Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Good Day to Die... Er, Fly...

Almost 16 years ago I had the most amazing day. I was doing three weeks of training in Manhattan, and I had one day off; a Sunday. I rented a car, drove 3 hours out of the city to the end of Long Island, Mantauk where I rented a sailboat and had 2 glorious hours on the water. The whole drive out had been rainy and overcast. When I arrived to Mantauk, the cloud cover broke, and I had those two hours of sunshine and fine wind.

Afterward, I drove to a local place, Mama Jojo's, where I had a whole lobster dinner with an iced cold Corona, and the best cheesy bread rolls I think I've ever had. As I ate my dinner at an outside table overlooking the harbor, a light breeze blew, and there was a nice sunset. But then, the clouds came back, the rain started, and I made the 3 hour trek back to Manhattan. It was the best day.

The next day, back at training, my instructor asked about my day off. After I had expounded on the glories of the day, he said to my surprise, "So it was a good day to die?"

I looked at him in disbelief. How could anyone want to die after having experienced such a wonderful time. Then he explained:

There was an American Indian chief who awoke one morning, stepped out of his teepee, and proclaimed that it was "a good day to die." His fellow tribesmen looked at him confused. The chief continued, "Look all around you. The prairie grass is high and green. The skies above are the brightest blue. The buffalo are grazing nearby, and a clear stream runs close by. It is a perfect day."

"Who would want to die on a gray sullen day? Today is a good day to die."

I was thinking about this as I arrived at Mercy Flight on what was a glorious morning. The thunderstorms that had been plaguing the area had dissipated into a bright blue sky with big fluffy white clouds. A fine breeze blew from the west. What could be more perfect?

Our first flight took us north to a community event where local schoolchildren were learning about community safety. Here's a pic as we approached:

You can see the school buses and one of the local firetrucks which I got permission to climb up on and ride up on the cherry picker to its full height of 102 feet.

Here's a pic of Mercy 7 which I took from the top. This was the helicopter we were flying today:

And here she is close up. It's a much bigger helicopter than the one I rode last week.

We spent about an hour at the community event and then flew back. During our shift, we were put on alert twice but did not fly out. Finally, around 5 p.m. we were called to pick up a transfer from near the New York/Pennsylvania border. It was a 25 minute flight, so the longest I had ever been on a helicopter.

My thoughts continued as we flew over the green hills and valleys to the south of Buffalo. Cows sat in the fields. Rivers flowed through canyons. The air was clear, and everything seemed right with the world. Of course, not everyone was having my day.

Our patient was a young man enjoying his beautiful day by riding his ATV with a group of friends along the local trails through the woods and a quarry. He fell off and was knocked unconscious. On his physical exam, I guessed he had a broken nose and most likely a skull fracture. He had scrapes and bruised all over his abdomen. Relatively speaking, he was doing ok, and we flew him the 20 minutes back to ECMC where the trauma team took over. It was their 3rd trauma from this ATV event, so they were very busy.

I guess I'll find out in the next couple of days how the patient did.

From there we flew back to base, and my shift for today ended. The first pic is the sunset I saw on my way home. What a glorious day. And, although for me it was a "good day to die" that would not be allowed for the patients under my care on this most beautiful day. I can thank God for that and everything today.

"Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medidas" - a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.

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