Matt knew that they had to get the beam off of the pastor before anymore of the floor above caved in. He also knew that lifting the beam would likely kill the man. The solid weight of the beam was crushing the man’s insides…ironically it was also the only thing that was keeping him from bleeding out.
“Son, please tell me honestly what my chances are.” The clergyman laid his hand on Matt’s arm as he was putting a face mask and oxygen on the trapped man. He noticed Matt’s slight hesitation. “The Lord sent you here to do his work and you are doing the best you can. But in the end it is God’s decision whether I live or die, not yours. You've already done so much good here by rescuing our children.”
“I’m sorry I didn't get to them all in time…”
“That was God’s decision.”
Matt sighed. “Sir, I’m giving you some saline and pain killers. There’s a possibility that when we lift the beam off of you… it’s going to be very painful and you’ll probably lose consciousness.” He added sodium bicarb into the IV line to hopefully keep his patient’s blood pressure a little more even.
“Because of the pain?”
“No, because right now all of your blood is pushed up into your upper body and when the beam comes off it will be like opening a faucet. It’s all going to rush into your lower body and it will be like you are bleeding out.” He kept the explanation simple. Crush syndrome was often fatal. “I can’t give you enough saline to keep your upper body filled.”
Jay was busy positioning an inflatable pillow under the beam to lift it. He glanced sympathetically at Matt. Matt was trying to reassure the man without making any false promises.
“I don’t need any painkillers, son.”
“I think you’ll be more comfortable… and it will make our jobs easier.”
“I don’t feel any pain now…”
Matt wasn't surprised, he doubted the man could feel any of his lower body. Even if he lived, there might be significant spine damage and paralysis. There was a huge risk he would suffer renal failure. The odds weren't good, but Matt was going to try his best.
Matt spoke into his walkie-talkie. “Can you see if anyone up there has an old MAST on their truck?” MAST, military anti-shock trousers for short, weren’t used often anymore, but the inflatable trousers could help to keep the patient’s pressure up long enough to get him definitive treatment in the hospital. It was a shot–it was the only shot they really had.
A set of MAST trousers was taken from the local fire department’s EQ and sent down with a reeves and straps to package the Pastor in and transport him up top. Being unconscious would actually be a blessing thought Matt. Jay began to inflate the airbag and the trapped man went unconscious as soon as the pressure was relieved. Matt and Jay pulled him straight out and on to the reeves. He got the trousers on and inflated them quickly. Then they cocooned the reeves stretcher around the man and dragged him towards the hole they had been lowered through. Rescuers on top used straps to drag the man up while Matt and Jay guided him. It was slow going.
The floor above them shifted from the weight of the rescue workers and debris showered down. Matt’s helmet was knocked from his head, Jay was knocked down. When the dust settled both men were coughing. They could taste the plaster, but were otherwise unscathed. The rescue rope was tossed down for them and Matt pushed Jay towards it. As Jay was being pulled up and out of the hole more plaster fell and for the first time Matt actually worried that he might not make it out.
The local towns were torn apart. Houses and entire lives were collapsed. They found a child’s bed and favorite nighttime doll wedged into an uprooted tree, the distraught parents couldn't find the child anywhere. Even all of the help that arrived couldn't do anything to relieve the anguish that survivors felt over the loss of their family members. Nearly five days after the tornadoes tore through the area the hard decision was made to move from rescue attempts to the recovery of bodies. Matt and many of the other local EMS first responders were being sent home.
He only got to call Sudah one time during the four days that he was there. Matt was standing next to a group of federal rescue workers when he tried his cell phone and saw he couldn't get a signal. One of the DMAT team members let him use a satellite phone to call and say hello to his wife. The two minutes went by too quickly. She sounded strained and he felt guilty for having left her alone for so long. He was going to have two days off after his return and he looked forward to making up lost time with his wife and son.
Each day they found fewer survivors and more casualties. The strain showed on all of their faces. It was hard not to see the faces of their own loved ones in a mass of bodies. They were told that this town was the worst hit, they had the least warning and it appeared the most casualties. The DMAT members set up pseudo hospitals in tents and survivors lined up for treatment of various injuries and other ailments. Supplies like food, water and blankets were being trucked in, but there wasn’t nearly enough yet. Matt and the other members of his S.O.D. team were ready to go home. They missed their families. There was no more they could do there.