It’s cold and there had been a light rain earlier outside around 3 a.m. and I’ve been standing here for the past ten minutes listening to the hum of the Jaw of Life and the background noise of fire and emergency medical radios. There are large floodlights illuminating the accident scene along Interstate 75 in Bradley County, Tennessee. There is a reason for me to be here, to help others such as the Bradley County EMS, Bradley County Fire Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and Bradley County Sheriffs Department, and 911 Center Dispatchers save another life, and I will soon be working in a confined space of the helicopter, flying a thousand feet off the ground at over one hundred miles per hour in a few moments, and this is Why I Love My Job.
My job takes me to counties all over eastern Tennessee, north Georgia, and parts of North Carolina. I’m a flight nurse with one of the largest helicopter air ambulance services in North America, Air Evac EMS, Inc. I have been a nurse for twenty years and for the past twelve years I’ve been a flight nurse. I have worked as a flight nurse in several locations, including Montana, Virginia, and Kentucky before settling back in Tennessee with my present employer. My days are long as a flight nurse, we work twenty-hour shifts, usually one day on and two days off at a time.
This job takes us out day and night to the side of someone who is having a physical crisis in their life. I like to think that I have the ability to provide medical support to their body and emotional support to the mind and soul during the emergency they are experiencing. We transport a variety of patients from the scene or transferring hospital. Patients may be having a cardiac event, stroke, GI bleed, accident, burn, or a fall that has been traumatic, just to name a few. Some flights may put us in contact with family members of the patient before we leave a hospital and there is the opportunity to provide comfort and reassurance to them also before the short flight. This kind of work requires continuing professional education to keep up with current medical trends and skills, such as intubations, lung needle decompression, surgical tracheotomy for breathing, administration of emergency drugs, giving blood products that were sent from an emergency room, and temporary pacemakers, chest tubes that were placed, and the list goes on. We work in an area that has several other air ambulance companies, so there are times that we work along side of them during the same call that may have more than one patient. I like working closely with the other emergency agencies in my area, we all become a family over time and close friendships are formed with these individuals and their own families. My company also provides free educational seminars and certification classes, so teaching has become a part of my outreach duties also, it is during this time that I can share what I’ve acquired during my professional career with others. I work with two other crew members during my twenty-four hour shift. There is the pilot, who works twelve-hour shifts. My company, Air Evac EMS, Inc, hires pilots whom have accumulated thousands of hours of flying time. My base has pilots who have flown with the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, and U.S. Marines. My partner is a National Registry Paramedic who comes with experience from a busy ground emergency service. The nurses that I work with come from backgrounds of emergency rooms, critical care intensive care units, and some with previous pre-hospital experience and all are Emergency Medical Technicians or Paramedics and hold advance certifications in their specialty. The mechanic is a very important part of our team, he’s the one that keeps the aircraft finely tuned and safe. He inspects the entire helicopter each day, keeping it in peak performance. There is a membership coordinator that provides members of the air ambulance a service that they are flown without being billed for a small nominal yearly fee, although we fly any person weather they are a member or not. As a team, we work as two medical crew members working on one patient giving that patient a better chance of a favorable outcome during pre-hospital care. I get to use NVG , Night Vision Goggles, making it safer and easier to fly at night, this technology was made popular during and after Desert Storm. All of our aircraft with Air Evac EMS, Inc, in Eastern Tennessee have this capability. My job is like a “finisher”, I continue what the other emergency agencies started with the patient, only transporting rapidly using an aircraft instead of driving to the medical or trauma center. This kind of work causes a great curiosity among most people, and we often have folks stopping by the base to see the aircraft, or talk with the pilot about how everything works. The one visitor that is most rewarding is the family or patient that stops by to say thank you for what was provided for them during that crisis in their life, and this again is Why I Love My Job. I want to say thank you to all the emergency medical agencies, police, firefighters, other air ambulance services, and hospitals for giving me the opportunity to enjoy what I do.