A map of Alaska with the Statewide region highlighted.
Initiative: Statewide Code Blue Project
Organization: Interior Region EMS Council
Maniilaq Association
Norton Sound Health Corporation
Southeast Region EMS Council
Southern Region EMS Council
Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation
Region: Statewide
Program Area: (no information)
Grants Received:
2001: $1,112,523

Emergency response in rural Alaska a challenge

Mission Statement
Code Blue

To quantify the unmet needs of Alaska's rural emergency medical services agencies, to secure funding to meet those needs, and to maximize the equitable distribution of essential equipment throughout the Alaska EMS system.
When I started losing feeling in my arms, I asked my wife to run for an ambulance.

The closest phone is a mile from our cabin, down an old logging road so pitted and bumpy that even in a pickup truck with high clearance, you drive at a crawl. I was thinking of how impossible it would be for me, right now, even as a passenger in our truck, and how much I needed that ambulance.

I've taken my share of stupid risks building our place in the woods. Like putting on a metal roof in a snowstorm. Like standing beneath a rotten hemlock with a running chainsaw, hoping the falling tree would
tumble away from me.

A photo of a new Code Blue ambulance being barged on the Yukon River.Spacer ImageBut it was just a little walk around the property with my wife that was forcing my first ambulance ride. For a better view, I'd stepped up on the trunk of a fallen tree. Its slimy bark slipped away like a banana peel on a linoleum floor. My back hit that tree trunk so hard I could feel bones breaking.

My wife and adrenaline got me back to our cabin, where I lay stretched out on the floor until midnight. Then, attempting to stand up, I passed out. When I came to, my wife decided I should stay put and try to sleep. That's when my arms went numb and I knew I was in trouble.

Still, I felt sheepish about the ambulance. Calling 911 is like sending in the cavalry. These guys show up with a million dollars worth of equipment and go into a routine of code words like something from the TV show "Emergency."

A photo of a new Code Blue ambulance for Seldovia.Spacer ImageI would probably be okay. Besides, it was one o'clock Sunday morning. I was ruining someone's weekend.

Those thoughts evaporated when the ambulance crew showed up. There were six EMTs including Al, our town's only paid fireman. Norman Rockwell couldn't have drawn one better: A lanky guy with the worst haircut you've ever seen, oblivious to most everything except helping people. With him was C.J., a 20-year veteran of the squad, its second in command, and our first woman firefighter.

From my job as the town's newspaper reporter, I
knew these two had cleaned up gruesome accidents and had done it for years, always with great objectivity and small-town discretion. They'd sent the "A Team" for me. I couldn't feel anything but humbled and loved.

They went right into their coded talk, asking me questions and shining a little flashlight in my eyes. Then they strapped me onto a backboard and carried me out of my house at two in the morning. Looking up at the stars and treetops, I apologized for the sorry little trail they had to navigate in the dark.

At the clinic, I was shot full of painkillers to get upright for an X-ray. It showed two fractured ribs, broken on the back side.

Again I felt sheepish. Aren't football players and soldiers sent back into the field with fractured ribs? The doctor reassured me. The ribs were broken all the way through, not just cracked.

A couple of the ambulance crew guys came over and told me I'd be fine. Like every other late-night accident victim they'd ever rescued, I thanked them and apologized for getting them out of bed.

They said they wouldn't hear a word of it

Tom Morphet is a reporter and writer. He edited the Chilkat Valley News for 15 years, and before that worked at the Anchorage Times. He lives in Haines with his wife Jane.