Rescue her from this trauma

Crash: Volunteered to play victim for a rescue re-enactment, a reporter learns the ins and outs of extrication from a crashed vehicle.

March 08, 2000|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

Beware enterprises that require new clothes, or so the old saying goes.

May we add:

Particularly if they are coveralls.

And if there are protective goggles required.

Also, ear plugs are a bad sign.

I don't know how your Mardi Gras-Super Tuesday went, but mine began with my bosses volunteering me to play victim and ended with a strange man removing glass from my body with a paintbrush.

(Somewhere along the way, my accountant called with a few questions about my tax return, but I was too busy crawling from the wreckage to get back to him.)

Yesterday, in a demonstration arranged for two area chapters of the Young Presidents Organization (an organization for, well, young presidents and CEOs), the fifth district Volunteer Fire Department of Clarksville showed how they extricate victims from smushed vehicles and prepare them for transport to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.

The demonstration, which was followed by a tour of the facility, was billed as a real-life look that would go beyond "ER" and "Rescue 911." Mark Joseph, president of Baltimore's Yellow Transportation and a Young Presidents member, sits on the Shock Trauma Board of Visitors, and dreamed up this event about a year ago.

"A lot of people in Maryland don't know what a special thing we have in Shock Trauma," he explains, standing on the edge of the "accident scene" in Lot D at PSINet Stadium.

And, in fact, the event had a serious political agenda. Shock Trauma, which received a portion of Maryland's vehicle registration fees, is lobbying in Annapolis for an increase in the money set aside for emergency services, explains Shock Trauma director John Ashworth.

Young presidents can be valuable allies in such a political battle.

The current Shock Trauma wing, built to handle about 3,000 admissions, now sees 6,800 annually. It boasts a survival rate of 96.5 percent.

But enough with the stats. On to the crash site.

First, please note that I was not the driver. The woman behind the wheel of the crumpled Volare is Missy Janes of Chevy Chase and Middleburg, Va. Janes, who wears delicate diamond earrings and sensible flat shoes, looks in shock when I crawl into the passenger side.

Apparently, she has never been in a Volare before.

This demonstration is not being done for speed, so the firefighters are not timed. But it is generally understood that the faster you get someone into a hospital, the higher the odds for a favorable outcome.

"The Golden Hour," as Cowley, Shock Trauma's namesake, termed it.

It quickly becomes apparent that the victim's role is a passive one, requiring all the emotive ability of a crash-test dummy.

As "incident commander" John McNeece explains the step-by-step rescue process to the young presidents, firefighter Chris Kubricky circles the car, murmuring encouraging things, then crawls into the back seat.

He informs us that Janes will be priority No. 1, while I am priority No. 2. Great, it's my childhood all over again. And then -- then they throw a blanket over us, so we hardly get to see anything.

The blanket is essential because the firefighters have to cut out the windshield. They then remove most of the driver side, then put Janes in a special harness in case of spinal injury.

(Victims who are not breathing are removed from the vehicle because, Kubricky says, "It's better to be paralyzed and alive then to have an intact spinal cord and be dead.")

Once Miss Priority No. 1 has been removed, the firefighters strap me into a neck collar and ease me onto a board. I decide to make it as realistic as possible by going limp and giggling constantly.

Then it's another once-over with the paintbrush to remove the last bits of glass from my ankles.

But it was then that I realized my mistake. Turns out that other folks then got to grab the Jaws of Life and hack up the station wagon that was part of "my" crash.

Who wants to be a victim when you can be a rescuer?

To finish off the event, a trio of ambulances was waiting to whisk us back to Shock Trauma. It was then -- and I couldn't make this up if I tried -- that one ambulance almost rear-ended the other, got on the wrong exit and took the most circuitous route possible back to the emergency room.

So much for the Golden Hour.

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