Keeping a Level Head


Imagine a scenario, unlike what many of you often times think about. You’re sitting at home, and the news ticker across the bottom of Fox blazes red with an alert. EMP DUE TO SOLAR FLARE! NUCLEAR DETONATION IN MINNEAPOLIS! YELLOWSTONE EARTHQUAKE CAUSES ERUPTION! Insert whatever doomsday scenario you want but imagine the worst. Many of us will hold our children, call our loved ones, and the more sadistic may even laugh and be thankful for the setbacks… But imagine a different scenario. The “S” has already taken effect in the rotary device and you are standing there, wondering what your next move is. Your son, father, or husband is up on the roof adjusting the Ham antennae or maybe just the satellite dish for the local news. You hear a loud thumping, “HELP!” They’ve fallen off of the roof..


Think about this one second before you kinda chuckle and move to the next article. YOUR loved one has just fallen a typical minimum of 15 feet off of the roof. That’s over two times the height of a 6’4″ individual! That’s tree stand height! Or it very well could be out the second story window of your home.


As an EMT, the scenario is one that I’ve seen many times. List of injuries can EASILY include sprained ankles, broken bones, heart arrhythmias, lacerations, a combination of these things or worse, death. Now some of you may laugh and say the fall never hurt, only the sudden stop and I’ll chuckle right along with you. Matter of fact it is a joke I’ve told repeatedly. The good news is that it only hurt once, right?


But being untrained, and totally unprepared for the heart and mind jarring realization that someone desperately needs your help can lead to the wrong reactions. I can tell you that the reactions I get from being in the ambulance are as wide and varied as you can imagine. From excitement and exhilaration, to sorrow, and sadness as well as everything else in between. I can also tell you how most people will often times react. They panic. Period. They wig out, sometimes running around in their “I’m the Best” underwear, or a nightgown, waving frantically to anyone or anything that may help. Many times, when coming to the scene of an accident we can’t find the right house because all the lights are still off at night, or it is very easy because someone runs out waving their arms into the road and danger.


The point of all this is to put in your mind the need for the ability to stay calm under stress. All of us are the first to admit that if the bad guy breaks in he’s getting a double tap of “Justice without Prejudice”. But what are you going to do when that loved one is hurt by the bad guy, or fell off of the roof, or whatever you can think of that turns a SHTF in to OMG?


First thing to do is breath. Is it safe to approach? If it isn’t, you better find a way to turn the electricity off that is charging the water, or turn the ignition off to that car that smells too strongly of fumes. Remember that no matter what, you can’t help anyone if you are the one that gets hurt. Clear that danger! All while breathing. ONLY then,will you be able to help the people that mean the most to you. Sometimes I even have to remember to breath when I’m stabilizing that broken leg, putting pressure on the arterial bleeding, or using CPR to save try and save that grandma.


Here are tried and true methods that I actually use to clear my mind and focus when I’m in an emergency situation.


1) Consciously count and slow my breathing. It helps! Kinda like counting sheep in bed, though I’ve never been able to make that one work. Just a good point of reference.


how to bug in
2) Speaking of counting, say the alphabet. Yea, not like counting, but it may help if you ever get pulled over by a LEO. Now do it backwards and you are even better than me!


3) Pray. Life is literally falling apart for you or someone you are in the room with and I can promise, silently praying or telling others if they believe to do so can calm a situation. Think about it. Most people focus when they pray…


4) Just like when practicing those awesome ninja range moves when you are shooting over your head, ducking into bushes, or popping those zombie water melons, look away for a few seconds. BREAK THE TUNNEL VISION! Look around, talk to your significant other, give other people orders… Do SOMETHING to break that tunnel vision.


5) If you have to… Take a minute (not too long) and just walk away. Make sure the person or event is stable but walk away. I recently had to do this on a particularly bad call. We were in the middle of cleanup of all things and that’s when the stress got to me. I was literally an outward force of a rock in the stream of crazy, making eddies in the river of chaos, when the stress finally got to me. I stepped out, looked up at the stars and took a few breaths. ABC, 123, then back in.


Always remember, life is only as crazy as you make it. Get your Zen going, carry your good luck piece, and think about the important things. Finally, be the rock that makes the eddies in your river of chaos. You’ll see a difference the next time your rotary defecation experiment backfires on your shirt.


Written by Ralph Edwards, NREMT, Wilderness EMT cert’d, and full time runner on the Boo Boo Bus Brigade
Inspired by true stories.


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  1. Experience counts!

    So many people, some good marksmen, cannot shoot off the head of a rattlesnake because they simply become too excited. With more than a passing acquaintance with ‘excitement’ I have no problem ending those vile beasties with the old 1911 .45acp. One shot and problem over.

    A brief anecdote about a highly educated, respected, and experienced West Texas sheriff of my acquaintance. He had just engaged in a lengthy high speed vehicle chase with shots exchanged when the bad guys’ van suddenly and likely accidentally exited the farm to market road and rolled. The sheriff followed it off road, jumped out and emptied his .45acp at the van as he ran toward it. Impressed the bad guys were. So much so, as they came out hands up and surrendered. Afterward, no bullet holes could be found in the van. Too much excitement without discipline.


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