On the front lines in the ER and in the field
It was a day meant for fun and sun in Stage Harbor. But, suddenly, the boat outing turned into tragedy. The vessel’s propellers accidentally ran over both legs of a 27-year-old woman swimming by its side.
Fortunately, one of the first responders was a trained Emergency Medical Technician working that day for the harbormaster.
Minutes later, rapid response paramedics arrived. They immediately administered life-saving IVs and worked to stabilize the grievously injured woman’s wounds, while trying to control her pain.
Their ambulance raced to Cape Cod Hospital’s Emergency Center in Hyannis, where doctors and nurses sped into action.
Fortunately the woman survived. As many as 50 people a year die from similar propeller accidents, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Dr. Crowell, uniquely, experiences these life-saving events year-round. He’s not only an emergency room physician at Cape Cod Hospital, but also a member of the Dennis Fire and Rescue Department, frequently responding to car crashes, fires and other life-and-death events.
He also serves as one of two Affiliate Hospital Medical Directors who work in conjunction with Cape & Islands Emergency Medical Services (CIEMSS), the organization that is the liaison between Cape Cod Healthcare and 20 fire/rescue departments on the Cape.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, he grew up as part of the firefighter’s world. His father, grandfather and uncle all were members of the Dennis Fire Department.
“My experience in the field gives me huge respect and appreciation for the work done by the paramedics and EMTs,” Dr. Crowell said. “I describe them as the underbelly of Cape Cod’s healthcare system. They may not hold the glitz and glamor of interventional cardiologists or even emergency room doctors, but their training and ability provide the initial stabilization and diagnoses that are indispensable to our success once the patient reaches the hospital. They truly are an extension of the emergency room.”
Despite this, Dr. Crowell observes that many Cape Codders aren’t even aware that the same rescuer who fights a fire will be the first responder diagnosing a heart attack.
“They go unnoted and often unrecognized,'” he said.
Dr. Crowell has watched with some amazement how the role of a firefighter on Cape Cod has grown in sophistication.
“During my grandfather’s career, they pretty much just transported patients in the back of a vehicle similar to a hearse. That was only two generations ago. Now, an ambulance is equipped to be an emergency room, and paramedics undergo years of classroom and hospital training. ”
In a typical year, more than 125,000 ambulances arrive at the emergency rooms at Falmouth Hospital and Cape Cod Hospital. The majority are transporting patients with non-life-threatening issues – from seniors who may be dehydrated to a growing number of people suffering from behavioral health issues.
“At least a quarter of EMS calls involve patients whose pre-hospital care at their home and in the ambulance make a huge difference; receiving care that once would have occurred only upon reaching the emergency room,” Dr. Crowell explained.
The most significant area is cardiac care, he noted.