Bergamo, located in one of the richest and most productive regions of Italy, is home to inhabitants who are known for their fierce sense of belonging to their Lombardy region and family. They take pride in their pragmatic approach to life and their robust work ethic.
Sadly, Bergamo now holds a record that no town would wish for: It is the place where the coronavirus pandemic has been most devastating, with half of Italy’s 26,000 deaths occurring in Bergamo and the Lombardy region.
Anna Bonalume, who grew up in Bergamo, wrote in The Guardian (April 6), “It is clear looking back that this rich and dynamic city struggled to come to a halt when the virus arrived.” She questioned, “Faced with a health emergency, was a strong business ethic a tragic disadvantage?”
Our Italian bicycling friend Maurilio spoke to us of the haunting, steady stream of ambulance sirens blaring through the streets of Bergamo, announcing the sheer volume of victims being transported daily to hospitals that are taxed beyond capacity.
It was not long after Maurilio shared the Bergamo siren story that I heard a siren heading up Highway 20. It is not often that we hear sirens up here in Mazama, especially before the passes are open. For a moment, I tensed up, hoping this wasn’t a COVID-19 trip for the ambulance.
Just a few weeks ago, I planned on writing a column about Aero Methow Rescue Service with a very different motivation than a possible response to the wicked virus. Since we are at the end of the road in Mazama, it has often been a concern about transport should some dreadful medical calamity such as a heart attack or stroke take place. It was a relief when I learned that a MedStar Modular ambulance is garaged behind the fire station in Mazama and a skeleton crew of volunteers lives in Mazama.
However, Cindy Button, who is director of services for Aero Methow, emphasized that the primary thing in Mazama or any remote area is: “When in doubt, call us out. If there are signs and symptoms of a possible medical emergency,” she said, “we would rather get a follow-up call of ‘no longer needed’ than to be too late.”
If additional emergency vehicles are needed from Twisp, the critical time to the event is drive time plus about 10 minutes, which is the time it takes for a crew to assemble. Because of the local deer population and the potential for a collision, the vehicles are restricted as to speed.
When injuries or medical events are life-threatening, the quickest way to larger medical facilities in Wenatchee or western Washington is via helicopter. Cindy explained that if the Lifeflight helicopter in Brewster is available, it would arrive before the ground crew from Twisp. Airlift NW in Arlington often services events in the North Cascades. Helicopters, of course, are dependent upon the weather permitting.
The late Dr. William Henry founded Methow Valley Home Health Agency, which is the parent of the nonprofit Aero Methow Rescue Service. Dr. Henry happened to be Cindy’s father, by all accounts a beloved valley physician.
The history goes: “One night in 1967, Dr. Henry was asked to help a young mother who had been injured in a car accident. Emergency medical services as we know them today did not exist. He responded in his private car with his medical bag and called the local tow truck driver to come and help him. The woman was trapped under her car on the Loup Loup Highway, and Dr. Henry could only hold her hand while she died.”
Determined that this would not happen again, Dr. Henry engaged a group of concerned citizens, and together they created a small town ambulance service that has grown to the rescue service that we are now fortunate to have in our remote communities.
Thanks go to all the staff and volunteers who give of themselves to help and save others. Because of the pandemic-caused “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, Aero Methow was forced to postpone its annual Wine Auction fundraiser. Like many other local nonprofits that have found themselves without their usual funding, donations are appreciated through a Donate Now button on the Aero Methow Rescue Service website: http://www.aeromethow.org/donate.html