I sat peacefully catching up on paperwork at about 10:30pm on the 4th of July. The flight radio squawks and I only catch pieces of it. [static]…”there’s been an explosion…the building is on fire”…[static]. The shrill call out tones for life flight dispatch send shivers down my spine (and since my surgery, into my foot as well). “…mass causualties…burn victims…trapped inside the building…[static]…”

I pick up the phone and call the Com Tech. “Chuck, what was all that about?” “Hang on doc,” he says. In the background over the phone I hear more radio traffic describing a fiery disaster scene. The thought of terrorism fleetingly enters, then leaves my mind…it’s July 4th…I remember working on September 11, 2002, waiting all day for a crisis that never happened.

The attending immediatly goes from slow-holiday-night-chill-out-mode to adrenaline-pumped-incident-command-mass-casualty-preparation mode. “Shazam, can you sign out your patients to the other docs here?” I only had 3 active patients and quickly signed them out. “To the roof with your helmet,” he ordered me.

I summon the elevator with my secret-decoder-ring-helicopter-key and put on my helmet. The built in hearing protection immediately dampens the hum of the machinery. I am suddenly cut off from all communication until the helicopter picks me up off the roof a few minutes later and I plug into the chopper’s radio.

Everyone on the flight is quiet. I imagine the chaos and pull out my palm pilot to review escharotomy locations…incisions made in the chest wall to allow the lungs to expand in pateints whose torsos have been hideously burned. I feel nauseated from the anticipation of what we’ll see when we arrive, and yet have morbid curiosity about how cool a towering inferno will look from the air.

We arrive at our landing zone early, prior to the ambulance carrying our burn/trauma victim. The pilot takes a detour and circles over the scene where the fireworks grand-finale tipped over sideways and exploded into a packed restaurant. As usual, it seems, I’m on the wrong side of the helicopter! Chums, the pilot, does a figure 8 over the scene so that all four souls on board can have a good look.

To be continued…