How Do EMS Know A Person Is Dead? - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

01/09/08 - Nacogdoches

How Do EMS Know A Person Is Dead?

by Donna McCollum

A paramedic didn't check the pulse on a woman who was presumed dead from a car-wreck. That admission came this week from San Antonio officials. In mid December, the college coed remained in the car's wreckage for more than an hour with a tarp over her body. Then a medical examiner discovered her breathing. She died from her injuries the next day.

Now paramedics everywhere are reminded why it's so important to follow life saving policies. Nacogdoches paramedics and EMS rush to scenes of a major accidents. Fortunately, it's obvious on many occasions that the victim is very much alive. However, the question of life or death isn't easily answered in every traumatic event.

Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital's Forrest King knows,  " Just because you look dead, doesn't make you dead." A seasoned emergency care supervisor provides blunt, but sound advice. Paramedics are taught when in doubt, resuscitate. He picks up a light weight piece of medical equipment. He said,  " This is one of the monitors that we carry. " Local paramedics use a portable EKG and cardiac drugs to save lives. King explained,  " It is our policy that we place the monitor on any patient that we thought was dead at the scene and see if there way any electrical activity."

Right now the hospital is preparing to install sophisticated heart monitoring equipment in its ambulances. It will enable paramedics to send the information to the ER doctor prior to the patient's arrival.

Nacogdoches firefighters are also trained paramedics. They too follow a strict dead at scene policy. Live saving care is provided unless it's blatantly obvious that the person is dead. Fire Chief Keith Kiplinger said,  " There are checks and balances. There's not one EMT or paramedic going to make a determination that resuscitation of a patient will not take place. That's gonna be made by the people on the scene collectively. "

Trade publications and e-mails are addressing a left for dead incident in San Antonio. There's a lesson to be learned. King said,  " I hope they're learning to give the patient the benefit of doubt and just not glance at 'em and say, 'Oh, that one is dead.'" Certainly a courtesy that any wreck victim would want to receive.

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