A night in the life ...

YOUNGSTOWN -- In the early morning of May 10, a sport utility vehicle flipped over on an off-ramp of state Route 11, leaving one passenger lying unconscious in a ditch along the road.
The Boardman Township man was rushed by ambulance to St. Elizabeth Health Center, and later remembers thinking, "Thank God for the expertise of those paramedics and the way they lifted and restrained me or I might not be able to walk."
For Ron Rossi and his family, the paramedics were God-sent, but for paramedics and EMTs, lifesaving procedures and emergency dashes to the hospital all come in a day's work.
Rural Metro Ambulance Paramedics Pat Straker and Dave LaRosa, with more than 20 years of combined experience, work various shifts throughout the week.However, they are usually teamed to work the 12-hour detail every Friday night, starting at 8 p.m., covering the city and surrounding areas.
Taking inventory: Each shift starts basically the same: a chat with the shift supervisor -- on this recent Friday it is Mike Donofrio -- and an inventory of the ambulance. Eleven trucks are in service this night, each stocked with the basic emergency equipment found in a hospital emergency room.
LaRosa runs his hands over the securely fastened instruments and cabinets of gauze and diagnostic equipment. "Anything that can be done in the first 20 minutes at a hospital can be done with the equipment in this truck," he said.
Once inventory is taken, the partners take five minutes for coffee and pop before the start of the shift. But this five-minute break ends after about 30 seconds -- the first call of the shift comes in at 8:45 p.m. An elderly East Side woman has fallen and needs assistance. The pop and coffee will have to wait.
The truck takes off, sirens blaring, lights blazing, down Market Street to the nearest freeway, with both men donning gloves and making other preparations en route.
Less than eight minutes later, Straker and LaRosa are heading up the walkway of the home amid calls of "Hey, Mr. Ambulance Man" from neighborhood children. The paramedics are too concerned, though, with the condition of the woman inside the house to mind the kids right now.
Minutes later they emerge from the house with the woman on a stretcher, headed for St. Elizabeth Health Center. She complains of chest pains, which LaRosa confirms after hearing fluid in her lungs.
In the back of the truck, LaRosa -- it is Straker's turn to drive -- wastes no time inserting an intravenous needle and applying heart monitoring equipment so doctors know what they are working with when the patient reaches the hospital.
Calming the patient: Throughout the ordeal, both men remain calm, even soothing to the woman, who is obviously shaken. LaRosa explains that in such situations someone has to remain unmoved and it likely will not be the injured person.
"People call us at their worst times and you cannot let the patient see that affect you," he said. "It is their emergency; we are there to help as best we can."
Both men agree that some situations stand out and replay in the mind's eye long afterward. LaRosa remembers the time he was called to an accident where the driver of a minivan hit a deer and the animal went completely through the vehicle. The driver, a medical student, was killed.
Shortly after their patient is admitted to the hospital and paperwork is complete, Straker and LaRosa receive their next call. A police chase on the South Side has led to a one-car accident.
The ambulance gets to the scene in a matter of minutes to find a man in his early 20s lying on the sidewalk, bleeding and mumbling to himself. His white Chevy is a few feet away, wrapped around a tree with the driver's side door still open.
The medics grab the necessary equipment and exit the truck. They immediately tend to the man, but take mental notes on the type of accident and condition of the car. The information will help assess probable injuries and can be passed along to hospital personnel.
After a few minutes of attention from LaRosa, Straker, Donofrio and several other medics, the injured man is loaded into the back of the truck -- handcuffed by police to the gurney. He cannot feel his legs, so has been encased in a neck brace and restraints. Words of fear keep coming.
"I'm gonna die. I don't want to die. The reaper is coming to get me. I love you, Ma," he says in a single breath.
Straker tries to comfort the man but continues to do the necessary work to get him to the hospital and alert hospital personnel of anything related to the situation.
When they reach the emergency room, doctors immediately begin testing his extremities for feeling and signs of movement. Minutes later, word comes back to the paramedics that he is moving his extremities -- he is not paralyzed.
Onlookers' reactions: Straker reflects on the crowds that gather at accident scenes. This time, the crowd simply watched from a respectful distance, but it doesn't always work that way. Some people become hostile with the paramedics, he said.
"I have been on the scene of say, a shooting, and people will be yelling to take the guy to the hospital," he said. "But part of our job is to stabilize [the patient], and the public as a whole doesn't understand our responsibilities and what we do."
The ink is not dry on the paperwork before they are called to a downtown apartment building where police are dealing with a man brandishing a knife and threatening to commit suicide.
The man is calm when Straker, LaRosa and Donofrio arrive. He is taken to Forum Health Northside Medical Center for evaluation. Officers at the scene said he "just had a lot on his mind."
In these situations, paramedics must be cautious, LaRosa said. He remembers a time when a patient dealing with mental health issues pulled out a knife in the back of the truck.
Gearing up for busy time: It is barely 11 p.m., and both men say the busy time comes after the bars start to close.
In the next few hours, Straker and LaRosa will handle several more calls, including a woman who could be pregnant complaining of stomach pains at a West Side nightspot, an elderly man who is not breathing, and a car accident on the Madison Avenue Expressway.
They take each call as if it were the first of the night, attending to each situation with a focus learned through training and experience, and a calm that will carry them through to do it again next Friday.

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