I hope for is that each day us EMS staff no matter our level can make a difference in people's lives in their hour of need and keep the reputation of Emergency Services high.
Mandy Hargett Mandy Hargett Wednesday, June 04, 2014 9:13:58 PM This made me cry!!! A happy cry! Thank you so much for this story. This is one reason I became an EMT! You have inspire me! You are amazing. Also god wanted you there to help this trucker.
John Overton Lewis III John Overton Lewis III Thursday, June 05, 2014 10:29:20 AM WOW...I got a lump in my throat!!! This is what it's all about...Selfless acts!!!
Paul Shively Paul Shively Friday, June 06, 2014 8:19:13 PM Thanks for stopping!
Mike Liebig Mike Liebig Thursday, June 12, 2014 6:10:24 PM proud of you.......

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