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3000 Foot View

Apr 02, 2020

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Dear World,

Living half of my life with a 3,000 foot view, my sight may blur but my vision is clear.

When you pick someone up off the street, they have a name. It feels so sterile in the hospital sometimes. Names become Medical Record Numbers. Medical Record Numbers are sick, and oftentimes they die. I witness patients dying all the time. But when you see someone in their street clothes, not in a hospital gown, or hospital bed, and she has a little barrette in her hair?

It’s different.

I can see so clearly the moment before anything happened. There is a ‘before this’ and an ‘after this’ for so many of them and that difference is often in our hands.

The flight team.

At 3,000 feet, you can see cities and their beautiful skylines, but the truth is I’m never looking at the skyline. On the way to an accident or to transport a patient from one hospital to another, we’re prepping the whole way there. I’m usually 3,000 feet in the air, trying to picture the scene. “How many people are thrown across this interstate? Who is it? Is it a kid? Is it a mom? Is it a husband? What happened to them?” We aren’t given much information, so my thoughts race like this. Every. Single. Time.

Then, they don’t. When we land, it’s like slow motion. Time stops. But for them?

During this event there is a flurry of activity. They have suddenly experienced the most tragic moment of their lives. Lights are flashing. Sirens are wailing. People are screaming. And there's a helicopter approaching. They can see the rotors spinning. They can feel the wind in their face. It’s hot. It’s loud. It seems like chaos. We forget how loud it is. We forget how scary it would be to experience all of this. I’m sure they are wondering if the tragedy will ever end. What happened to me? Am I dying? Can these people save me? Then the doors close. The sirens fade away. And the pilot asks, “Are we secure for takeoff?”

Then they look up at me. We are their first calm moments.

Helicopters might look big from below but inside? We are so close. It's very intimate. And when I look at this person, whoever they may be, covered in blood and dirt and sweat, and I look at their monitor, everything else blurs around me. The city blends into one color, the gridlocks below turn into streams of light. There's nobody up here but us. In this moment, we are all they have.

My partner and I are doing everything we can. But is it enough? This is a person. They still have a life.

It’s tough. Emotionally and physically. It's hard to manipulate things up in the air. We’re constantly thinking, if “x” happens, how do I do “y”? We have to stay one step ahead. We’ve got to. This person still has a chance. There is someone waiting for them. Someone who loves them.

It gets challenging because I get into the whole, “Am I enough? Am I supposed to be doing this? Am I really helping?”

And I am. I know I am. I’m that binding agent between what was and what will be for them. I’ve learned to recenter myself, and say, “I’m here. I have to be. I have to be enough for this patient, this person.”

This pandemic has forced a lot of us to zoom out. To take the 3,000 foot view and realize some days it is enough to just show up.

COVID-19 is indiscriminately ruthless and undoubtedly merciless. It has challenged all of our healthcare norms. It has forced many of us to have days where we question ourselves, our abilities, and our purpose.

Living half of my life with a 3,000 foot view, my sight may blur but my vision is clear.

I am here, and I am enough.

My favorite song is from the artist P!nk. And I listen to it every morning on the way to work. It’s gotten me through a lot of tough days. If you’re reading this, listen to these words.

“May the light be upon me
May I feel in my bones that I am enough
I can make anywhere home
My fingers are clenched, my stomach in knots
My heart it is racing, but afraid I am not
Afraid I am not
I am here, I am here...”

The 3000 Foot View
Catherine Smith