An ambulance ride backwards in time

Published 10:41 am Wednesday, September 26, 2007

By By Lowell McGill
One of the most depressing aspects of hospitalization is the ride in the EMS ambulance to the hospital. Especially when you are transferred from a local hospital to Mobile or Pensacola hospitals, or even taken to the local hospital.
This has happened to me three times over the last few years. You are placed into the ambulance head first and then when the journey begins you begin to see all those familiar streets, buildings, homes and landmarks moving away from you in a direction that is totally opposite from the routes you have known for a life time. In other words you are traveling backwards.
This may seem to be a strange way to begin a column, but as you get older you think differently about many things.
I remember hearing Houston Wolf, a former Atmore Police Chief, make a statement in Oris Davis' office that has stayed with me for years. He said years ago Chester Barton, who owned and operated the local funeral home in those days transferred patients from the old Atmore Hospital or Vaught Hospital to either Mobile or Pensacola in his ambulances. He said he would often assist Barton in loading patients. This was before the days of our modern EMT ambulance service. Those old ambulances usually had no one to attend you on your journey. Of course nurses would attend those whose illnesses required immediate attention. Eulene Cargill, a local nurse who worked with Dr Wilson and Dr Cooper when they came to Atmore in 1958 said she remembered those ambulance rides attending patients. I knew her well, due to her her family and my family connections. However, some trips included just the driver and the patient. Mr. Barton always told the patients when they were loaded into the ambulance that they would feel a sensation of traveling backwards. He would tell them to close their eyes and try to relax and not to look at things passing from view.
The ambulances did not have air conditioning and windows were always lowered to let cooling air in. As you left town you would hear sounds familiar to you while being transported away from Atmore. You may hear a train whistle, voices of kids playing or other familiar and sentimental sounds that you have heard all your life. These sounds could make you sad and become depressed. But patients were always reminded to remain focused, not to worry because help for their conditions was on the way.
My brother in law, Dillard Mayson, who operated the Flomaton Funeral Home and who is now deceased, would often tell me about his early days transporting patients to out of town hospitals. He told me he was always concerned about the patient's medical condition, but he said the most depressing aspect was the patient having to "ride backwards."
I don't know what it is about that "backward" ride. For me it was a time to look back on the many, many times I had driven those familiar streets and roads without giving thought about arriving at my destinations other than in my car. The hospital ride created so many thoughts of time gone by and if I would ever be my normal self again. I called it a time to reflect on my self.
Each ride I took was heart- related. The first trip was for extreme atrail fibrillation, where my heart seemed to be "running away," but being cared for by friendly and efficient EMTS gave me assurance that everything would be OK. They had the ability to put me "at ease" and not concentrate on my health problem. Those same EMTs were there on my second trip when I was transferred to have a four-bypass heart surgery. And, the third trip which followed the surgery was to have my heart cardioverted or "shocked" back into a normal rhythm. That, which assured me most, was the fact that I was always in "good hands."
One needs to really appreciate these EMTs who are "with you all the way." They have the ability to say the "right words" to put you at ease and they know exactly what medical procedure to perform if your condition should become more severe.
Today, some of my friends are hospitalized locally or in Mobile or Pensacola. It makes me wonder if they too were transported to those hospitals in the same manner that I was, in the fully equipped ambulance service vans with well-trained EMTS. I can't say enough about these professional people. They have diplomacy, medical knowledge and tact to make sure you get the necessary care. Now, an even more expedient mode of transferring patients is by helicopter. These copters also have medically trained personnel to get you to the hospital in only a very short period of time.
Speaking of helicopters I am reminded of a 10-day stay my wife was in Pensacola Baptist Hospital in 1982. You may remember reading about this, but the helicopter either fell off or was blown off its landing port atop the hospital. This event happened about two weeks prior to her stay there. Actually, you could see the new copter from the window in her room. I don't remember all the details of the incident, but I do know we could hear and watch the copter depart and arrive.
These friends today may have been hospitalized for the same reason that I was. To give them comfort let me say It didn't take me long to realize that by-pass surgery or many heart related problems are, in most cases now just routine operations. No matter the condition of the heart there are procedures to help you. In my case all I needed was a "plumbing job" as one of my doctors called it. Meaning, of course cleaning out or replacing stopped up arteries. Even those with other heart conditions receive pace makers or defibrillators, which puts their life back in proper order. Those doctors know how to take care of your problem. They know the exact medicines you need to recover. My cardiologists group now has a new "machine" that can pinpoint any heart and artery problems. In many cases it replaces the old method of heart catheterization. It seems that medical diagnosis and treatment improves each day. This is comforting to know that many of today's medical ailments are being successfully treated and cured. New medical research and new medicines are introduced practically each week.
Baptist has equipped our local hospital with well-trained doctors, nurses, medical equipment, testing methods, labs and modern medicine. We are fortunate to have this facility in our community.
There is one area where I still need help. You see I have claustrophobia. Each time those nurses pull up those bed guardrails to prevent my falling out of bed I "go to pieces." I don't know what it is about being "locked in" those beds at night. Maybe modern medicine will one day come up with a cure for claustrophobia.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

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