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Dead Man’s Curve – Right Questions, Right Choices, & Luck

March 23, 2013

salineEast of Salina, Kansas there is an “S” curve on Old Highway 40. It appears the farm house on the curve’s eastern lead-in was the design agent. The highway was built back in the day when a single property owner had strong rights – beyond everyone traveling down the road in the future.

Nobody knows when or who coined the nickname, but we can easily guess why this stretch of Highway 40 was given the name – “Dead Man’s Curve.” And most Salina medics got to see the why firsthand.

My experience happened late one night in the fall of 1989. My partner and I were dispatched to the curve for a vehicle that rolled multiple times and was resting on its top out in the field.

A deputy sheriff met us when we stepped out of our ambulance. She told us there was one with no injury sitting on the edge of the roadway, and a second person was under the vehicle. He was dead.

I directed my partner to the non-injury patient while I worked my way through the soft plowed field to the dead subject. My flashlight’s beam led me to the far side of the capsized ’67 Ford Falcon. This was where the patient’s head protruded from under the roof.

The face was turned rightwards. Skin was a light shade of K-State purple. As I took in the grisly sight, the unexpected happened – he gasped. I radioed my partner and the incoming rescue team the new finding – code red, not code black.

The next radio message was to the emergency room physician to secure a “Do Not Resuscitate” orders in case we couldn’t quickly get the patient freed – knowing our rescue truck’s speed was liken a turtle stampeding through peanut butter.

Conventional wisdom would dictate air bags be slid under the car to lift it off the patient. Problem was it takes a bit of time to get the equipment set up and activated – and the patient was no longer gasping.

I looked at the little Falcon and made a decision. To save time we would skip the air bags and simply lift the car off the patient. If the decision was right, we would give the patient a better chance. If the decision was wrong, we would be calling Ryan’s Mortuary.

The rescue team arrived and quickly made it to the car. Two rescuers squatted beside the patient ready to slide the patient out, while the rest of us positioned our hands under the edge of the roof top. On the count of “3” – we hoisted.

Up came the Falcon and out slid the patient. It was as simple as that. After a couple minutes of rescue breathing the patient’s own respiratory drive kicked in. The patient survived.

So what can we take away from this experience?

•First, it never hurts to double check important matters – another look, especially by someone more specialized in the matter, is a good practice.
•Get guidance from higher authorities if possible. A quick call to a higher authority helps ensure your choice and bolster confidence.
•Be willing to think outside the box. Standard procedures are great and should be the norm. But, sometimes the result of following them is a dead patient.
•This incident had a great outcome, but don’t judge yourself too harshly if that isn’t the result. Bad results don’t always mean poor choices. Sometimes it just wasn’t meant to be.

Deadmans CurveSimplified, it means asking the right questions, making the right choices, and luck.

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