A Refresher Course in Relative Probability

Pamela Witt-Hillen

By Pam Witt-Hillen Flight Nurse, ThedaStar 

It is a small world after all and sometimes the impossible is possible!  Sometimes we just need a reminder from time to time.

For the past six winters my family has vacationed in West Yellowstone, considered the snowmobiling mecca of the world.  The tri-state area comprised of the Montana, Wyoming and Idaho borders offers more magnificent miles of groomed snowmobile trails and spectacular scenery than anywhere else.    In and near Yellowstone, the winter environment feels and looks like another world.  Despite the extreme conditions, it can be a peaceful, renewing place.

On our last day of sledding near the park, my family headed out on to the less traveled trails into Idaho.  We stopped for lunch at the very old and rustic Meadow Creek Inn.  Without my glasses and more concerned about warming up, I failed to notice the other four people eating at another table.  From across the room I heard a soft and very hesitant “Pam is that you?” 

What are the chances?  Donning my glasses, I look up to see Gretchen Brei, a veteran registered nurse who has worked in the emergency department at New London Family Medical Center (NLFMC) for over 25 years.   I see Gretchen professionally when ThedaStar flies to NLFMC to transport patients.   She honors our profession with her personal values of dedication, compassion and excellent care.   Her husband Keith is a farmer.  According to her coworkers, “Gretchen is one of a kind and a nurse’s nurse—the one you would want to work side by side with or the one you’d want caring for you if you were sick or injured.”   They said “she shows up to make the work day enjoyable for everyone; she has the gift of instant repoire with her patients…and she is adventuresome.” 

Our conversation and lunch were brief.  We compared maps and exchanged top picks for best wildlife viewing.  Almost as quickly as our paths converged, we parted and went our different ways.   Daylight permitting, we still had so many miles to go and sites to see. 

Shaking my head, I jumped on my sled awestruck by this chance encounter 2,000 miles from home.  Assuredly I will see Gretchen again on another work day in New London’s ED saving lives but this unexpected slice of serendipity in the middle of nowhere was good for my soul.  It got me to thinking about probability and possibility in our lives.

Translated to the bigger stage of EMS, we as caregivers must always have the naïve hope that our patient will survive.   Both hope and determination are our necessary allies in the trenches and greatly improve our odds in seemingly impossible situations.  And optimism seems to be the best buffer I know for the effects of stressful traumatic scenarios. 

Lesson learned.  We zipped off on our sleds into the endless snow with the width of my smile comparable and telltale of my renewed reassurance that yes, most anything is possible and that thankfully I have many more magnificent miles to go before I sleep.

If you are open to the possibility that surrounds you, there is a high probability that you will find great satisfaction in what you do.