Life Flight crew talks coping with the pressures of the job

MONTOURSVILLE – Meeting someone on the worst day of their life is never easy, and for Life Flight crew members who bring the emergency room to the patient, they’re presence often means the difference between life and death. 

“We’re dealing with the sickest of the sickest,” said Lycoming County Coroner and flight nurse Charles Kiessling Jr. “It’s part of what we do and you just have to cope with that.” 

Kiessling became a Life Flight nurse at the Montoursville base 15 years ago, but he has been a coroner for 20 years. Dealing with difficult situations is nothing new, but it never gets easy, he said. 

For Kiessling, the sick and hurt kids are some of the most difficult to deal with and the ones he will never forget. 

“I can pretty much tell you every really, really sick child I’ve flown. It’s all still there,” he said. 

The balance between his nursing responsibilities and coroner duties is a “win-win situation,” Keissling said. “It helps me in the coroner’s office because I stay on top of the medical side of things.”

He added that when he responds to a call as a coroner he is tasked with the responsibility of finding out what happened and talking to the family that is left behind. There is no good outcome. 

But as a Life Flight nurse he can see many of his efforts bear fruit. 

“You see some good outcomes in those situations, whereas sometimes it’s tough to find good outcomes in the coroner’s office,” he said. 

The Life Flight crew meets after each call to evaluate how it went and what they could do differently, said Steve Davis, flight nurse and base commander for Montoursville Life Flight 4. 

“In the grand scheme of things, you can only do what you can do. You can only bring so much knowledge and so much skill to the table,” Davis said. 

But sometimes the crew are unable to even get to a patient, primarily due to poor weather. For pilot Christopher Royles, the decision to fly rests in his hands. 

When the call comes to the station Royles is simply told where to go, but not what the issue is. This is meant to take emotion out of his decision to fly in poor or bad weather. 

But Royles admits that he isn’t the only one in the aircraft. 

“We have a policy – ‘three to go, one to say no,’ “ Royles said. If one crew member is uncertain about the flight they all must come to an agreement before lift off. 

Being unable to access a scene can sometimes be the most difficult challenge, Davis said. Even if they attempt to get to a scene and can’t make it in, they know they can be the difference between life and death and being forced to stay away is frustrating. 

“There are times when you really want to get to a call because you might hear something on the scanner and think ‘Gosh if we could just get there we could make a huge difference,’ ” Davis said. 

But just because the helicopter can’t make it to a scene, sometimes the crew will go by ground instead. An ambulance from Montoursville will often pick them up to go to the scene, Kiessling said.  

“We can often bring the same level of care in the back of an ambulance,” he said.

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