Through my Eyes: Experiencing an Air Ambulance Transport

Transporting a patient from San Antonio to Lubbock, Texas

by Cassandra Graper

Friday, October 9, 2009.

At 7:30 a.m. I receive a message from Jeremy Freer, Angel MedFlight’s CEO. He tells me, “There is a flight leaving in 1-2 hours. Please be on that flight.”

Yes! My first flight! What a great way to end my second week of work at Angel MedFlight!

Not wanting to miss the chance to go on a flight to observe our medical crew in action, I get to the office [Angel MedFlight’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona] well before 8:00 a.m.  This gives me plenty of time to find out more information about the flight.

I learn that we will be picking up a patient in San Antonio, Texas. The patient was visiting family when he became ill and needs to be transported to a medical facility in Lubbock, Texas, approximately 400 miles from San Antonio.

At 10:00 a.m. we head to the jet, a Lear 35. I admire its sleek design as I cross the tarmac to board. Once inside, it appears to have enough state-of-the-art medical equipment onboard to fill an emergency room. The pilot and co-pilot are ready for takeoff.  I am joined in the cabin by Angel MedFlight’s Critical Care Flight Nurse, Jim, and Critical Care Flight Paramedic, Ed.

Just after 10:30 a.m. we take off. This is my first time on a Learjet and my first medical transport flight. Flying on a Lear is similar to flying on a commercial jet except, of course, I get to avoid all the lines and hassle at the airport. The cabin is certainly smaller but it’s a nice, smooth flight.

After a quick two hours in the air we land in San Antonio. I join Jim and Ed in the ambulance heading to the hospital. When we arrive, Jim collects all the medical information and updates from the attending nurse. Meanwhile, Ed checks on the patient, Mr. Nelson*. At this point, I remain silent and take in as much as I can. I listen to Mr. Nelson’s medical history and current condition. It is all listed off in a flurry of medical jargon that I don’t understand, but Jim certainly does. What I do understand, is that Mr. Nelson is very ill. I absorb all of this as we then head to his room where he is surrounded by family.

View of San Antonio, TX from Angel MedFlight's Learjet 35

View of San Antonio, TX from Angel MedFlight's Learjet 35

Jim, Ed and two paramedics from the ambulance move Mr. Nelson from his hospital bed to the stretcher. Ed and Jim keep Mr. Nelson and his family informed of their every move. The family seems to find comfort in knowing exactly what is happening as it occurs. With Mr. Nelson secured on the stretcher we head to the elevator where the family says their emotional good-byes. Mr. Nelson’s wife comes with us, as she will be staying with her husband on the flight. I do my part now, and talk with her, trying to make her more comfortable. In the ambulance, she sits up front. In the back, Jim and Ed constantly monitor Mr. Nelson and let him know where we are and what they are doing.

Once at the airport, Mr. Nelson remains on a stretcher which is moved onboard and secured into place inside the cabin. With his wife sitting next to me, we are ready for takeoff. She turns and looks at me, sounding defeated says, “This is going to be the longest 55 minutes of my life.” I smile reassuringly not knowing what to say. Frankly, I don’t know what to expect either. Jim sits next to Mr. Nelson and keeps a watchful eye on his vitals and general condition throughout the entire flight. Ed and I talk with Mrs. Nelson, learning more about her husband’s medical history and what led up to this visit to the hospital.

She tells us that he has been battling cancer for a couple of years, and it has really taken a toll on his overall heath. She says her husband was doing very well recently and was able to walk and drive. They hadn’t been to San Antonio in over a year so he wanted to visit family there. When they arrived in San Antonio he suddenly became very ill and she took him straight to the hospital.

She stops for a moment and waves at her husband. She looks at me with a smile on her face and says, “He opened his eyes and it looked like he was trying to look at me.” This is the first time I see her smile.

After sitting in silence for a minute she says, “This is really great. I’m so happy you guys could help us. We thought we were going to have to take an ambulance all the way [hundreds of miles] to Lubbock. My brother is the one who called Angel MedFlight. Then I talked to a flight coordinator and she said, ‘We will do everything we can to help your husband.’ The next day I got a call from the CEO [Jeremy Freer] and he said, ‘We are coming to get your husband.’ I was so relieved and it’s just so nice to know that you [Angel MedFlight] are working to try to get my insurance to cover the flight.”

I consider for a moment how important it will be for Mrs. Nelson to devote the coming weeks to looking after her husband, not worrying about the often frustrating process of dealing with her insurance company. It’s comforting to me to know that the issue is in the capable hands of Angel MedFlight’s legal team who are so experienced in working with health insurance companies.

Then, something truly uplifting happens.  Jim asks Mrs. Nelson how to spell Lubbock. She tells him, but a moment later we hear Jim say, “Well, thank you.” Mr. Nelson has just told him how to spell Lubbock. His wife laughs. He then starts to ask questions. “Where’s my wife?” “What is she doing?” I turn to Mrs. Nelson and ask, “Was he responsive at the hospital?” She says no, he was only able to give a little hand squeeze to respond to questions. I then say to her, “Well, maybe he knows that he is on his way home.” She just smiles. I reflect for a moment on how amazing it is to experience and to see first-hand, how much what we do means to people, even the patient.

An hour later we land in Lubbock. Mrs. Nelson sits next to her husband and talks with him. He wants to know how she is doing and how long it will be before he can actually go home. He was barely responsive before the flight, and now he is having a conversation with his wife. I say it again, “Just amazing!”

While Jim and Ed move Mr. Nelson into the ambulance I speak with his wife. We talk about the weather, her family, the flight and then, when the ambulance is ready to depart, she leaves us with a heartfelt, “Thank you.”

I love my job!

* The patient’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.


3 comments on “Through my Eyes: Experiencing an Air Ambulance Transport

  1. David Schoenecker says:

    What a great story! It really helps us see the human touch that is so important in your business.

  2. Hillary Holman says:

    This is a really great story. I can see why you love your job. It’s nice to be able to just be yourself and know that you are helping someone. We need to hear more about the good things people do for others. Thanks for sharing this! Sincerely, Hillary Holman

  3. Sharon DeNoyer says:

    This is the reason I love working for Angel Med Flight…..Cassie….I congratulate you on your first flight and commend you on the wonderful experience you shared with us.

    May we always have wonderful endings to our efforts.

    Sharon

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