As a queer, non-binary, anarchist, critical care RN/street medic who was the first responder for Heather Heyer, initiating CPR and, with a team of amazing bystanders, facilitating resuscitation until EMS arrived, I feel a compelling need to tell our story.
When we heard the car crash into our march, I was about 20 feet away from Heather, and I responded immediately to the screams for medics. I arrived to find bystanders holding c-spine traction on Heather’s neck and putting pressure on a deep leg wound to stop the bleeding, and I stopped to assist in controlling the bleed. Within a minute or two, Heather’s respirations slowed and stopped, she lost her pulse, we rolled her onto her back, and I began chest compressions. An EMT street medic provided respiratory supplies, and a bystander with medic training began respirations.
One of the critical aspects of Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), which is the advanced form of CPR that trained medics provide, is maintaining chest compressions at an effective depth and speed, with no breaks in compressions. Providing effective chest compressions is exhausting, and to maintain effective compressions, we ideally provide compressions for only two minutes, and take turns with other medics.
In 90 degree heat, this is even more essential. I was horrified to discover, after two minutes of intense, exhausting chest compressions, that a state trooper had forcibly removed the EMT assisting me in resuscitation, as well as other bystanders ready in line for the next round of compressions. The EMT told the state trooper that we were actively resuscitating a patient, but the state trooper physically removed him from the scene anyway.
I had to yell for other bystanders to come assist with compressions, and two people courageously responded, despite the threats of the state trooper. The state trooper then began yelling at me to leave my patient. I initially thought that perhaps he intended to take over chest compressions, and counted him in to start the next round of compressions (when we switch out on chest compressions, particularly in a chaotic situation, we always count each other in, as in “switching in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” so that we don’t have confusion that results in a pause in chest compressions), but he stood by and said he could not do compressions. Why?! I thought to myself.
— CNN (@CNN) August 14, 2017
He continued yelling at me to leave, and would not back down until I screamed that I’m a critical care nurse, I do CPR frequently, we have a patient without a pulse or respirations, and we will NOT stop CPR. He then began screaming that I could stay, but the other bystanders assisting CPR had to leave (they didn’t), and he did not stop until a firefighter arrived and took over chest compressions.
Trying to understand the mind of an aggressive cop is an impossible endeavor, but I will be compelled for the rest of my life to try. Unfortunately, I did not get his name or badge number, or I would ask him (and his direct supervisors) about his behavior personally. If anyone has information about that state trooper, please let IGD know, so I can take action to have this guy fired/suspended/hopefully at least reprimanded.
I assume it is not correct state trooper protocol to interfere with or attempt to halt CPR on an unresponsive patient who just lost her pulse and respirations. And, to their credit, it appears all the other state troopers were assisting street medics in treating the other casualties on the scene. Why this one tried to force us to abandon Heather Heyer, with no intention of providing CPR himself, I will never understand.
What was his agenda? Whose side is he on? Apparently, he was not on Heather’s side. His behavior, forcing our attention away from Heather in her dying moments, and physically removing most of her desperately needed medics, who had to be replaced with amazing but inexperienced bystanders, was heinous and unimaginable.
Finally, I would like to state, as a very small, unarmed person who held ground against a very large, armed person giving me orders, with the power to arrest and physically harm me for refusing to follow those orders: NEVER try to come between a nurse and their patient. A bit like coming between a mama bear and their cubs. We do not abandon our patients. And, a note to fascists everywhere, good people will stand our ground. We will not abandon each other, we will not abandon marginalized communities, we will not back down. Even when you show up very large with guns and knives.
We will not back down. Power to the good! Rest in power, Heather. I will always remember your eyes.