When a Call Becomes All Too Personal (your child’s death)

by Tim Trickey
Captain, AEMCA
Advanced Emergency Medical Care Attendant [Paramedic]

Editor’s Note: Tim wrote this article in 2014 to help emergency responders cope with tragic calls, but most importantly, to share how he copes with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sadly, Tim died on December 17, 2017. He leaves his wife and son to mourn his loss, as well as his crew and those whose lives he touched. Rest in peace, my friend.

I was asked by a very dear friend that has helped me through some very difficult years, to tell you about my daughter, Natasha.

I am a Paramedic in Ontario, Canada. Some of you may have been in the Kingston area where I am still working. Ten years ago, I was the supervisor of a small, rural volunteer ambulance service that, at the time, had a call volume of about 500 calls per year. Like most, we hope we never have to respond to family emergencies. But like all small communities, it is usually someone you know, or in my case, family.

Tim and daughter, Natasha

September 2, 2002, started like any other day; wake the kids up for school, have a coffee, and give the “love yous” and “have a good day at school”. I never expected that this day would be the last time I would be able to tell my daughter, Natasha (13), “Love you and have a good day”. My daughter had an appointment that day and was missing school. We made plans to get together after her appointment to have lunch.

My day started as usual. Report for work. Because the service was volunteer, we checked to see what had taken place the night before. My partner and I started the morning vehicle check. Normal routine. This day we had a person riding third, who was considering a career as a paramedic, tagging along with us.

In Ontario, we have what is called an Ambulance Service Review, which is conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Health, a branch of the Ontario Government who oversees ambulance operations in the Province of Ontario. I was preparing for such an audit. My staff knew I was under a little bit of stress because of this, so my partner, Jason, asked me to put things aside from my work for a couple of minutes and walk next door to the local coffee shop and have a coffee while they had breakfast.

In those days, some of the volunteer staff would come in and do 24-hour shifts to make it worth the trip. Some of the staff were driving some distance away to work at the volunteer service and gain some experience. Because volunteers were called out by pager and had 12 minutes to respond to a call, breakfast was something the staff did together regularly.

It was about 09:45 hours. I’m not a superstitious person, but something told me to go back to the base. As I opened my office door, my phone was ringing. I answered. It was my wife, screaming, saying, “She’s not breathing”. I said for her to calm down and tell me who was not breathing. I thought she was at a neighbor’s, who calls frequently to have me come to their house if there are medical problems.

My wife, Darlene, said Natasha is not breathing and has no pulse! I told her to start CPR and I would come as quickly as I could..

I’m panicking now. I call dispatch and tell them what was happening. I also told dispatch to get my partner back to the base. I think I said I was leaving with or without him. I ran to the ambulance. Got it started. I remember Jason jumping into the passenger side of the ambulance. I cannot remember exactly what I had said to him, but I think it was along the lines of “what took you so long? It’s Natasha and we’re going”.

Looking back, I realize now that driving the ambulance was a dumb thing to do. In Ontario, we have a term that is called Red Haze. I must have been in that state because what normally takes me 20 to 25 minutes to drive home, I did in 10.

When we arrived on scene, my neighbors were doing CPR on Natasha. Looking back, I’m not proud of what I did when we arrived home.

I froze.

Afterward, I heard that someone was hollering at me to do something. I didn’t hear them. I guess a neighbor slapped me which brought me back, but I don’t remember this. I do remember Natasha being placed on the stretcher, Jason and I carrying her out of the house. Another ambulance crew had responded from another area as well and I was grabbed and held back by neighbors as my staff took off to the hospital and my wife and I made our way to the hospital with family.

It is an hour’s drive to the hospital which felt like it took forever. When we arrived, we were told that Natasha had not made it. We were given some time with Natasha. Then my wife and I were separated so the Ontario Provincial Police could investigate. Looking back, this could have been handled very differently.

We found out several weeks later that Natasha had died from acute pancreatitis secondary to Anorexia. We couldn’t have saved her, even if we had had a physician with us!

Looking back, here is what have I learned. Did I have PTSD? Definitely. Depression? I still do. I live with the memory of my daughter every day. Some days are easier than others. Some days, it is good to have someone to talk to (Thank you Vince, and ET!)

I still hate it when the tones go off and we must respond to anything pediatric in nature.

Even though I have done several pediatric calls in the last 10 years, my first thought is of my daughter. But I suck it up and carry on with the call. I have learned that no matter what is happening at work, it is only work. My son and my wife come first, no matter what.

Don’t be afraid to show your feelings and talk. Don’t bottle things up. I tell most of the new hires about Natasha and what had happened. I tell them that eventually if you are on the job long enough, you are going to do a call that will make you stop and question why we go into this line of work.

Most of all, remember you are not alone. Afterward, when the adrenaline has stopped and you have time to reflect back on what has transpired, don’t be afraid to seek professional counseling. They are there to help.

Take life one day at a time. Enjoy the small things with family, whether it’s a family trip or even the menial things such as house cleaning, grocery shopping, riding a bike, or fishing. Leave work at work when you are at home with family & friends.

About the Author: Tim Trickey started his career with the Northbrook Area Volunteer Ambulance Service (Northbrook Ontario Canada) after graduating from high school in 1985. Tim was one of the original volunteers who began the ambulance service. In 1995, Tim went to Loyalist College, Ambulance Emergency Care Program, and attained his AEMCA certification in 1997. In the fall of 1997, he became the full-time coordinator of Northbrook Area Volunteer Ambulance. In 2000, Tim was hired by the County of Lennox & Addington Emergency Medical Services where he worked as a Primary Care Paramedic.

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