Yesterday was Saturday. Yesterday, I had to use skills I had practiced for hundred of hours, and re-certify every 3 years. Yesterday, I went on auto-pilot and let my hands do the work. Yesterday, myself and a fellow Athletic Therapist did exactly what Athletic Therapists are trained to do. Yesterday, I did what I hoped I would never have to do, and hope I never have to do again.
Yesterday, I helped save a life.
After a relatively quiet day on the rugby pitch (for those who know rugby, there is never a “quiet” day for a rugby AT, as injuries are all too common), I heard the dreaded call “trainer” then again “TRAINERS”… this time plural. It was the referee calling for not just one but both teams Athletic Therapists to come and assist a player in distress on the field. I knew by him calling both of us, it was not a simple ankle sprain or muscle cramp.
While I cannot give much detail regarding the athlete, as per the Personal Health Information Protection Act in Ontario, I can discuss what I felt and hope that others too can learn just how valuable those first few seconds are.
As I ran onto the field, my heart was racing. I the other team’s AT already assessing the athlete, we both knew this was a critical event… I took a deep breath and activated the EAP (Emergency Action Plan) where a pre-determined by-standard was told to call EMS. I would like to say I remember every detail of what happened next, but it is a blur… a slow motion blur where both myself, the other AT and a CPR trained by-standard each took our specific roles of assessing the ABCs (airways, breathing and circulation) and checking other vital signs, all while maintaining c-spine alignment. We checked, re-checked, things were not as they should be. We had to start a cycle of CPR and maintain ABCs until the AED arrived. It was there before we even had to ask, thanks to an observant teammate.
I will not forget how the AED’s plastic activation button felt through my medical gloves, the sound of the automated voice and how it was the same voice as I heard in my hundreds of hours of training. It was oddly calming. We continued with CPR while the wail of a nearby siren rang out, but this did not stop what we were doing, we continued until paramedics stepped in. I was partially expecting them to take over, as they often do for emergencies but when I spoke up and said I was a First Responder, I was put to work and assisted EMS with maintaining an airway, transferring the athlete onto the gurney and into the ambulance.
Seconds later everyone was gone, no ambulance or fellow AT (as she had the athlete’s health information) I was left on the field, with only the remnants of the event around me… a forgotten fanny pack, used AED pads, packaging for OPAs (oral pharyngeal airways), and dozens of by-standards looking at me, patting by back and shaking my hand… but I was still in First Responder mode. I don’t know what they were saying, but I knew they were speaking to me. I was numb. I needed a moment to process and so I stepped away. I took the time to breathe and let my heart rate (which was pounding) come back down to a normal resting rate. I tried to let the events that just transpired sink in… I am still trying to… but it is still surreal.
While it felt like the whole event took hours, it was only after a debrief with the other AT, we realized it was only minutes from the ref’s whistle until the athlete was in the ambulance headed for the nearest hospital. Like clockwork. No time for second thoughts, we reacted quickly, just as we were trained.
I do no write this to toot my own horn, or brag about some great feat that myself or the other AT accomplished. I write this to inform everyone on just how critical it is to have early access to an AED (Automated External Defibrillator). I write this to bring light to how critical it is to have TRAINED side-line medical staff. I write this because I want people to know it could be your son, mother or neighbour out there next time needing help and I hope there is a Certified Athletic Therapist or CPR trained person with an AED ready to respond.
It is because there was an AED onsite, that myself and my fellow AT were able to use our skills to their greatest extent. Doctors say it was our early interventions that made the difference between this individual making it through or not. It was because a town committee agreed on one small thing, an AED onsite at a sports field, did this athlete have a chance at life off the pitch. It was because both ATs are passionate about our jobs and the athletes we work with, that we take the time to ensure our skills are up-to-date.
Tomorrow is Monday. Tomorrow I will go back to work rehabilitating sore shoulders, taping ankles and handing over water bottles to thirsty lacrosse players. Tomorrow I will do my job once again, this time changed… for the better.