Mutual aid failed Martha; it could fail you, too

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Editor's note: This article marks the beginning of a series of stories produced by The Lebanon Voice highlighting the need for faster medical response times in West Lebanon and the need for better recognition of aneurysms by rescue personnel nationwide.

The nightmare of Feb. 12 began around 4 p.m.

Martha Soto-Galicia, my partner and president of The Lebanon Voice, was visiting at the home of a neighbor who called to say Martha wasn't doing well, saying she was having "the worst headache of her life" and I should come get her stat.

I was there in less than a minute and within another minute I knew she absolutely had to get to a hospital.

I called 911and gave them our address. I explained that even though we were in Lebanon the Milton Rescue was only a minute away and usually covered this part of town in an emergency situation.

The person on the other end explained they were in New Hampshire and I had to be transferred to Maine 911 for a dispatch order.

After I was connected to Maine 911, Sanford Regional Dispatch, I again gave them Martha's symptoms, "the headache of her life, couldn't feel her neck" and again told them that Milton was only a minute away and they usually respond to this area of Lebanon because they're so close, while the Lebanon ambulance is probably a half-hour away.

They said OK and hung up and I continued to try to comfort Martha who was in agonizing pain.

About 15-20 minutes later Lebanon Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Meehan showed up in his command vehicle, but it was about another 15 minutes before the ambulance showed up and another five minutes after that before the paramedic showed up.

In fact a few minutes after the ambulance arrived, Meehan asked the driver where the paramedic was. On Upper Cross Road, the driver replied, about 10 minutes away.

Luckily the paramedic finally arrived, because Martha lost consciousness and who knows what would've happened if he wasn't there when that happened.

Learning to walk again was a painful and painstaking process, but under the watchful and caring eye of New England Rehab therapists, Martha succeeded.

But why did it come to this? Because Meehan said We got this and didn't ask for mutual aid from Milton, which had a EMT Advanced and ambulance at the ready that very instant and could've arrived within a minute but never heard the tone.

If my house had been on fire Milton would have heard the initial tone and responded even without getting an OK from Lebanon. Fire mutual aid in Lebanon, you see, works differently than Rescue mutual aid. Milton Fire automatically gets toned in mutual aid locales, not so with Rescue. Only Lebanon hears the first tone, and if they say they're responding no one else hears it.

Martha spent three weeks in intensive care and three weeks in rehab.

Earlier this month, with her eyesight and short-term memory both severely compromised and saddled with Type 2 diabetes from the level 4 aneurysm, she still managed to show her unflinching sense of humor when I told her what happened that day with Rescue and the differences in mutual aid between fire and rescue.

"You should have set me on fire," she quipped.

I've been told you can choose which hospital you go to when picked up by an ambulance.

So why isn't the same latitude allowed when you call 911. If I have an ambulance one minute away, why can't I tell them I want that ambulance ... instead of the one that is 30 minutes away.

Are buildings more important than people? I don't get it.

This wasn't a broken ankle, or a sprained knee or a fender bender with a couple of stiff necks. This was a profound brain bleed, with the symptomatic expression of "the worst headache of my life" a dead giveaway to an aneurysm.

Any traumatic medical emergency such as an aneurysm, a heart attack, a stroke should clearly be treated by the closest possible first responder to get to a medical facility in the quickest possible time to ensure the greatest chance for a successful outcome.

I'm convinced that the sooner the bleeding in the brain can be checked, the better off the patient will be. No, I'm not an expert, but common sense dictates that in and of itself.

Meehan may be a good and honorable man, but on Feb. 12 he was an EMT Basic making the call, not a paramedic, not even an EMT Advanced.

He saw no reason to involve Milton Rescue, a minute away, to come get Martha.

We would hope that in the coming months this type of flawed response can be fixed and folks will realize that when a burning shed gets quicker attention than an aneurysm, which is fatal more than half the time, something is profoundly wrong.

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