I then met with Dr. Mickey Wolf and several members of the board of the Deerfield Valley Health Center and subsequently was offered a position in their facility. My career in family medicine in the valley lasted 32 years.
I can reflect well on my first day on call. Dr. Wolf was kind enough to stick by his telephone in case I needed him and it was not long before I realized that the nearest hospital emergency rooms were not only quite far away in either direction, but over winding roads and mountains that were often treacherous in the winter time. The foundation of the small country town are the volunteers of the fire department and in this case the rescue squads who give their time away from family, hobbies, work, and so forth to literally save lives in their community.
On that first weekend on call I realized how far Wardsboro was from the Deerfield Valley Health Center and Whitingham as well. These were the two places that I believe at the time had a rescue squad.
In urgent care medicine, time is of the essence and time saved means lives saved. I did the math and it did not look good. The travel time from these locations to the health center and then on to Bennington or Brattleboro was often outside of the critical window. This meant that the physician would have to ride in the ambulance with the crew and to try to attend to the patient, since we did not have paramedic-level rescue workers . This would leave the rest of the town literally uncovered by medical care at the physician level for several hours with a round trip to the hospital emergency room.
I would be quite remiss if I didn’t mention the extraordinary workers, nurses and volunteers of the Health Center who would cover in these desperate times while the physician was en route. I’m sure you all remember very well Simone Holton, Suzie Rauh, Liz, Sherry, Sonja, Seth Boyd, and all the rest, far too numerous to list, to whom we are most grateful for their contribution to the valley rescue effort.
I was honored to be approached by some other real heroes and I must beg your forgiveness for anyone I leave out.
There was of course Merrill Mundell who still answers rescue squads today, lifting far too many heavy stretchers into ambulances, and, at our ripe old age, putting leg, limb, and back in grave danger. There was Bob Covey, Bruce Gavett, and we got a slew of volunteers throughout the valley.
Mostly we had to train them ourselves and some of our young people went on to train as paramedics and in other fields of medicine. There was great pride and distinction to be a member of rescue squad or to be a business owner who allowed his workers at any time to run out of their job, pick up an ambulance, bring someone into the health center or get them to a higher level of medical care.
We worked with Albany Medical Center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and Baystate Medical Center to establish landing strips for medevac helicopters for the critically injured. We were able to hand off patients to crews from Brattleboro and Bennington who would meet us halfway with paramedic-level rescue workers who could start the IVs and begin the medications that could save a life or reverse a condition during the critical window of time from a stroke heart attack or, as is often the case in the ski industry, extreme trauma.
One of the high points of my long career was the enormous amount of pride I felt for those people who gave so willingly and freely of themselves, time away from family and their lives as more ambulances were purchased and ambulance rescue quarters expanded their services. My mother was transported in a lifesaving effort by Deerfield Valley Rescue and in the last year of my service to the valley. I, too, was able to make that ride in critical condition. Rescue also will find people who can donate five to eight hours of their time to go as far as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to pick up someone being discharged from the hospital and transport them to care more locally situated or to their home.
Rescue can not be taken for granted. Please believe me, this organization is a critical link for all levels of patients and literally allows for access to the highest levels of medical care available today. These services simply cannot be provided in the small community health center.
Although I live far away now. I will continue to support Deerfield Valley Rescue in their efforts to find new quarters and cannot urge you strongly enough to remember their value, their worth, and the extraordinary blessing they bring to you, your parents, your children young and old … to our schools, to our industries, and to our visitors to the Deerfield Valley. Your rescue squad is a gift beyond measure. It must continue and must be supported. Being a subscriber to their services for transportation is simply not enough, they need more. My eternal gratitude goes out to all those with the foresight and vision to establish this phenomenal organization. God bless you all and God bless the Deerfield Valley.
Harry L. “Dr Harry” Haroutunian, MD, is Physician Director at the Betty Ford Center, and former doctor at the Deerfield Valley Health Center.