Help From On High
Ten minutes after DHART 1's arrival, Mike was freed. Much to the EMTs' amazement, his leg appeared to be unbroken. Several firefighters carefully hauled him up the slope—neckbrace in place, shirt off, strapped to a bright yellow backboard—and then passed him over the guardrail to waiting hands. An EMT who'd been holding the IV bag passed it to another EMT on the road.
As Mike Newman was lowered onto the DHART gurney, Rylander leaned close to him. "Mike," he said, "my name is Alf Rylander. We'll be flying you out of here momentarily. How are you doing?" Rylander had to lean closer still to catch Newman's barely audible response. Meanwhile, Vota was attaching the Propac's sensors to Mike's body and checking the read-out hooked to the back of the gurney. He then secured a clear plastic mask to Mike's face and started a gentle flow of oxygen. The patient was quickly wrapped in a thin yellow insulating foam blanket, with a white cotton blanket over it. Rylander took the IV bag from the EMT. The initial assessment indicated that Mike had broken his scapula and also had some major bruising. Rylander placed the oxygen bottle between Mike's legs, slipped one of the gurney's restraints through the handle on the tank's canvas sleeve, clicked the belt shut, and cinched it tight. Then he clicked a second restraint across Mike's mid-section. Clark, several steps ahead of the gurney, was already radioing Pippy.
Rylander recognized Jacobi—now holding the "run sheet," with all the driver's medical information—and asked her to call it in to DHART. He knew with such a short flight back to DHMC that the crew would have its hands full. Jacobi walked to her Jeep, retrieved her cell phone, and called Pippy. In turn, Pippy relayed the information to the DHMC emergency department.
Within minutes, Clark got the "all clear" from the firefighter monitoring the landing zone and started the engines. Slowly, the blades began their rotation. Clark again asked for the preflight checklist. While Rylander worked on the patient, Vota read down the list. "Thank you, gentlemen," Clark radioed back.
Ahead, the highway was completely clear. With a burst of noise and a gust of rotor wash, DHART 1 lifted off the roadway and climbed quickly to 1,500 feet for the short
They'd seen such sights many times before, but the violence of a motor vehicle accident still hadn't lost its power to disturb them. They were glad to learn that in this case, despite the evidence of a horrific impact, the trapped victim was still alive.
dash back to DHMC. The cars in I-91's southbound lanes had slowed to a crawl as onlookers gazed down at the accident scene and up at the green-and-white helicopter now slicing through the late-afternoon sky. From the west and north, dark clouds were moving in again and blocking the sun. A few drops of rain fell on the newly dried roadway.
"DHART 1 Lifeguard to Lebanon Tower," Clark radioed to the air traffic controllers at the local airport. "Lifeguard" means "critical patient onboard."
"Go ahead, DHART 1," came the reply.
"DHART 1 Lifeguard requesting permission for a flyover," Clark said. He was asking for priority airspace so he
could take the shortest route back to DHMC—which lay over the airport's runways. Permission was granted in seconds.
Mike Newman, by then alert and responsive, looked up at Vota and Rylander's helmeted faces and listened in as they checked his status, their voices coming through the headset they'd placed over his ears. "I felt like a sardine in that helicopter," Mike recalls. "There wasn't much room to move. Then again, I wasn't going to complain," he adds. He had asked about Sue's condition and had been reassured that she was doing well and was also en route, via ambulance, to DHMC. Of course his other concern was that their son and his family would by then be awaiting their arrival at EBA's, it surely being well past the rendezvous hour. He worried, hoping it would be possible to get word to themas soon as the helicopter landed.
But for the time being, Mike lay still, feeling the vibration and hearing the muffled sound of the rotors pulling him toward the helipad that now lay only seconds away.
Demarest, the author and illustrator of many children's books, has in recent years focused on real-life adventure, including flying with the Hurricane Hunters and the U.S. Coast Guard. An official artist for the Coast Guard, he traveled in May 2006 to the Persian Gulf to document its work in words and watercolors. The idea of chronicling the Dartmouth-Hitchcock air-rescue service arose from that trip, and he began doing occasional ride-alongs a year ago. He also used to be a volunteer firefighter in Thetford, Vt., and later in Meriden, N.H., so is familiar with the work of first responders. He's currently working on a book for adults about DHART and the history of medevac services. This feature tells the story of his first day with DHART; the patients involved have given permission for the story to be told, but their names and some identifying details have been changed to protect their privacy.
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