Sunday, July 30, 2006

That's actually me in the MU-2, a couple of years ago. A fellow pilot took the pics on approach to somewhere or other.

These are some old posts of mine from AvCanada. I was reminiscing about flying medevac in the MU-2 in Northern Ontario a little while ago, and dug 'em up. My medevac career ended when I was told to pay a $10,000 training bond to go Captain on the MU-2 and was unable to do so. That being said, I was reaching the end of my rope with the pager and it was a mercy that I was dismissed. All in all, I had some interesting experiences and met a lot of great people, but the pager took years off my life and I'd rather take a bullet than go back on it again.

From April 1st, 2004

I am waiting for the medics to return so we can head off into the eye of the storm for another medevac run, I just wanted to pass along a couple of things that happened to me in the past day or so.

Last night, we did a medevac, taking a patient to a large airport in bad weather. 1/4 mile in fog and 200' bad to be precise, but that's not the point of the story. The reason we took him is thus: (NOTE don't read any further if you are squeamish or have empathy for other human beings, trust me)... his prostate was very, very badly infected and swollen so much that the medics were honestly worried it might rupture, opening up many blood vessels and causing him to bleed to death. Think about that for a second. Infected prostate. Rupture. Bleed to death. I know that 99% of the men reading this are now shifting uncomfortably in their seats as well as a good portion of the women. I was writhing in my seat the whole flight; the approach and ILS itself was just fine and more of an afterthought. I just felt so badly for the poor bugger. We landed, offloaded him and waited on the runway for half an hour, engines running in the rain and fog until ATC took pity on us and called our minimum visibility so we could take off and head home. So that's story one.

Story two is today. In my present job I am on call 24/7 whilst on days on, and if we haven't been paged out to go flying by 2pm I usually settle down for a nap. I was literally pulling the covers over my head when the pager went off at 2:15 this afternoon. I call dispatch. "you are going ALS (that's Advanced Life Support for those of you not in the industry) from wherever to wherever. Bring your muscles with you 'cause the patient weighs just under 400 pounds" Turns out the dedicated medevac company had been paged to do the trip before us, but they declined it on account of the patient's great mass. I don't blame them.
Anyway, the patient shows up in the ambulance. He was perfectly round and deathly pale, except for bright red cheeks. Apparently being more than 200 pounds overweight is hard on your heart, so you might wanna skip that last helping of prime rib before dessert. The medics were stressed, they said the patient was very unstable and they told us it was somewhat likely that midway through the trip we would no longer need to rush, if you get my drift. But first we had to get him through the door of the airplane. Even with the 4 of us in the aircraft, 2 paramedics outside, and 2 helpful mechanics, I am now permanently 2 inches shorter as a result of that patient lift.
I do feel for the guy, and this is probably going to sound heartless, but I think that after a certain point a person sort of waives their right to complete medical care. Like the person we flew last year who got drunk and decided to play tag with his buddy on jetskis in the middle of the night. His buddy tagged him, and he missed getting a Darwin award by a couple of inches. We flew him at great taxpayer expense to get pins put in his back so that he might again one day walk and run and one day do something equally dumbass. For what it's worth, our obese patient survived the entire trip and into the main hospital, but I don't think I'll be seeing him again ever. It's a strange sensation, looking into a person's eyes and knowing that you are going to see tomorrow and they most likely won't. I don't like it much; it makes me feel guilty or something.
I tend to get desensitized to our patient's plight; many of them are 'standard' cases, cardiac or going for MRI's or whatever. It's only a very few that stand out, like the ones recently or the beautiful young psych patient I wrote about a couple of months ago. I actually did a follow-up on her; turns out she was having Jesus Christ's baby and didn't take it very well when she was told by the doctors that she wasn't pregnant, which is why we had to take her to the psych center.

That's all for now, the medics are back and it's time to light the fires and head off into the blackness, winging our way to the next poor soul who needs our services.

From July 6th, 2004

eah, I work for a living. My job is flying sick people around at the moment. I do it because if I show up, every other Friday I get money put into my bank account. I do it because I am saving for a shiny little rock to give to the lovely Lisa. I do it because it's what I know. I do it to pass the time. And I do it because I see random things that I'd never see otherwise.

We took a young boy home the other day; he'd had a kidney transplant and it was time to return to normal life after months of living at the hospital. He was 13, thin and friendly, with kinda a furry face; partly due to the steroids he was taking, and partly because he hadn't needed to shave yet in his life. I told him about the relatively short flight we were about to take, then asked him if he wanted to pee. He turned to his mother and asked permission. She said "Sure" and he went off to the washrooms. His mom noticed my look, and told me "He is still getting used to the idea of peeing; he hadn't gone in 5 years before the operation" And now he can. Man, do I ever take some things for granted.

In the last month we have taken 2 different newborn infants to have anuses installed. Apparently one in 10,000 babies don't have one at birth and I guess we hit the poop jackpot. At first glance not having an anus might seem like a nifty trick, but trust me, poop finds a way and you don't wanna know where it was appearing in the 2 infants. Follow up calls reported both girls were fine after the installation surgery.

Took another nosebleed guy last week. Mostly normal guy, some heart problems in his history. He takes some meds for it, it's generally under control. Until last week when he got a nosebleed and it didn't stop. People die from this all the time by the way. They tried cauterization (burning the blood vessels closed), chemical cauterization (putting silver paste on the cut), even packing his nose with cocaine (shrinks the blood vessels, dontcha know) , but nothing worked. I guess we were taking him to get a faucet installed or something, cause the medical people said they were out of ideas.

I heard a frustrated controller last week telling a student to stop taxiing, shut down the airplane, get to a phone and call him before the student flies again so the controller can go on a coffee break. The student had forgotten to call before taxiing, resulting in a hilarious head-to-head with a turboprop on the taxiway.

Did you know that some people who live in the far north are medevac'd south a couple of times a week for routine dialysis at the cost of a few thousand bucks a pop? Now you do. I guess the initial costs of a kidney machine are too high to justify putting them in northern communities, and it makes sense to pay smaller amounts on a regular basis, even though the costs end up being far higher over time.

Hmm... when I started this post I had like 10 little vignettes, but the growling of my stomach is preventing me from thinking clearly. Time for lunch, then maybe a few more lies and exaggerations.
From July 24th, 2004
I realize that more and more of my posts have less and less to do with actually flying the plane. I'll work on that in the future. In the meantime, try these on for size:

The first patient of the day was a lady who had been drinking non-stop for 4 days then woke up with a broken jaw. She looked like a chipmunk, and still reeked of booze 48 hours after she had been admitted to hospital. She wanted water, but couldn't figure out how to get it into her mouth without moving it. Eventually she went for the straight scoop 'n slurp, which was both messy and hilarious.

The second patient of the day was a lady who took a bunch of pills, went to bed and woke up with a broken leg. She was friendly (she rubbed my shaved head for good luck before we took off) but as far as I could see, she had never brushed her teeth in her life, which smells like a hot closet full of dead baby goats in case you were curious.

The next one was an obese psych patient who yelled and screeched that we were robbing her as we loaded her into the plane. Yeah I don't get paid much, but I like to think I wouldn't rifle through the pockets of people who pass through our tender hands.

The next one was a guy who raised Husky/German Shepherd crosses in his spare time. When 2 of the males started fighting, he decided to walk in between them to break it up. We took him to a major hospital to get his cheeks and lips sewn back on. He was conscious and alert, which to me was pretty horrifying.

Then the fellow who went out drinking/fishing one evening with his buddy, who managed to get a fishhook embedded in his eyeball. The paramedics had to remove parts of bait from the hook also. He better dress like a pirate and/or hope that eye patches come in pretty styles...

We had a pregnant lady who was in the process of delivery during the 10 minute flight. She agreed to think about naming the baby "Sulako" if it was a boy, but she said something about already having a name picked, so I think she might have been just humoring me for some reason.

Last night we took a Hepatitis C victim (a young girl) to a major center 'cause she was circling the drain and thus bumped up to the top of the list for liver transplants. I hope she makes it out okay, she was really sweet. To me the saddest patients are the ones who are sick through no fault of their own. I don't mind taking the 11pm pageout for them; it's the drinking accidents that I have little sympathy for.

And last but definitely not least we had a fellow who had something called a mucus fistula, which apparently required him to use something like a colostomy bag. No big deal, we see colostomy bags all the time. This one was special though, cause it had a small leak. With the smell and the wetness and the gooey gooey squeezins. Sorry about that, I just wanted to gross you out at much as I was when we flew him Wink

That's it for now; demon pager has been active for almost an hour now so I figure I'm going flying soon. See you up there eh

From August 19th, 2004

My plane makes children cry.

We were leaving a large airport the other day and just as we were firing up, in taxied a Cirrus who then went about 50 yards from us and shut down. Out came the dad, mom and 2 kiddies, about 3 or 4 years old.

They started unloading a pile of camping gear from the plane, and we went to get our ifr while we taxied out toward the main taxiways, which would take us right beside the family and the Cirrus.

There was a minor snag with the IFR, so ATC told us to hold short of the main taxiway whilst they sorted it. That meant that we were sitting about 15 yards from the family, who were unable to move around us on the way to the FBO, so they just had to sit there and listen to our howling blast. We sat there for about 3 minutes.

Our plane was so loud it made the little girl cry, and I think it also made the little boy cry. But I'm sure about the girl. I know it was wrong of me to grin, and I also know it was wrong of me to point and wave, but I hear it's a dry heat in Hell anyway, so it shouldn't be sooo bad ;)

From Sept 18th, 2004

As you may well know, during long flights you have lots of time to talk, play Nintendo Gameboy, read the newspaper, fly the plane - whatever. During those moments of peace and relaxation, my mind wanders free, touching on subjects like "How come everything flattens out when I close one eye" or "How many ramp workers could I run through the props at a busy airport before a sniper takes me out", you know, the usual. One thing I had never really thought about before was the fine people who operate the Crash Fire Rescue trucks at your friendly neighborhood airport. I guess they are usually out of sight, and I kinda file it away in my mind like that. Not any more.

Last night we went into a small local strip to drop off a nurse. It was my takeoff on the return leg home, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. The strip in question is small, and the asphalt is cracking and heaving. So much so that we routinely bitch about it when we land there during the day. This was even more fun last night as it was pitch black all around the strip, and the runway lights were lit with 10 watt bulbs or something. Did I mention the strip is less than 4000 feet long? Anyway, we launch off down the runway. As we get closer to rotation the vibrations and bumps from the runway get worse; in fact the right seat pilot (my captain) was unable to read the airspeed gauge due to vibration near the end of the takeoff run. We bounced and lurched down the runway, hitting potholes and seams and generally having a miserable time of it. I did have the airplane under control, but it wasn't pretty and to be honest it could have gone either way for a few seconds. Anyway, somewhere around 105 knots I pulled back, and as the airplane rotated we all heard a "CHARF!" sound from the back. The medic yelled "What the hell was that!". (This is the same medic who kept quiet when she thought we had a cabin fire because she didnt want to alarm us. It was just condensed air vapor from the air conditioner but that's another story).

It sounded exactly like a tire blowing out.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we were just above minimum fuel for the flight.

Anyway, we climbed out and headed for home, wondering how interesting the landing was gonna be. We all agreed we had heard a sound none of us had ever heard before, and we agreed it came from the vicinity of the landing gear. Then we agreed that calling out the trucks for our arrival might be prudent, which brings me to the point of my story. ATC was very helpful, they made sure it was all set up for our arrival back at home. It was kinda eerie telling them the number of souls on board, our fuel load and if we had any dangerous goods on board. I have heard the same stuff in many a CVR recording. So a few minutes passed in cruise whilst the medic secured every little thing in the plane, and while we removed any sharp objects from our pockets etc and refamiliarized ourselves with the operation of the emergency exits, the handheld extinguishers, etc.

The captain wanted to do the landing in case things went to hell, so with some acrobatics we swapped seats. Normally in our operation we swap seats on the ground, but this wasn't exactly normal. We came up on our home airport and entered the downwind leg for the circuit.

I bitch and complain about my pager a lot. But the people who work at the airport fire department have it even worse. They get a call and they are expected to be on the scene within seconds. And they were. I tell you , it was a comforting sight to see them lined up at the threshold of our runway for our arrival back at home.

The captain and I briefed further on what we were gonna do. We debated touching down at Vref - 20 knots (the plane will do it) , but that would limit our go-around options, so we settled on our final plan of attack. We'd attempt a nice light touchdown at our normal speed, and if things started to go sideways we'd put the coals to 'er and go around. Unless things went really sideways, in which case I would pull the emergency fuel cutoffs for the engines while the captain tried to control the skid across the ground.

The cockpit was pretty quiet during base and final, and as we had done all our prelanding checks a while back all that was left was to call out airspeeds, sink rate etc. We got to 500', did our final checks, then lined up and awaited the results of the flare.

The touchdown was one of the smoothest I have seen.

The tires held up, we threw our beast into reverse and came to a stop a couple of thousand feet down the runway. "Well, that's a relief" I told tower. "I bet it is" he said, as he exhaled. I realized I had been holding my breath also and started to pant a little. Tower asked us if we wanted the trucks to follow us back to our main hangar, and we declined as the plane seemed to be behaving. We thanked the trucks for being there for us, and they said "No problem". I can't tell you how comforting it was to have them ready and watching us, even if we ended up not needing them. Once again, I really appreciate the job they do. I wonder if they prefer vodka or scotch? I think I'll have to make that my business to find out.

Anyway, we taxi back to the hangar, shine some lights on our gear and see that the right main tire has a two-inch wide gouge along the sidewall, all the way around the tire. Also, when the mechanics install the tire on the rim, they mark the rim and tire with a little strip of paint so you can see if the tire has moved on the rim. The paint mark on the tire sidewall was 6 inches up from the paint mark on the rim. The tire had held, but only cause we are kind and nice people and the gods were watching over us. Some wiring bundles inside the gear wells had broken their clips and come loose also, testifying to the rough ride on takeoff. The tire is being inspected and replaced this morning.

What's the moral of the story? Well, first of all I'm not going back to that airport again Smile And last but NOT least, to the Crash Fire Rescue people, I can't tell you how much better we felt knowing they were there for us when we needed them. Thanks guys and gals of the fire department, the next round is on me.

From January 11th, 2005

We were doing some patient transfers from somewhere to somewhere, and this day had us doing quite a few legs. Thankfully it was a booked trip, so we were able to bring our lunches, etc.
It was my flying leg, and I was in the left seat. We were picking up an elderly guy and his equally elderly wife and taking the guy for a heart valve replacement. The husband was on a stretcher, and his wife was seated in the club seat on the right hand side of the airplane. The plane I flew had club seating config up at the front, so behind the captain's and the f/o's seat were rear-facing ones, used by patients or medics or whatever. I threw my lunchbag on the rearward facing seat behind mine, and proceeded to light the fires.

//change to present tense

We take off, level out and cruise to our destination, which is two and a half hours away.
About an hour into the flight, I get kinda hungry, so I reach around behind my seat to grab my lunchbag.
Instead, I place my hand firmly on something large and squishy. It feels like an elderly ladies breast, which it turns out to be.
We both yelp, I turn around to see what happened, and I see her with her arms up, freaked right out, with the medic watching all this from the very back and laughing so hard she might have been crying.
The lady had moved seats 'cause the one she started out on didn't recline and the one behind me did, sort of.
I stammer something or other, and turn around, no longer hungry.
I think the medic explained what happened, 'cause I didn't get sued or anything. I also think it musta stressed out the poor guy, 'cause he took a serious turn for the worse right near the end of the flight and a routine Code 1 transfer was a Code 4 by the time we touched down. For those of you who don't have a medevac background, Code 1 is least serious, going to Code 4 which is life and death, culminating in Code 5 which you'll only get to experience once. He was alive when the ambulance took him away though, so I assume he turned out juuuust fiiiine.

From November 1st, 2004

We take off today for a large city, bringing a really cute 18 month old boy and his mom to chemotherapy. His eyes were the size of dinner plates and his cheeks were very pinchable, but we resisted as best we could, stealing only the occasional glance toward the back of the plane. I guess I'm starting to notice children a little more, that must come with being over 30 Wink Anyway, we climbed through the undercast layer around 5000 feet, breaking through to see the sun shining warm and bright. The ice crystals in the atmosphere were sparkling like diamonds in the air, and it gave the sun a huge halo around it, just kinda gently reminding us that we are very small and insignificant in the great scheme of things.

The air is smooth but fairly warm, I check our groundspeed on the GPS and it tells me we are in a great hurry. God I love this airplane. It may be completely squirrely, some may say homicidal, but I find it endlessly fascinating, like a nice fluffy kitty with a pretty vest made of C-4. It's my captain's flying leg, so I finish my paperwork and crack out my Gameboy. Mario proves hard to motivate, so I turn it off after a minute or so and just sit back and enjoy the scenery from nineteen thousand feet. We come up on our destination, and start down. Half the province is covered in a low stratus layer, which means we get to shoot half an ILS before we break out and land.

We sit on the ground and howl for our 3 minute cooldown, then cut the gas, spool down and wait for the ambulance. The bus shows up after a few minutes and takes our tiny passenger and his mum off to the kind and tender gods who administer to infants with cancer. We wave goodbye and turn our attention to our next mission. If you go inside to the FBO here and beg, they give you a token for the hot chocolate machine, which is a source of great enjoyment (and indeed nutrition) for us flight crew. So I go inside the FBO and beg, and the nice lady gives me a token for me, the captain and the flight medic. I don't tell the medic about my newfound treasure, hoarding his token against a sudden attack of thirst Smile I also forget to give a token to the captain, which results in a tiny wound on my person when she finds out, too late.

Now it's time to head for a small town and pick up someone else. We fire up, head out to the main runway and blast off on the SID. We are cleared direct destination, which is about an hour away. This is my flying leg, and I'm trimming and retrimming and trimming yet again as we raise the flaps and gear and get our beast under control for the climb.
The trip over is uneventful, I sing songs I heard while watching Team America: World Police (offensive flick, but I laughed my ass off) to pass the time in cruise while the captain ensures that Ms. Pacman makes her way around the maze safely. Seriously folks, it's one of the best investments I have ever made. Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP, at your local WalMart for $99. Rechargeable battery, all that. Anyway, back to the story. We let down for our destination and note that it's snowing everywhere. We shoot a GPS overlay approach and find the airport in a small clear spot in the middle of a snow squall. Using my exceptional cunning and skill, we manage to make it in and land safely; I even flare this time.

The bus is waiting for us when we arrive, so after we shut down we load up our next patient, a nice older guy who hasn't been able to pee for 3 days and who is in terrible discomfort. Turns out that when he showed up at the hospital not being able to pee, they decided to put a litre of water into his bladder via catheter to try to dislodge whatever was blocking his urethra, but it didn't work, and the water wouldn't come out afterwards. I understand that I am a complete wussy as I sit uncomfortably in my seat during the entire next leg.
This leg is shorter, only about 20 minutes. I just have time to do my paperwork before we land and swap seats for the leg home. It's only 70 miles or so, which means we will essentially fly a parabolic trajectory, climbing up to 8 thousand or so, then almost immediately descending. I like flights like that, it keeps me busy. We are once again cruising above the low stratus layer, and I watch our shadow against the clouds, a sleek black shape with a rainbow around it. I pretend to be strafing some invisible enemy as we cruise a few feet over the layer, then the captain turns the heats on, I push forward and we punch through it for the descent. Our plane has essentially no wing, so each tiny square centimeter is responsible for producing a lot of lift and we notice icing in a fairly immediate and nasty way. Not today though, and that's cool. I shoot a nice VOR approach, pointing in the general direction of the airport and keeping us above stall speed at all times, and we find the runway and land. We taxi to our hangar, cool down and spool down. The captain calls dispatch to check for more trips, but there is nothing pending so it looks like we are done for the day. I wait for the fuel guy and chat with him while he gives us some of his fine jet fuel. I tell him the plane is a little thirstier than normal and he says "You guys musta been given' her today eh? Work up a thirst?" "Today and every day man, we are the definition of work ethic". He laughs and gives me my fuel slip.

I walk into the hanger and am passed the phone. It's my Chief Pilot. He tells me that they are parking our aircraft and that I am laid off, effective immediately. He tells me to leave my pager and keys at the hangar. He tells my captain that she is being transferred to a slower, lower airplane. I drive home, numb. I try to log into our comany website to leave a goodbye message to the people I have worked with for the past 18 months, but my account on the website, like my company email account, has already been cancelled, probably since before I got the news. No hard feelings, right? I drink 5 beers in a row for the first time in years, and fall asleep. Now I'm awake, writing this post. I'm looking through my bedroom window at the forest beyond the back yard. It looks black, icy and foggy. Brrr. Man, I'd hate to be out in the cold on a night like this.


Anonymous said...

Sully thanks for the great post. I am in the process of getting my PPL ticket. I have a ? for you. I am 31 and would like to get in commercial Avaition. What is your opinion for someone as old as me? What would be a good way to get a corporate ticeket? Any advise woudl be awsome. Thanks again for the post, i have ready all of your post.


Sulako said...

I think aviation can be a great career, but there are a lot of sacrifices you will have to make. You won't earn much money, you will be away from home a lot, and when you are starting out, you will probably work for operators who will want you to break various rules in the name of increased profits. There is also not much security in aviation - I have been laid off twice in my career and if another 9/11 happened, the entire industry could go down the tubes. If it's what you love, then go for it, but there are other options if you want to have a decent life away from your job. You could get a good high-paying job doing something else and rent airplanes on weekends for your flying fix, for example.

I know this sounds negative and I don't mean to do that, but this can be a very cruel industry. I have been profoundly lucky to get a decent flying job, but there are a lot of others who haven't been that fortunate.

Flying is great, and my office view is the best in the world, but there are a lot of things I have given up to get to this point. If you are okay with that, then go for it!

As far as getting a corporate gig, I guess you should just apply everywhere you can think of (in person works a lot better than just emailing a resume) and don't take no for an answer. You will get the door slammed in your face a lot, but if you perservere, you'll get something decent eventually.

Again, sorry to sound negative. I just want you to understand that this industry is NOT like how it's presented by most flight training outfits.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the honesty. I understand most of what you have said. That being said, " I want to do it for the love,not the money. " Most have told me that if you are doing it for the love of flying than go for it. But if you are doing it for the money than look else were. Thanks Sully, keep the post coming i look for your post everyday.

thanks again.