How often do you promise something each day? And can you abide by all these promises? Sometimes the patients want to force doctors, nurses or EMTs to augur their recovery, just knowing that the answer might be a white lie. But in that moment, it’s their only hope to hear a “You’ll be fine… I promise to you…”. And we want to keep these promises, whatever happens. But sometimes we cannot. Such as in a story, that reached us here at corpuls from Down Under – and deeply impressed us all.
The Tin Can Bay is located about two and a half hours of driving north of Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, Australia. Even if we at corpuls headquarters are about 16,000 kilometers away from this place, we have a special connection to the northeastern district of Australia: The Queensland Ambulance Service, which is operating in this area, is using the corpuls3 since 2014, when it comes to the optimal care of their patients. From this spot comes a true story that has to be told to the world. It is about two brave men, two children in distress and the great promise: I will not let you die.
It was one of the hottest Sundays in February this year, as it is summer time in Australia right now. Especially in the mornings, many people come to the beach of Tin Can Bay, which is considered an insider tip for dolphin lovers: Several decades ago, an injured dolphin stranded and got rescued by the residents of the small fishermen village. They cared for the dolphin and fed him until he could be released into the sea again. The cunning dolphin got used to the hospitality of the people so well that in the following days he always returned to the beach and sought for contact with his rescuers. At first, he came alone but soon he brought his family with him, asking for food as well in their polite dolphin style: You remember Flipper’s laughing sounds?
Even though the first of those dolphins does not swim with his family anymore, a group of nine dolphins is returning to the beach of Tin Can Bay every morning. The small fishermen’s village founded the Barnacles Dolphin Center, which attracts countless dolphin friends from around the world and of course the nine hungry bottlenose dolphins at 8 o’clock every day.
When Adam Whitehouse arrives at the Norman Point near the dolphin center that Sunday afternoon, no dolphins can be seen. The wind has clearly refreshed and curls the water more and more. The 49-year-old is just about to go swimming when he sees two boys in the bay whose air mattress got snapped by the wind. He realizes that case of emergency immediately: the offshore wind has become so strong that it pushes the children at the age of eight and nine towards the open sea. Additionally, the waves became so high that the two boys are pressed under water again and again.
Whitehouse jumps into the water without hesitation. But the sea course also strongly increases, so that it takes several minutes until Whitehouse can reach the boys. With their last strength they cling to Whitehouse, who can barely keep his head above the water with both children in his arms.
Whitehouse cannot remember how long he fought in the waters. But the struggle for survival must have seemed like an eternity. Whitehouse tries not to drown. He alternately keeps one of the two boys above water, while the other boy clings to him. Then, the nine-year-old suddenly starts to beg: “Please, do not let me die!”
These are the words Whitehouse can not forget. “I promised him to save him,” the professional motorist from the town of Kybong remembers with a rigid look, when he was interviewed by the Gympie Times. It is a promise that first-aiders, and even we, the medical professionals, sometimes make: Everything will be ok. Not knowing if it will figure out that way.
A few hundred yards away, Graeme Spillman is painting his yacht. He also sees the two boys with the adult in the water. The situation appears just normal: a father with his children having fun in the water. But as he takes a short break only a few minutes later, Spillman notices the struggle for survival in his immediate vicinity: “One of those heads in the water suddenly disappeared and they drifted along with the current away from the beach,” he recaps. Spillman jumps into his dinghy and is only a little later with Whitehouse and the boys. The eight-year-old still clings to Whitehouse, who still tries to keep the older boy’s head above the water.
Spillman grabs the children and pulls them into his boat. But for Whitehouse his power is not enough and the dinghy threatens to capsize under the load. “When I had the two boys on board, he literally lost all his powers,” Spillman describes the dramatic seconds of the salvation. Completely weakened, Whitehouse ceases himself. “I’d pretty much taken my last breath – I was certain of death. Another second and I was gone,” the 49-year-old is sure about that.
But Spillman does not give up. He grabs Whitehouse’s hand and ties it to a cleat of his boat and drags him back to the beach. At this moment, several other people at the beach realize the dramatic situation. Two unknown men hurry to help Spillman and pull the boat with the children and Whitehouse on the saving beachline. Spillman and Whitehouse both remember a dark-skinned helper with dreadlocks: “He immediately began to resuscitate the older boy and instructed others how to take care of the second child.”
A few minutes later, the EMTs of Queensland Ambulance Service arrive and take care of the three rescued. But for the nine-year-old help comes too late. He dies on the warm sand of the beach.
A few weeks later, Whitehouse and Spillman still do not overcome on their experience. Whitehouse, who risked his life for the two boys without hesitation, does not see himself as a hero. He cannot forget the boy’s pleading for his life and his promise, which he could not keep. For him, Spillman is the real savior. If he had not come for his rescue with the boat, he would have drowned with the two children. “I might have been the hero for the little boy, but he’s the hero for me and the little boy,” Whitehouse expresses his thoughts.
While medical professionals learn to cope with traumatic events, first-aiders are quiet often left alone with their emotions. Specialists and services, such as mental health and psychological support (MHPS), are established not only for professionals. First-aiders tend to retreat to process the experiences. The real social network of family, friends and co-workers takes over a task that is mostly not manageable, although professional assistance in the form of crisis intervention teams, crisis lines with telephone counseling or pastoral advice service, as well as long-term psychological support by specialists, is also ensured for first-aiders. But nearly none of the first responders know this.
As an EMT or as a nurse in a hospital, we are not only entrusted with the care of the individuals. We are responsible for the first-aiders or the relatives of the injured or sick person. But there is never enough time for them on an emergency scenario. And even a conversation in the clinic or practice with these persons must be dispensed too often due to time constraints. Especially EMTs should prepare themselves for this need. A business card with telephone number of the nearest hospital or of a telephone counseling service, is easy to carry along and can provide genuine and concrete help for those affected. It should be handed over routinely before transport to the remaining persons on site. At the same time, it is also a symbol of the appreciation of the first-aiders work.
What do you think of this idea? Is there something similar already in use and how are your experiences with it? Please share in the comments below.