Because this will color my service and my time in Vanuatu, I’m putting the facts here. I am general trying to keep this blog upbeat and positive without skipping over the hard parts.
When we caught the plane back to Vila from Epi, there was already a child who was being medevaced on a commercial flight. This is a common practice here for “non-urgent” transports, though I’m still not clear why they stopped to pick us up since they did have a medevac on board. When I asked, I was told the boy was “short wind” which in Bislama is everything from Asthma to TB to walking up a hill too fast.
The flight from Epi to Vila is about 45 minutes. Shortly after the halfway mark, he stopped breathing. I pulled him out of his seat and laid him out in the aisle. I started CPR. After some shuffling of people, two other volunteers got into a position to help me. The plane landed about 20 minutes later. We’d had the pilot radio ahead for an ambulance.
Things went downhill from the time we touched down, and I mean they went downhill from doing active CPR on a child. The ambulance staff were not prepared and did not appear to know things that I consider basic such as how to turn on the oxygen tank or how to perform CPR. I got in the back and continued CPR, telling them to hurry up and go, but that didn’t happen. They called it on scene.
In my head, I know that after 20 minutes of CPR done under less than ideal conditions and without an AED or even supplemental oxygen, that the child was dead. I also know that if he had been revived the amount of brain damage that would have ensued would have significantly compromised his quality of life. I know that I did everything in my power and I have no regrets about doing it. That doesn’t mean I’m not upset.
This is something I’ve known could happen for the five years I’ve been in EMS, but I’ve never lost a patient before. In fact, I’ve never run full CPR before. In the last five years, I have had time to think about what I might do, how I might feel and how I can process all of this in a healthy manner. So far, I think I’m doing alright. I am upset, I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t. But, his death does not mean the end of my life or the end of my work. It just gives me a stronger reason to work towards improved public health here so that next time an asthmatic gets on a plane, the pilot will know to skip the next stop and head straight to the hospital.
Wow, Gaea. I am still processing your words. A few tears were shed. You have so much to share and teach, remember that in the days to come. Wishing I could give you a huge hug!