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12/15/2004 Archived Entry: "A medical emergency at the Desert Hermitage"

THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A BIT OF LIFE-THREATENING PANIC to teach you about your strengths and weaknesses of your planning.

We had a medical emergency at the Desert Hermitage last night. One of the hermits, a diabetic, suffered a severe insulin reaction and went into convulsions. As he twitched and flailed helplessly, his family members tried to press as much sugar as possible into his mouth (in the form of juices, maple syrup, and brown sugar stuffed under his tongue to melt) and one of them dialed 911. None of us had ever witnessed anyone in convulsions before. Damn scary -- especially when it's someone you love.

We're out in the middle of nowhere here. Our first lesson -- learned almost too late -- is that ambulance crews and sheriff's deputies know the most obscure roads and homesteads more intimately than we gave them credit for. That's a plus when someone looks like he's dying in front of you. But it's a bit unnerving for anyone who might have aspirations to rural gulchitude.

The other thing we learned was how we handle crises. A woman who's usually rock-solid and rational hit an emotional wall. She still did all the things she needed to do to save the man's life, but panic kept her from conveying our location clearly to the 911 dispatcher. A teenage boy, who's a nice kid but not the sort you'd imagine trusting your life to, rose to the occasion with great presence of mind and competence. He fearlessly handled the convulsing man, who was three times his age and twice his weight. I stayed calm, but was enormously grateful to be able to take the job of speeding several miles to guide the ambulance in so I didn't have to deal very long with either the convulsions or the emotional chaos.

All is well now. By the time the ambulance and sheriff's car rolled up, the little bits of sugar that had actually managed to get into the man's system were having their effect. He was conscious again, though still shaky. His job for the next hour was to eat more sugary foods than any normal adult would eat in a month, as a team of volunteers and pros from the county monitored his blood sugar and consulted with a doctor.

Self-sufficiency is a great goal, and yes, we probably could have handled the situation without 911 -- especially now that the EMTs told us about a new method for dealing with such catastrophic insulin reactions (a pre-prepared injectable, called Glucagon, similar in use to the emergency meds used to counter bee-sting allergies). But once again, there are plenty of times to be grateful for the benefits of civilization, and even for the discovery that a sheriff's deputy knows exactly where you live and what vehicle you drive.

We learned a lot about each other and we grew. The woman who surprised even herself with her panic jumped at an offer to sign up for EMT training. The teenager, who'd been in deep doodoo for several days thanks to some particularly imature teenage foolishness, is high up in everyone's esteem this morning. Our diabetic friend is out walking the dogs (though 20 minutes of convulsions leave your muscles miserably sore). And I'm at least comforted to think I wouldn't be completely useless in another crisis.

Posted by Claire @ 11:51 AM CST

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