Georgetown paramedic saves lives daily

Anna Lyons listened to the hospital radio in anxious anticipation, her mind racing with unanswered questions as she tried to make sense of the 2009 Fort Hood shootings.

How many people were injured? Were her crews in danger? Would the first responders be requesting backup?

Each update suggested a new question to be answered—another piece of the puzzle to be solved—until, at last, the sinking feeling in the pit of Anna’s stomach had completely dissipated, and she was again in complete control.

Paramedics “learn to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” explains Anna Lyons, a 2006 Georgetown High School graduate. “But that was one of the most stressful days on the job.”

For professional first responders like Anna, each day dredges up mixed emotions such as excitement, stress, and pride. But one thing’s for sure: Life as a paramedic is never dull. Each call presents a new patient, a new location, and a new challenge.

“I’ve run anywhere between two and ten calls in a twenty-four-hour shift,” says Anna, who is able to perform, in a pre-hospital setting, many of the procedures that doctors and nurses are able to do at the hospital. “You never know what you’re going to get next.”

To make working with the unpredictable slightly more manageable, paramedics assign every call they field to one of two categories: medical and trauma.

“The most common medical problems we see are abdominal pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, and diabetic problems,” Anna says. “Usually we can treat those with medication.”

Trauma patients—those who have sustained an injury—require a doctor’s care, so paramedics usually can treat such patients only with pain medication, casts, and splints while getting them to the hospital as quickly as possible. The most common trauma problems Anna encounters are hip fractures and injuries caused by car wrecks.

In the midst of chaos, it’s imperative that paramedics like Anna assess the situation and stay levelheaded.

“As soon as I get a call,” Anna says, “I’ll do a ‘scene size-up’ and ask myself questions—‘What type of call is this dispatch? Is there one patient or more? Where are we going? Is the patient injured? Entrapped? Am I able to get the patients out on my own? Are these cars blocking the road, or do I need to have the police come block off the road so that we’re not in danger? Which patient has the most life-threatening problems?’”

It’s important to adequately assess the situation, she explains, because paramedics don’t have the luxury of expecting cut-and-dried scenarios. Even seemingly routine situations like collisions can quickly escalate into potentially dangerous situations for paramedics if the patient mistakes the Emergency Medical Services personnel for the police coming to make an arrest, if a crowd forms, or if the patient is upset that paramedics were called.

However, despite the occasional dangerous or hostile patient, Anna says that the patients also make her job worthwhile. “You’ll get patients who, even though they’re in pain and hurting, will talk to you, and they’ll want to find out information about you, and they’ll want to tell you about their lives.”

“I’ve had several instances when family members or the patients themselves came up to the station later on and told us what happened after they went to the hospital—what they were diagnosed with in the end,” Anna says. “And they thanked us because we were the first ones there, and we were the ones who got them where they needed to go. It feels good to make a difference in their lives.

Experiencing a life-threatening condition, or bearing witness to someone else’s, can be frightening. Here are four tips from Anna Lyons for handling a life-threatening condition and working effectively with first responders.

1)   Be aware of your surroundings. Know what’s going on. If it’s a collision, are you going to get injured running out in the middle of the road trying to save the trauma patient? Remember—if you get hurt, then you won’t be able to aid the patient, and the EMS will have two people to treat.

2)   Determine whether the situation is a medical or trauma case. Try to find out what’s going on with the patient. What is his medical history? Has this happened to her before?

3)   Report the situation. Don’t assume that someone else has already called 911; instead, pick up the phone and call 911. Your call could save someone’s life. If you witnessed the event or found out any information about the patient’s medical history, tell the police or the EMS any pertinent information you have gathered.

4)   Always be calm. Whether you’re a patient or a witness, the calmer you are, the easier it will be to think clearly and to explain the situation to a professional first responder.

5)   Don’t impede. Don’t be that pesky bystander hanging around the scene, snapping photos without valid reason. If there’s no reason for you to be at the scene, then you may be hindering EMS efforts.

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