Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 16
“Well, I’m not quite sure, yet, what’s wrong with your wrist, but don’t worry, I will take care of you, okay?” As I said this, I wished that my words would calm her, and ease her pain. I am not sure if they did, but she at least nodded at me, and allowed me to proceed.
It was the first time I had a patient visibly in pain. It was, I think, especially unnerving to me because I have never broken a bone, and luckily have never been in huge amounts of physical pain, despite my silly tendency to vault over picnic tables and run up walls. I know what pain is like, but I did not know what her pain was like. I did not know what she was feeling. That unknown was terrifying. She taught me that even though I sometimes cannot relate to my patient’s physical and emotional feelings, I can still be calm and steady. I splinted her wrist without delay.
From another patient in pain I learned that we are all very young. I arrived to an accident on Quantum Leap to find a middle-aged woman on her back, looking at the sky with dark eyes, likely fixed on the fact that the afternoon had not turned out so well, not well at all. I introduced myself, and proceeded to clear her spine, and assess her injuries. At first, all was well — until I reached one of her shoulders. I pressed gently but her face contorted in pain. She couldn’t lower her arm all the way down from over her head. Hmm, I thought, this looks like a dislocated shoulder. Yes, I remember the blanket roll from training! So I prepared a blanket roll just for her, and then asked her to sit up with my help, so that I could tie the blanket in place and from there transport her safely to first aid.
We counted together, “3. . .2. . .1. . .AH!” That last part was just her. And I stopped. Attempting to sit up caused her extreme pain. But for me to apply the splint, she had to sit up. There was no way around it. As I looked at her, lying back down to regain composure, I saw an expression on her face that I swear mirrored that of a young child. This is not to say that she was not right to have it — not at all. Rather, when we are in pain, I think we are all the same. We are all back to our childhood, our days of bumps and cuts and feeling helpless.
She was brave and together we overcame her pain and got her safely to first aid. But she still had that expression on her face that made me think of a child. I saw this expression countless times, on many patients, of all ages. I saw it on children, too, of course. It’s the face of a human in need of help, one that we all share — even the most “hardened” amongst us. I learned that we are the same when we are in pain. We wish to get out of it, we wish to have help. And I am just glad that this season I was able to so often replace that pained expression with one of relief, and on the best days, one involving a smile or two.