‘I wasn’t leav­ing him’: paramedic de­ter­mined

EMS work­ers re­call trauma of res­cue

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - KELLY NOSEWORTHY The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

“His life is for­ever changed. He has a lot of chal­lenges ahead but he’s alive.”

Cochren heads to work, the Hamil­ton paramedic rarely knows how her day will un­fold.

The morn­ing of July 21, a call came in on her ra­dio — a “code four in Carlisle,” which means “high­est pri­or­ity, lights and sirens.”

“It was a trauma, but there was noth­ing inside of me that made me think it would be a big call,” said Cochren, 29, and on the job for three years.

With­out a de­scrip­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment she was go­ing to or the mag­ni­tude of the pa­tient’s con­di­tion, Cochren pre­pared as best she could, men­tally, be­fore ar­riv­ing to Pro­gre­ston Falls, where Pentti (Ben) Paav­i­lainen, 63, was trapped midthigh by a mas­sive con­crete slab that had sep­a­rated from the side of a dam and fallen on him.

“I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like that be­fore. I’m still new.”

As a pre­cau­tion, Cochren put on safety gear be­fore go­ing down sev­eral stairs to the rocky ter­rain next to the wa­ter­fall. Nearby, she saw Paav­i­lainen, lean­ing back, sus­pended and hold­ing onto a rock with “noth­ing un­der­neath him” for sup­port.

Prop­ping her­self up against the

con­crete next to him, she locked eyes with him.

“He was in a great deal of pain,” she said. “He was con­scious and alert. … We needed a quick set of vi­tals and oxy­gen … and to no­tify other crews who were en route.”

“I in­tro­duced my­self. I let him know what’s go­ing on, what’s go­ing to hap­pen next. That was the pri­or­ity. … It’s your job to con­trol the panic.”

For the next 10 min­utes, Cochren cra­dled Paav­i­lainen’s head and body while do­ing her best to keep him calm.

More than 20 emer­gency re­spon­ders, in­clud­ing a sur­gi­cal team from Hamil­ton Gen­eral trauma cen­tre, ar­rived on scene.

“When we saw the large slab, we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us,” act­ing Cap­tain Steve Long of the fire depart­ment re­called Fri­day.

Long and his crew tried twice to lift the huge con­crete slab — an es­ti­mated 10 and 25 tonnes — with high-pres­sure airbags that can lift up to 27 tonnes.

Un­suc­cess­ful, paramedics se­dated Paav­i­lainen with painkillers while the idea of a field am­pu­ta­tion was con­sid­ered. All the while, Cochren held and com­forted him.

She vowed to stay, de­spite be­ing shin-deep in wa­ter un­der a blaz­ing sun. “I wasn’t leav­ing him.”

Am­pu­ta­tion wasn’t some­thing vas­cu­lar sur­geon Dr. John Har­lock and Dr. Niv Sne, trauma team leader, wanted to do.

“It wouldn’t have been a good out­come for the pa­tient,” Har­lock said.

More than two hours passed be­fore a crane ar­rived and care­fully lifted the mas­sive block.

Paav­i­lainen was flown by air am­bu­lance to Hamil­ton Gen­eral, where he con­tin­ues to re­cover.

“It was awe­some,” Cochren said. “There was this sense of re­lief that I could take a deep breath.”

Pro­longed ex­po­sure to trau­matic sit­u­a­tions is not a for­eign con­cept to first re­spon­ders. They’re trained for it and ex­pe­ri­ence vary­ing de­grees of trauma daily.

On its web­site, the Min­istry of Labour says they’re “twice as likely com­pared to the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion” to suf­fer from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

In April, the Sup­port­ing On­tario’s First Re­spon­ders Act was passed to pro­vide emer­gency work­ers faster ac­cess to work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion ben­e­fits, re­sources and treat­ment.

First re­spon­ders of­ten look to their peers and families for sup­port, “de­brief­ing” about events they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced.

Hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion right af­ter and the days fol­low­ing a ma­jor in­ci­dent can soften the blow.

“There was open di­a­logue among peers to dis­cuss what hap­pened,” Long said about the Pro­gre­ston Falls res­cue.

Cochren said sup­port of the field team, col­leagues and fam­ily mem­bers in the days that fol­lowed helped put that day be­hind her.

“I still have a lot to learn. It was wild. I’ll never for­get it.”

Pri­mary care paramedic Mary Heather Cochren

Pri­mary care paramedic Mary Heather Cochren was one of the prin­ci­pal EMS fight­ing to save the life of a man trapped by a con­crete slab at a dam site in Flam­bor­ough.

Doc­tors pre­pared for an on-scene am­pu­ta­tion for Ben Paav­i­lainen.

Ben Paav­i­lainen con­tin­ues to re­cover in hospi­tal fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent.

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