San Diego Paramedics’ First Life Saved? It Almost Didn’t Happen

SAN DIEGO MEDIC PATCH

Our first medic shoulder patch looked like this

By 1972 millions of federal dollars became available to counties that agreed to adopt the nationally acceptable EMS template. So in cities great and small, highly trained pairs of rescuers started popping up like dandelions on the landscape. But not so fast, Charlie Brown. Not in some cities and certainly not in our city. Not San Diego.

One of the largest cities in the nation, San Diego was a mere 90 miles down the freeway from Daniel Freeman, Harbor General and L.A.’s Emergency! television medics.  But our burgeoning border metropolis would wait nearly another decade for the level of street medical care enjoyed in Podunk, USA. And why would that be?

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If you think San Diego’s most powerful doctors wanted something like this running around town, you don’t know your history. Doctors lobbied the City Council because they didn’t want to see ANY of this. They did all they could to stop it.

In ‘America’s Finest City’ the most vocal opponents of advanced rescue medicine were a handful of MDs who happened to hold pontificating sway over the City Council. Yes indeedy. These politically-bent MDs held a considerable level of contempt toward these “unproven, unnecessary, probably dangerous” rescue changes. San Diego had operated barren police ambulances for decades, and that was quite good enough, thank you. The last thing citizens needed – in the minds of these physicians – was a bunch of pretend-doctors running around in shiny trucks.

 

MCDONALDS MASSACRE. WE WERE THERE.

When evil struck a San Diego McDonald’s – the author was there. James Huberty shot 41 innocent people. Had the city’s politico-MDs gotten their way, there would have been no medics for this tragedy, either. Go figure.

 

So the years went by. Eventually, after nearly a decade of hearing little but a litany of negatives from some of the most respected physicians, the City Council decided to put its collective foot down and voted to approve San Diego’s first Paramedic program, to begin in February,1979. Of course a PSA airliner wiping out a neighborhood four months prior, did nothing to strengthen the contrarian physicians’ case. The Mayor – and future Governor – Pete Wilson, was pushing hard for a true EMS upgrade, and had it not been for his vision and persistence, San Diego might have waited another 10 years.

No need to look far for a training program: UCSD School of Medicine in La Jolla was, after all, smack in the middle of town, already generating qualified Paramedics for other, more enlightened cities. The highly-intensive curriculum was directed by Doctor Andrew Rauscher, under the School of Anesthesiology. It was overseen by Doctor Silvia Micik. It was managed by Gail Walraven, whose team of instructors were seriously dedicated, marvelous women, everyone: Ginger Murphy. Margie Nerney. Karen LeBlanc. Josie Harding. Marilyn Sheets, who came along just a bit later, should be included too.

Because it was so late in coming, we find it noteworthy to reference the first Paramedic-level EMS call in the city of San Diego, which occurred on February 2, 1979, at 8:19 in the morning. The emergency was what is known as a dissecting aortic aneurysm and there exists no condition more deadly. Had this gentleman collapsed the day before, he would have been picked up, loaded into a police van and carted away to die within the hour. But not on this day.

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For those interested, an excellent overview of America’s EMS evolution

The rescue team – Medevac 2arrived within five minutes and performed a very sophisticated physical assessment of the poor man lying on the kitchen floor. They compared blood pressures on each arm in both sitting and supine positions – a technique likely unheard of by first-aiders who came before. They determined a 100% accurate diagnosis of critical internal bleeding. They placed their patient on high-flow oxygen and inserted two large IV lines, running fluid into the man as quickly as humanly possible. They interpreted his heart rhythm – sinus tachycardia with dangerous runs of premature ventricular contractions via a portable EKG monitor called the LifePak 5. They transported the patient slowly, smoothly – red lights but no ridiculous siren – to Mercy Hospital 3 miles up the street. He was admitted directly to surgery and he lived to tell his grand kids all about his nearly lethal adventure.

San Diego City EMS Case #79-00001 went down in medical history. It did. Mr. Ivan Kosygin, a 66- year-old Ukrainian emigrant – lived 18 more years. The Mobile Intensive Care nurse on the hospital end of the radio that morning was Diana Hunt, with her marvelous British accent. The ER physician of record was Thomas Kravis. The rescuers? Cyndi Stankowski, one of the first women Paramedics in the nation, fresh out of school.

And your author.

Have a happy and relaxed Easter Sunday, readers. And thank you for your ever-growing interest in subjects that we believe truly matter. Perhaps someday one of our scribbled bits of wisdom will save a loved one.

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