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Family inspired EMT volunteer Susan Nelson

ADDISON — Susan Nelson and her husband, Geoff, moved to Addison in 2008, and he quickly joined Addison Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter. Susan also wanted to be involved in the community and help people but couldn’t envision herself carrying 50 pounds of gear while entering a burning building.
She recalled that she and her mom had done CPR training and certification with the rescue squad in Brookside, N.J., after her dad had a massive heart attack when Susan was just 11. Her dad survived his heart attack, and went on to enjoy another 39 good years. With her CPR training, Susan’s mom revived a man who collapsed while square dancing, performing chest compressions and rescue breathing and ordering others to call 911 to get emergency medical help. It was a heart attack, but the man had surgery and returned to dancing a few months later. While working in an insurance office, Susan became an on-site CPR volunteer, renewing her training regularly and adding AED (Automated External Defibrillator) use when those life-saving devices became available.
In Vermont, Sue decided to take the Emergency Medical Responder course and volunteered with Town Line First Response. She became an EMT two years later and has handled many calls in Addison and Bridport, often going to emergencies with her husband, Geoff. One of her early calls involved a New Hampshire man who collapsed while picking up a load of hay in Addison. She and other Town Line volunteers and firefighters and Vergennes Area Rescue Squad personnel worked for most of an hour, performing CPR in the barn, then in the ambulance, and giving oxygen and multiple shocks with the AED in an unsuccessful attempt to save the man. She says her worst calls are “untimelies” — a person who is found unresponsive and is obviously beyond reviving. Then there is nothing to do except call the medical examiner and console the family; it is a very sad situation.
She has answered many slip-and-fall calls, including a tough elderly gentleman who fell getting into his car, cutting his head open. Sue stopped the profuse bleeding by applying pressure, holding towels in place until the ambulance arrived. She then spent the better part of a half-hour convincing him he needed to get into the ambulance and go to the hospital for an exam and stitches. He kept insisting he was fine, he just needed a Band Aid, Nelson recalled. She knew he was OK after his trip to the hospital though, because the following day he was seen driving his car around Vergennes.
Susan enjoys the detective aspect of figuring out what might be going on with patients, and using her training to think ahead to what might happen to the patient next. Could they crash, go into shock, what can she do to ward that off now? She remembers a chest pain call to a lakeside home where a weekend visitor in his 70s said he had started feeling poorly while in Burlington some hours earlier. He stated he had heart surgery about six months prior to the incident. He insisted he “had to get home to New York by tomorrow,” but had no other medical problems.
As she talked with him, the man finally explained that he was a dialysis patient, being treated for kidney failure three times a week. Since Susan knew that kidney failure can result from diabetes, a finger stick confirmed his blood sugar was dangerously low. The patient admitted he used insulin, had taken his shot in the afternoon but not yet eaten his dinner. Once they realized how low the man’s glucose had fallen, a tube of glucose was given to prevent a crash, and he was taken to the hospital in the ambulance to evaluate his heart situation.
Some calls are just for “lift assist” when a person falls, is not apparently hurt but needs help to get back onto their feet or into a chair. These are often elderly folks who adamantly refuse to go in the ambulance, but still need to be helped up and checked out.
Aside from personal satisfaction, Susan says the best part of being and EMT is the appreciation of patients and their families. Even though they are having their worst day, many make the effort to express their gratitude for the help of the Town Line First Response and fire department staff. If you are interested in volunteering for Town Line, contact Ron Sunderland at 388-7052 for more information. In other Addison County towns contact your local first response team.
Editor’s note: Writer Alice Grau is a volunteer EMT with Town Line First Response.

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