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A Day in the Life of a Flight Paramedic and Nurse

Michele Skalicky

It was a quiet morning at the Mercy Life Line Base at Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar last week.  The helicopter was at the airport for routine maintenance.  But it’s not always this way.  Flight paramedic David Black and flight nurse Janet Taylor never know when they’re going to get a call during their shifts.

But even on quiet days, there’s always something that can be done.  Taylor travels around the country several times a year educating the medical community about emergency medicine, so she’s sometimes busy working on lectures.  Black is involved in committees within his department, so there’s work to be done there, and:

"There are previous calls to review, there is, you know, protocols to maintain.  If you get involved, there's plenty of busy work to keep you going," he said.

And they’re encouraged to get rest when they can.  They might go an entire shift with no calls, but on another shift, sleep might be hard to come by.

"You may not have any flights between 7 am and 10 pm, and then you may have flights that go all night long," Black said.

The team—a flight paramedic, a flight nurse and a pilot—each have their own small bedroom in a cramped headquarters.  The paramedic and nurse share a bathroom, and they all share a common room.  So, Taylor says they get to know each other well.

"How many other jobs can you say you know what your coworker looks like first thing in the morning?" she said.

But they can close their doors when they need their own space.  And, for the most part, Taylor says they all get along fairly well.  They sometimes spend more time with their co-workers than they do their own family.  Taylor’s husband asks her when she heads out the door who her “work husband” will be that day.

The flight nurse and paramedic work two 24-hours shifts each week.  And Taylor says many in their profession can’t stand to not be busy so they take on other jobs or school.  Black is in nursing school, and he works three other jobs:  he works one day a week on an ambulance in Greene County, he does life support instruction for Mercy and he works for the Greene County medical examiner’s office as a forensic investigator.

Black has been a paramedic at Mercy for several years, and when the opportunity to become a flight paramedic came up, he took it.

Taylor has always wanted to be a nurse, but it was an incident in her childhood that led her to where she is today.

"When I was a kid in my hometown, Hammons Life Line landed their helicopter outside my home to rescue two little boys, and I saw the helicopter.  I was about ten years old, and that's what I wanted to do," she said.

Taylor loves coming to work when it’s time for her shift.  She’s worked in several departments as a nurse but she’d always get bored after awhile.  This, she says, is different.

"Ten years and I'm still loving every day of it," she said.

Black likes the autonomy the job allows.  They operate under a set of protocols, he says, and they have a medical director, but a lot of responsibility lies with them.

"When it comes right down to it, we are in a field, on a highway, in the air, and there's nobody to make the decisions but us," he said.

He says some days can be difficult, but there are times, he says, when they’re especially glad to be doing what they’re doing.

"When the temperature is just right, and it's early evening, and the sun is setting, and you think, 'there's nobody in the world that has a better office window than this one right here,'" he said.

Both Black and Taylor have keen senses of humor and they say that’s what helps them through the sometimes heartbreaking situations they’re dropped into the middle of.  And they have their own coping mechanisms.  Taylor tries to distance herself from the situation and build a wall around herself.  But she says if you hold it all in, you’ll get burned out really fast.

"I will work out in the yard or I'll do something, but I'll try my best not to think too much about the emotional part of it.  I just do my job, and then I'll come back here to the station or I'll go home and I'll just let it out through physical activity or something, you know.  Sometimes I'll just sit there and cry and cry and cry, but I feel better," she said.

While many of the people they’ve helped blend together after awhile, a few stand out.  Black remembers his first pediatric trauma.

"It was two kids playing on wave runners and one ran over the other and killed his friend and dads who've backed over their kids with their boats and cut them with the propeller and cars that go through the front of businesses and hurt the people inside, and, yeah, it could be anything," he said.

Taylor remembers a 95-year-old man who had suffered burns and was dying.  He thanked God because he didn’t want to go to a nursing home, but he didn’t want to be a burden to his family.  And there was the girl who got run over by a pontoon boat.

"You deal with so many people who are so trapped in their status as being a victim about what bad happened to them and what, you know, and then we transported this 15-year-old girl and the whole time was just expressing thankfulness that it wasn't worse and thankfulness for the things she still had," he said.

He says they often hear from people who want to thank them for what they’ve done for them.  But he says some of the people they help also have a big impact on them.

You can find this story and others in the SOC series on our website,