When Seconds Count

By Josh Kattenberg
Josh EMT pictureCamaraderie, community, neighbors helping neighbors, adrenaline…all the good things that come to mind when I think of my time as a volunteer EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). Unlike the big city, small towns and the rural communities of Iowa and South Dakota depend upon volunteer medical professionals and firemen. When we turned 18, my brother Rick and I took the first responder class, the lowest level emergency medical training and started serving with a small squad. We soon realized we loved the work and the next year took EMT training. The training consisted of more advanced techniques such as using a multi lumen airway to establish an airway which involved inserting a very large tube into an unconscious patient’s trachea in order to push oxygen directly into their lungs and simple techniques such as using pressure and elevation to control bleeding. We learned to know the difference between a tibia and a femur, and we studied everyone favorite subject…emergency childbirth. Giving birth to a baby is the back of a moving ambulance is the only thing that freaks out an EMT, and yet it is the only thing that is a normal occurrence and not a disease or accidental trauma. Maybe we are so nervous because of what it at stake—two lives and the innocence of a child. In the last 15 years of service we have seen some awful things…car accident victims on fire, suicides, heart attack victims. We have watched the raw grief of young bride over the death of a new husband. We have seen wonderful things…a small child’s blue, lifeless body become pink and return to life through our interventions. Sometimes EMTs themselves fall victim to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome through the things we see and experience.

The volunteer EMT is not the only one who gives up their nights or their time at work on a long transfer, filling out reports, or working on refresher training. Our families also give up a lot. When we are on call, we are at home, but can’t leave town, go on a walk, have a drink, or baby sit the kids. We have to be ready at any moment to spring the rescue of the sick and wounded. For the families of EMTs this means Christmas and birthday parties are interrupted, spouses must spend more than their share of the time taking care of the kids, and spend many nights alone.

When we go on a call in a small town, we can pretty much figure the patient will be one of our family members, friends, or neighbors. There have been times when the pager goes off we simply grab our jump kit and literally run across the street or step next door to answer the distress call of our neighbor. Being a volunteer EMT is a lot of work and sacrifice, but is it also highly rewarding. When we see the little boy who was dead going down the water slide at the community pool…we are well paid. It is our privilege to be part of his life.