The right place, the right time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Olszewski
  • 18th Communications Squadron
Zamami Island is one of the most beautiful locales in the country of Japan, with a population of only 1,000 people at peak seasons when residents of mainland Japan move down to their second homes for the winter. Other than that, it is a quiet little hamlet, a series of three seemingly smaller villages with one of them holding the main port.

There are 100,000 visitors to Zamami each year, according to their mayor; whom I had the pleasure of speaking to while passing by. These visitors come from all over the Pacific, China, Australia, and even Europe to see and swim in Zamami's crystal clear waters.

But let's get to the reason I'm writing this today. On the afternoon of  Oct. 3, an accident occurred on Zamami when a woman on her bike, wearing no helmet and riding down a hill; was forced to swerve to avoid an oncoming vehicle, losing control and falling off her bike at high speed while impacting her head and side of her body. The first people to assist were the woman's traveling companion, the driver of the vehicle, and two Airmen, Airman 1st Class Katheryn Pae, and Airman James Tufarelli, 18th Communications Squadron cyber transport technicians. I arrived about a minute later to the scene and began to assist.

Since neither the woman nor her traveling companion spoke Japanese or English well, and were primarily speakers of Mandarin Chinese, Pae took to using her knowledge of Korean (a language very similar to Chinese and containing many words that are nearly the same) to convey to myself and the others the state of the victim and where her injuries were located. While Pae was communicating with the victim and her friend, Tufarelli was supporting the victim, keeping her from making any movements that could cause further injuries and applying water to the victims face to mitigate the pain from road burn.

Now, I haven't come upon a scene that required my old medical training I received as a volunteer firefighter in quite some time, and upon arriving at the scene I was honestly so nervous that I wouldn't remember what to do. So I went back to basics: it was a head injury, stabilize the neck and check for signs of a concussion. Follow up by looking for any external fractures or bleeding in critical areas. Maintain composure and keep the victim as comfortable as possible until additional help arrives.

When help did arrive on scene, it was clear that we shouldn't leave just yet. The ambulance was driven by two employees of the town office. They got a neck collar and prepared a stretcher as the woman clearly was in too much pain to move and we had yet to be able to determine if she had a possible neck injury.

Using the office staff and other Airmen, we lifted the patient as I placed the stabilizing collar on her with Tufarelli's help. After this, and using the same personnel, we lifted her onto the stretcher and loaded her into the ambulance. On her and her friend's request, I was asked to accompany them to the island's small medical building.

Upon arrival with Pae accompanying, we helped the island Emergency Medical Technician and office staff transport her inside and transfer her from the stretcher to the examination table. After seeing to her comfort and saying "you're welcome" about twenty times to each of her "thank you", the office staff and myself were asked to leave the office so that the resident EMT could examine the patient.  Pae remained in office to assist the EMT to understand the patient and assist as needed, and the rest of us waited for word outside.

The woman was diagnosed with a mild concussion and several severe bruises on her body, but all in all, she was alright. I am glad we had Airmen in the right place at the right time, and I'm thankful I had the training necessary to take control of a situation when it presented itself.