Chapter Five – The Medics
Mary Betterment broke her leg in 3rd grade. And she broke it in a spectacular fashion.
It was Labor Day Weekend in early September. School would start again the next day. We had a neighborhood party each year in a large cul-de-sac near Sugar Creek. The adults set up grills and picnic benches in the cul-de-sac while the kids played in the creek or on nearby swing sets in back yards.
Mary, dressed in a one-piece bathing suit, was swinging on a large vine that hung over the creek. The braver of the kids, Mary included, would do cannon ball jumps from the vine into the creek. On this day, however, Mary had a little accident. She swung a bit too hard and managed to swing smack into a large oak tree that bordered the creek.
I was sitting on one the picnic benches at the time trying to get a splinter out of my foot. I heard a loud smacking sound followed by a scream. I looked up to see Mary sliding ungraciously down the side of the tree. She looked a bit like Wiley Cayote, the cartoon character, scrambling to stop her fall. No such luck. She landed with a big thud on the creek bed.
Everyone in the cul-de-sac looked toward the creek. There was a moment of silence. Then Mary, the school’s smartest student and budding medical doctor in 3rd grade, called out.
“Mom. Call an ambulance. I’ve broken my leg.” There was a pause. “It’s a proximal fracture of the tibia and distal fracture of my femur. I’m OK but I can’t walk.” How did a 3rd grader know the terms ‘proximal’ and ‘distal’? Most of us had no idea what a tibia was!
Chaos ensued. Mary’s parents were both physicians and were the only ones who remained calm. The rest of the adults immediately went into rescue mode although their knowledge of first aid was decades old.
45 minutes later, Mary was being loaded into an ambulance for transport to Memorial Hospital in Charlotte. She returned home the following morning sporting a pearly white toe to thigh cast and a new pair of crutches.
Mary lived in a corner lot duplex two houses down from mine. I visited her every afternoon after school let out for the first week she was home. We watched ‘Dark Shadows’ and ‘Bewitched’ re-runs on TV. Each afternoon, I would paint her toes for her since she could not reach them herself.
Mary was not a vain girl. But everyone likes to look pretty or handsome – even in the worst of circumstances. When I was done painting Mary’s toes, I would blow them dry and tell her she had pretty toes. This seemed to make her happy.
And so now – 9 years later – Mary was kneeling beside me. I was nearly comatose from the pain, shock, and horror of breaking my leg. Mary was wearing worn leather sandals and her toes were painted dark blue. I let go of Abby Coleman’s hand momentarily and touched Mary’s sandal clad foot.
“Pretty toes.” I whispered. Mary smiled knowingly.
My trip down memory lane was interrupted by the arrival of the medics.
In 1972, medics were like rock stars. Television, at least on the three stations available in those days, was rife with shows documenting the exciting lives of firemen and paramedics. The most popular of those shows was Emergency; a 60-minute drama starring Julie London.
While EMT’s were rock stars in the 70’s, the ambulances of 1972 were not the ambulances we know today. What pulled on to the field at Myers Park High School that hot and steamy evening was essentially a souped up 1968 Cadillac station wagon. The wagon was red and had been equipped with a siren and flashing light on the dashboard and the word AMBULANCE was stenciled loudly on either side of the vehicle.
The arrival of the ambulance momentarily distracted my ‘comfort team.’ For some reason, I took the opportunity to sit up and gander my broken leg for the second time. Bad mistake. This was not what a leg was supposed to look like. My leg was bare. My shin was bent at an awkward angle and appeared swollen and wavy. There was a lump at mid shin the size of a walnut. I assumed this was a portion of my tibia pressing against the skin. My ankle was blue and swollen and my foot was pointing in an unnatural direction. My toes were the only good thing about this scene. They were freshly painted fire engine red.
When the comfort team realized I was staring at my mutilated limb, they went into full battle mode. Agnes yanked my head back in her lap while the Coleman sisters essentially laid on top of me to keep my field of vision pointed at the now darkening sky.
“Unit 24 report.” A gorgeous blonde 30 something with huge tits and white teeth knelt beside me. She wore a neatly pressed, blue uniform and sturdy boots. Her eyes were a brilliant green. “Copy that base.” The woman said into her walkie talkie. “We are on scene. Female aged 17. Conscious and communicating.” The woman looked at my leg without cringing. “Probable leg fracture with possible ankle dislocation. Will stabilize and transport.”
The woman put down her walkie talkie and began her examination of my leg. “Honey my name is Andrea. Have you hurt anything other than the leg?”
I shook my head. “No. But I think my knee is injured also.”
Andrea nodded. “How bad is the pain?”
“Bad.” I replied.
“Scale of 0 to10?” Andrea asked. Andrea’s partner. A young guy with red hair laid an orange splint on the ground next to me. His nametag indicated his name was Tommy.
I ruminated the answer to the pain question. “Right now, it’s maybe an 8. When I move it its way more than 10.”
“She’s been screaming a lot.” Agnes Bishop said supportively.
Andrea nodded and turned her attention to her walkie talkie. “Unit 24 to base.” There was a pause. “Base here unit 24.”
Andrea looked again at my leg. “Victim is in moderate to severe pain. Please advise course of action.” Andrea whispered to me “When was the last time you ate?”
I thought for a second. “Lunch four hours ago.” I replied also in a whisper.
There was a pause. Then the walkie talkie came to life. “Roger that Unit 24. Start Ringers Lactate IV and administer 30 Milligram morphine tablet. Stabilize the leg and transport. We will have an orthopedic surgeon on hand.”
While Andrea handled communications with the hospital, Tommy took my blood pressure and temperature.
The pain was unrelenting. In addition to sweating profusely I now had chills. Go figure.
“Roger that.” Andrea said putting down the walkie talkie. Andrea walked to the ambulance and returned with a small red pill and a small paper cup with water.
“This is going to help.” Andrea said lifting my head, putting the pill in mouth, and letting me sip water.
“You’ll be awake, but the edge will certainly be off the pain.”
In the early 70’s many of the popular pain killers used today had not been invented. Demerol, Vicodin, and Oxycodone were still under development or on some 10 year plan for large drug companies. So the pain killer of choice in the early 1970’s was morphine. One beauty of morphine was that it could be administered in a variety of way. Orally via tablet. Orally via liquid. IV. Epidural. Pick your poison.
The results were the same; a near nirvana like body and mind experience. Unfortunately, on that field on the hot afternoon, the little red pill appeared to have no impact. If anything, the pain intensified when I swallowed the pill.
I looked at the scoreboard. It was now 4:45 PM.