Sunday, January 14, 2007

One for the Record Books

Thursday night was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It’s hard to put into words actually, but I guess magical is really the best descriptor.

I was on call in emerg when a 71 year old man was brought in from a nearby community with belly pain. We worked him up and decided that he had a surgical abdomen and needed to go out to Yellowknife and see a surgeon ASAP.

With a call to the medevac team, Rick the paramedic came over to the hospital and the pilots went to the airport to get the plane ready. We were pretty worried about the patient. His vitals had become a titch wonky, and he was becoming delirious.

I had heard that if the weather is decent, and there aren’t too many people in the plane, they sometimes let the med students go out on the medevac flights. So I figured I would take my chances, and sheepishly asked if maybe I could go along. Rick said I needed the doctor’s permission. She said yes, as long as I picked her up a 20-pack of Timbits in Yellowknife. I thought that was reasonable request. Then Rick phoned the pilot to make sure it was okay. He said yes too. I felt overwhelmed with excitement, and then a little worried for a second because a plane crashed not too far from here last week and 3 of 4 people on board were killed.

As you know, risk is proportional to reward and I really wanted to go. Also, last summer in Algonquin Park, I chickened out of jumping off of this little cliff and I’ve been pissed off about it ever since. So I was not going to make that mistake again. I raced home and put on 17 layers of warm clothing. I could barely move but it was minus 40. Also, as Bobcat pointed out, if the plane goes down, you don’t want to have to rummage around for your clothes and try putting them on with a broken pelvis…okay, I am being a bit dramatic here…It was cold, so I dressed warm.

The plane ride to Yellowknife took about 2 hours. We had great tails winds. The patient had responded well to the 5mg of morphine he’d had right before leaving, and aside from the occasional PVC, he was stable and calm. We dropped him off without incident. I was sad to leave him actually because he was a really sweet old man, who had no family with him, and he seemed scared and confused.

So, with our patient safely in hospital, we headed off to Timmy Ho’s to meet up with the pilots. Coming from Aklavik and Inuvik, Yellowknife seemed humongous to me. We drank delicious coffee and hung out while the pilots had dinner. Then we were on our way back to the airport.

Flight plans were created and fuel was added. We were on our way. Our pilots were Craig and Crystal. Both were friendly and fun. We were flying into a huge headwind, so the trip back to Inuvik was expected to take 4 hours rather than 2.

Here is where things get magical:

After we took off and reached our cruising altitude, Craig the pilot turned and asked me if I wanted to have a go at flying the plane. I pretty much peed in my pants and lept forward, ready to accept his offer.

It’s pretty tight in those little planes, even more so in the cockpit. I was wearing a lot of clothes and a huge pair of Sorels, and had a very real worry that I would be smashing things up like a bull in a china shop up there. But I managed to squeeze myself in and the next 3 hours were unbelievable.

Sitting in the dark cockpit on such a cold and clear night, it seemed like the stars were all around the plane. I felt like I was flying in space. Between the 2 of us, we saw 5 shooting stars without even trying. Then, as if this wasn’t enough, we were treated to an amazing and huge display of Aurora Borealis. Only we were flying through them. I am not joking, this show lasted for hours. Crystal and I alternated between quiet awe, and looking for shapes in the Northern Lights. I will never forget it. It was one of those serene and beautiful times in your life where you feel overwhelmingly compelled to believe in God, or some other higher power with serious esthetics skills. If there is in fact a God, I am certain this is where he spends his nights.

That’s not all. The pilots let me have a shot at manually descending the plane from 28,000 to 24,000 feet. It was super scary but I managed to avoid having an MI as we dipped down into the dark unknown (definitely suffered some angina pains though). It’s hard to keep track of descending gently and keeping the plane level at the same time. I enjoyed it, but was happy when we turned the autopilot back on. The pilots also practiced and emergency descent for us two, where basically the plane nosedived while we held on for dear life in the back. I learned all kinds of interesting things about planes.

Anyway, as you can see, I had a really exciting time. By the time we got back, fueled up, put the plane in the hangar and popped by the hospital, it was almost 5am. It was also -49 degrees out. I crawled into bed feeling like the luckiest cat in the world and stayed in bed until 11am.

affectionately yours,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey you! I hadn't checked in awhile, and am glad I did. The balance between risk and reality (is that how you put it?) is, sadly, only too worth it in the GWN (Great White North). As I sit here with a little "Oh Julia" in the background, I can only hope that you brought a helmet with you if you decide to go snowmobiling.

Can't wait to catch up!

ps- emerg 'views are treating me well, I just want it all to be DONE

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't believe after years of Catholic school that you are so flippant with God! I wonder if secular training would have somehow made the opposite happen? Just a thought...
I am glad you are having a great time in the North, it makes me feel closer to you because it snowed here in Raleigh yesterday:) But we're in shirtsleeves today, so I guess it's all relative.
It was great to see you at the party, thanks a lot for coming and for bringing Mike, I had never met him before...
Love Brad.

10:58 AM  
Blogger telltale tabby said...

Dear Tool,

I had a dream about petit miguelito 2 nights ago. I can't remember the exact details, just that it freaked me out a little.

We are not going to be snowmobiling, just dogsleding this weekend, and driving to Tuk on the ice road.

I know what you mean about the interviews. Soon enough they will all be done and then we can all just move forward with things.

thanks for popping in to visit my blog.

xoxoxo tabby

12:01 PM  
Blogger Rick said...


Glad you had fun!


All my best,


11:55 PM  

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