New Rockford, ND

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Our Ambulance: My Story

By Jessica Dillon

August 8th, 2013 – Part 4 of 6 in a series on the Community Ambulance Service of New Rockford. [Readers take note: the following article contains some graphic description of physical injury. Sensitive readers should proceed with caution.]

What I’m about to tell you isn’t something I talk about much anymore. However, in working with the Community Ambulance Service of New Rockford over the past months, I’ve decided it is important to me to try to express just how much of an impact our ambulance crew has had on my life. Until you’re in the position where you or a loved one’s life hangs in the balance, you may not realize just how vital our ambulance service is.

Let’s start with this. I was a clumsy kid. I had already broken myself in several places by the time I started high school. So before we even moved to New Rockford, I was no stranger to the ambulance crew in my hometown.

But the summer I turned 20, my connection to the ambulance became very, very real. While watching a casual fireworks display out at my family’s farm, a single unstable base caused a mortar firework to tip before firing, hitting me square in the chest, exploding in my arms and taking all the skin on my face with it.

Looking back now, the next hours are a blur. I remember my brother putting out the fire on my clothes, and calling 911. I remember my aunts telling me to take out my contact lenses before my eyes swelled shut. I remember my mom bringing a bowl of ice cold water to splash on my face to try to quell the pain. I remember seeing myself in the mirror. I remember having no eyebrows or eyelashes.

I remember being loaded into the car and driven down the road towards the hospital. I remember being met on that road by the New Rockford Community Ambulance Service, as my body started to go into shock. Transferred to the ambulance, I was given life-saving IV fluids, pain relief, and a cold face mask. I remember fading in and out of consciousness. I remember the ambulance members, who I could no longer see, talking to me. They kept me going.

The ambulance took me to Carrington Hospital, where a Life Flight helicopter came to whisk me off to the burn center in Minneapolis. The days, weeks, and months that followed were some of the hardest of my life, with slow, painful recovery, therapy, and deep emotional turmoil. I refused to so much as glance in a mirror for the first month. I suffered nightmares and panic attacks. I was completely forbidden from exposure to sunlight for 18 months, to protect my fragile new skin.

One thing is certain. The ambulance members who cared for me in the first critical minutes gave me the face I have now - my own face. It was literally saved from the ashes of the accident. The skilled care and comfort I received in the back of that ambulance was the first step of an excruciating recovery, and I am eternally grateful to have been helped onto the healing path by my own neighbors and friends.

As my recovery progressed and I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel, I couldn’t have predicted that the ambulance was about to burst back into my life.

Just after New Year’s, only five months after my accident, I was at my apartment in Fargo when the phone rang. It was my mom. Dad had just collapsed on the floor of his house in New Rockford.

My mom had called 911 and performed CPR until the ambulance crew arrived. He had suffered cardiopulmonary arrest, at age 53. The EMTs on the scene managed to resuscitate him, at least get his heart started again, and he was transported to a hospital in Fargo. But he never did regain consciousness.

I was alone when I met him on the cart in the emergency room, and when the doctors took me into an empty room. I was alone when they told me he wasn’t going to wake up.

As my family arrived, we sat with dad and were able to say our goodbyes to him before ending his life support. He slipped away early the next morning. The ambulance members who had been there to re-start his heart and transport him to the hospital gave us that chance, to hold his hand and tell him how much we loved him, how much we would miss him. I cherish those precious last moments they gave us.

It’s been eight years since I’ve last needed the ambulance. But I can’t imagine living a day without them, skilled and prepared, ready to step in to try to save our bodies and our lives, and the lives of those we love. I owe them more than a debt of gratitude; I very likely owe them my life.

Thank you, and may you always be there when we need you.

This series exploring the Community Ambulance Service of New Rockford will run each month and will provide a closer look inside the history and importance of the organization. The series will continue next month with “Imagine a Community without an Ambulance”.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Ambulance, contact Sandy O’Connor at (701) 947-2989 or (701) 302-0499. The next EMT Certification course will open in September.

This site maintained by the New Rockford Area Betterment Corporation.