Sunday, December 30, 2007

Back in the Day: Part IV

This was the fourth mass e-mail that I sent out. I had spent the summer flying medevacs and it was just a couple of weeks before my stomach started giving me troubles. Although I worked a lot that summer, it was a great summer. I got to go to Switzerland in June and was able to enjoy lots of outdoor activities in Thompson.

Yesterday, August 23rd, marks two anniversaries. Meaningless and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, however, it is still an interesting thing for me to stop and notice. It is my 2 year anniversary working at Skyward and my 9 month anniversary of flying for them.

If at the end of high school, someone were to say to you me that I'd be living over 2 years (right now with the way the industry is going it looks like it'll be probably around 4 or 5 total) of my life in a small town in Northern Manitoba, I would have thought they were crazy. WHY would anybody want to live there? However, here I am. I as of yet do not own a pick-up truck, a rifle, a snowmobile jacket and I won't ever grow a mullet. I have discovered a taste for country music, developed my 'Manitoba' accent and while I like to joke that I have lost my ability to successfully use words longer than 4 syllables in most sentences, I have found a new appreciation for a way of life that is different than the general hustle and bustle of Toronto.

Last week, Sara, a new flight nurse and also a pilot moved to Thompson from southern Ontario. It's been really great talking to her as I remember all the same reactions that I first had when I got up here. "I can't believe the amount of unsupervised children running around everywhere", "I've already decided to stop playing fashion police up here". It's humourous, but a little sad at the same time. I've been super lucky that I've been able to keep in touch with most people via e-mail and MSN and have been able to get home a lot. As long as you're not stuck there for months on end, Thompson can be a nice little town.

The INCO mine with the City of Thompson in the background

The flying has been going really well. Time has flown by since I started (sorry for the bad pun) as I'm finally doing what I came up here to do. My record of longest time working on the ramp has been broken and there will be guys who will have to do 2full winters loading cargo. I am one of the lucky ones.

Medevacs themselves are very interesting. Not something I'd ever thought I'd be doing. Today we had two trips to two different reserves, both to pick up guys who had had the crap beaten out of them. There are usually more fights right around the 20th and the 1st of the month because that's when the family allowance and welfare cheques come out. More money in town, means more sneaked in booze, meaning more business for Medevacs.

A few weeks ago we had a Medevac from Pukatawagan to The Pas. It was a psych patient so we took along an RCMP officer in case the patient refused to go, that way he could be arrested under the mental health act. This patient actually behaved really well, even said “Please” and "Thank you" when talking to the nurse and RCMP officer. On the way to The Pas, the officer asked if after we dropped off the patient, we'd be able to go visit the jail, as it was their brother in-law's first day. “Sure!” we replied, “is he a guard?” 'No' the officer responded, he's in jail and it's his first day. We weren't quite sure what to say to that, but they still ended up having a nice visit, after which the guards gave us a great tour of the place. I had never actually seen the inside of a jail before. It wasn't too bad, but not a place I'd like to spend any time.


The Pas

A couple days later, my roommates, Geoff (a Captain) and Paul (a nurse) and I had a midnight Medevac to Shamattawa. It was an overcast night, there were no moon or stars, and it was very dark. Shamattawa is very isolated, a few hundred miles south of Churchill. In October of 2001,on a very similar night, a Perimeter airlines Medevac plane crashed after doing an over shoot on the runway in the 'black hole' conditions killing both pilots and seriously injuring the flight nurse. We made note of this in the pre-landing briefing. As we got closer to the field and switched the runway lights on, we noticed that the front third and last third of the runway lights were working, but the middle lights were all burnt out. We could still see the outline of the runway clearly and decided it was safe to continue on with the approach. The approach was smooth, the winds were quite light so I didn't have a very strong cross wind to fight. Right in the flare, our landing lights revealed why the middle runway lights were out. Some kids had vandalized the runway, smashed the lights and left them and the pylons that hold them right in the center of the runway! Right where I was going to land. We still had enough speed so we were able to hop around them and then come to a stop with a fair amount of room left on the runway. But still, that's not something you are expecting to have to deal with when landing a plane. And really, if you live in an isolated community where airplanes are the only way or in out, do you think vandalizing the runway and possibly causing an accident is a smart idea? Geez, there really are some dumb people in this world, plus I’m willing to bet at some point one of them will have to be Medevac’d out making use of the same runway they vandalized.

Last weekend I had the most exciting Medevac of my career so far. It was already a busy night in at the Thompson hospital as a little girl and her mother were hit by a car while crossing the road. The driver was blinded by the sun and didn't see them until it was too late. Originally, Life Flight, the gov't of Manitoba's jet was supposed to take the little girl, and we were to take the mother. Sadly, the little girl ended up dying from her injuries, so they decided to keep the mother in Thompson for a little while longer. We ended up getting the patient from hell.

This guy, (only 20 years old) was easily about 6'4" 280 lbs and had just got out of prison a week before (not the same one I visited). I guess he tried to go settle some old debts after having lots to drink, but ended up getting the crap kicked out of him. He was found unconscious by the side of the highway. By the time we loaded him on to the plane he still reeked of alcohol even though it had been almost 20 hours since he had been drinking. He was barely conscious, but just to be sure his wrists and ankles had Velcro cuffs on them. He was difficult to get through the door cause he was so tall and quite heavy, however, since he barely had his eyes open we didn't figure he would be much of a problem. We got a quick glimpse of things to come when just before we took off, he bolted himself up to an upright sitting position and started screaming. The nurse settled him down, told him that we were just going to a hospital in Winnipeg and that he should just try and sleep for the trip. The doctor we took along with us didn't even wake up for it (probably because he was narcoleptic). The patient laid back down, and we blasted off for Winnipeg.

After we were about half way there (An hour and a half flight), the patient sat up and started screaming again, he was harder to calm down, the nurse managed to, but only for about ten minutes until this guy started screaming again. We woke up the doctor who went to go help the nurse hold down the patient. The doctor held him down by the C-collar on his neck, but the patient was so strong that he sat up really quickly and broke it. The doctor then held the patient down by his shoulders.. He was screaming and swearing more, and then he started spitting. This was made even more unpleasant when added to the fact that he had lots of cuts in his mouth so his spit was bloody. He managed to hit the doctor with some. The Doctor, a big man and ex Olympic class Judo competitor didn't appreciate being spit on. He then took a blanket and covered the patient's mouth to keep the spit from going everywhere. This may sound harsh, but when you consider the potential for serious communicable disease, I felt the actions were justified. Even still, after everything was done the ceiling of the plane was covered with bloody spit. The doctor didn't want to give him a sedative because we didn't know if he had brain damage or not. About 20 minutes before landing, the nurse said he was having real trouble with the patient trying to get out of his restraints, and unloading him was going to be next to impossible. We called ahead to Winnipeg and asked them to call the police to meet us after landing.

When we arrived, The airport police were waiting for us. We asked if they had any restraints to help unload the patient, but they said they didn't. I asked the maintenance guys that showed up to watch if they had any cargo straps, they said they did and we went to grab them. When the police were told about the spitting patient, they offered to get us a 'spit sock' for him. This is a mesh bag that you put over his face and when he spits, it doesn't go through. It took a bit of time, but once we had the patient herc strapped down, a spit sock on him, 2 pilots, a doctor, a nurse, 4 police officers, 2 paramedics and a bunch of mechanics, we were able to unload the guy. We had breakfast in Winnipeg, flew home, then went to bed, exhausted.

I'm sure I'll have more stories like these as time goes by.

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