FORT PIERCE, Fla. (BP)–Backdraft explosions, collapsing structures, entrapment in burning buildings, hazardous exposure — there is no end to the dangers of fire-rescue. Communicable disease has emerged as one of those dangers. Mere mention of AIDS evokes fear. You get it, and you’re dead! Perhaps not instantly, but you will die!
When answering a call to an area known for drug abuse, prostitution and high-risk diseases, it is imperative to use all available medical precaution, such as gowns, masks and latex gloves. However, these barriers are sometimes inadequate. The best armor is the power of prayer, especially in the case I call “The Cactus Guy.”
About 3 p.m. one hot summer day, a call came in merely stating, “a fall with a cut.” I envisioned the usual scenario of an older person falling in the bathroom, hitting his or her head on the sink or toilet. But this was not a “Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” situation. Caution signs welled within us as we pulled up to the address. The odor reaching my nostrils was distinctly drug-filled. Music blared and several people continued to party despite the injured victim’s dire condition. Others motioned for us to hurry.
“What happened?” I inquired of no one in particular. The smell of alcohol filled the air. “He fell through the front door,” someone attempted to explain. “This guy and his friends have been drinking all morning.”
Another added, “Yeah, he was just standing inside the house near the front door with a drink in his hand when he stumbled, crashing backward through the door. The back of his legs caught on the jagged glass edge, then, like a sling shot, he went flying!”
There our victim was … in a large cactus planter — 28 years old, severed arteries, hundreds of yellow cactus slivers penetrating his flesh. It was an unbelievable sight.
My mind raced. Alcohol and drugs frequently go hand in hand. As I put on flimsy latex gloves, I knelt over the bloodied man and scanned his body for places bleeding the most. His back legs were sliced nearly to the kneecaps. I shot God an “arrow prayer.” How horrifyingly easy it would be for bloody cactus stickers to transmit a deadly disease into my bloodstream. This guy was bleeding to death. No time to contemplate personal danger. My faith was put to the test. I had to trust the Lord and press on with the job at hand.
I quickly stuffed trauma dressings into both gashes and bent his legs to try to stop the blood flow. Even with utmost care, there was no way to avoid more cactus splinters for him and for us. My latex gloves and my arms were completely red and shiny from his blood and my sweat.
As we logrolled him onto a backboard, with hundreds of cactus splinters still embedded in his raw flesh, he shrieked with pain. Briefly, I lost my focus and wondered how many cactus splinters penetrated my gloves. No time for such thoughts.
My partner and I lifted the board from the planter. The white gauze and trauma towels under his knees were turning red. Losing consciousness, he looked at us with a pale face — a lifeless stare. We wheeled him to the truck, trying to keep him awake.
I glanced at the bloody mess behind us, then looked at our patient. “This guy is really bad.” I thought.
Inside the ambulance I established an IV and applied an anti-shock garment, dodging the many small cactus slivers. Again, I couldn’t help but think there must be a number of those little pokers in me. Could I be receiving direct blood-to-blood contact with a deadly communicable disease? It was a chilling thought. I prayed with each task.
The patient’s girlfriend stepped into the truck and demanded to go. Time was critical. I conceded. “This gal is really going to freak if he goes straight-line,” I thought as I spiked a second IV bag.
“Go!” I yelled to our driver.
I encoded the patient findings to the base hospital. They assured me they were prepared and standing by at the trauma treatment area.
As we pulled up to the hospital, his girlfriend, who had remained remarkably cool, began to cry, “Is he going to make it?” “We’re doing everything we can,” I told her. “You just have to trust the Lord!”
Those words, “You just have to trust God,” echoed repeatedly in my head. I needed to undoubtedly do the same. Fear continued to invade my peace. In a few short minutes I would find out how many yellow pokes I inherited from the cactus guy.
We wheeled him into the trauma room. I gave them a brief rundown, then dashed for the report room — not to complete my report, but to inspect myself for cactus splinters.
I carefully removed my bloody latex gloves. I noticed small holes in the cuffs. The moment of truth had arrived. I took a deep breath and held my hands up to the fluorescent light, checking for deadly protrusions. I could not find one single cactus sliver embedded in my hands or my arms! Praise the Lord! I turned to my partner. A smile covered his face. He too came up cactus-free. AMEN!
Excited at the findings, I looked over at him and said, “God was surely protecting us today, wasn’t he?”
“You’re not kiddin’, Tommy!”
How miraculous are God’s ways! How great is his concern for us! How truthful is his Word! In Psalm 91:2-3, David speaks of God in the following way: “‘My refuge and my fortress, My God in whom I trust!’ For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence.” In that bloody cactus patch, God’s Word was truly my fortress. He did indeed save me from a potentially deadly pestilence.
Our patient underwent extensive surgery and eventually recovered. The cactus guy will probably never know how the Lord used his accident to strengthen the faith of this paramedic.
Neiman, who will be featured on the “700 Club” broadcast May 30, is a firefighter/paramedic with the Fort Pierce/Saint Lucie County Fire District in Florida and an ordained Southern Baptist minister. Neiman is the author of “Sirens for the Cross,” available through his website, www.tommyneiman.com, or through LifeWay Christian Stores.