The Other Side of the Call

Thoughts from the other side of 911

September 14th, 2012 was a beautiful autumn day… the sun was shining, I was on my days off rotation, it was my wife’s birthday and my son has come over with my 3 and half month old grandson Lucas to spend some time.

Jon, Lucas and I went out to get birthday and gift cards and coffee. We got back, muy wife Trish was up and we gave her birthday gifts. Trish had an appointment for a manicure and pedicure; Jon had a few things to do and he asked me if I would mind watching Lucas for about an hour or so. How could I say no to spending time with the little man?

Lucas did what babies do, and I felt what I call “puffy pants”… he had a wet diaper. I changed him, and since the trash truck had not arrived yet; Lucas and I went outside to put the “pee permeated puffy pants” in the trash.

I was paying attention to the little man, I had no idea of what was going to happen next. There is a small depression in the sidewalk in front of the Casa de Gonz where the shut off valve for the water main is located. When I stepped forward, I caught the edge of this depression, twisted my ankle and fell. The “grampy bear protective instinct” kicked in and I repositioned my hand to the back of Lucas’ head as I fell. ..

I felt the back of my hand hit the sidewalk… and heard Lucas start screaming. I picked him up and saw a the bump on the back of his head growing… his head hit the sidewalk between my thumb and index finger of my left hand. I ran into the house with him and in what appeared to be a simultaneous motion grabbed a cold gel pack out of the refrigerator, placed Lucas on the island with the gel pack under his head and picked up the phone and called 911. I said to the dispatcher “This is D3 ( my radio designation) I fell with my grandson, he’s hurt and I need EMS now! I realized I didn’t state the address, so I hit the redial button, not thinking that we have enhanced 911, my name and address came up on the screen in the dispatch center the second the call was made. My son called me to ask me something, I told him what happened and he rushed back.

Ask most people who call 911 and ask them how time felt, and most people will say it slows down while waiting for help to arrive. For me, time was compressed. It seemed the minute I hung up the phone after telling Jon what happened, he pulled up, and a Police cruiser, Engine 1, the Deputy Chief on duty in S-1 and Patriot Ambulance P2 were in front of the house. The Medics had a paramedic student doing ride time with them, the crew on Engine 1 and the Deputy were trying to console me. Jon got into the back of the rig and worked with the medics to get Lucas immobilized. I called my wife on her cell to let her know what happened, she immediately said she would meet us at the hospital. Lucas was transported to UMass Medical Center University campus, which is a level one trauma center with a pediatric emergency unit.

I was a nervous wreck, so the Deputy drove me to Worcester to be with Lucas and Jon. I was led into the pediatric trauma unit. Lucas was still screaming while an army of doctors, nurses and ER techs were evaluating him. I saw my son standing there watching and totally lost it. I grabbed him in a bear hug and was apologizing profusely. One of the doctors, took me aside and said “he’s going to be fine.. a screaming baby is a good sign…” They started an IV, took some blood work , placed him on a pulse oximeter and administered some Tylenol to help with his pain.

Lucas cried himself into exhaustion and fell asleep. They took him in for a CT scan while he was sleeping and found that there was a small occipital hairline fracture of his skull; the good news was there was no bleeding, the fracture would heal on its own with no surgical intervention and the swelling of bump on his head had already started to go down. When Lucas woke up, he was smiling and laughing… a very good sign that he was going to be alright.

While we were waiting for the results of the CT scan, he was seen by teams of doctors. UMass University Campus is the home of the UMass Medical School and a teaching hospital. Teams of interns and residents in pediatrics, trauma and neurosurgery came in assess and evaluate Lucas. The head of the Pediatric Neurology team made the decision to keep him overnight for observation. My son and Lucas’ mother spent the night with him and Lucas was released the next day.

In my 30 year fire service career, I have responded to 40 or 50 of these types of calls involving infants and toddlers. I am so used to being on the responder side of the call; it is radically different and an eye opening experience to be on the receiving end of a 911 call.

Of course, in true fire service fashion, once everyone found out that my grandson was going to be okay and that I was going to be okay, the good natured ball busting began…. With comments about my gracefulness, my being a klutz and if I spilled an iced coffee on Lucas as we fell ( I had an” iced coffee incident” in Car 2 a few days before that required the head unit for the siren and emergency light control to be taken out of the console and cleaned).

My sister Sandy got the best zing in. On my Facebook wall, she posted this… “Now my dear brother, you do realize that 17 years from now, when Lucas does something that displeases one of his teachers and they say " what the heck is wrong with you, did someone drop you on your head when you were a baby?" he can truthfully answer "Yes, Sir"…



Ron Ayotte is a Deputy Chief of the Marlborough (MA) Fire Department and employee to the Support Services division of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Service/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy.

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