Dana Morse will never forget the image of the ambulance holding her dying husband driving away without her.
"It is a memory that I will have to live with for the rest of my life, that I wasn’t with my husband when he died," she said Saturday.
Morse lost her husband, David, 41, a father of two, in a skiing accident at Sugarloaf ski resort in Maine on Thursday. The family from Kingston had been on a vacation at the resort since last Sunday with several other families.
Her husband, an experienced skier, was wearing a helmet, but he suffered severe chest injuries and internal bleeding after losing control and hitting a tree.
Morse, a nurse practitioner, said she was seated in the front passenger seat of the ambulance taking her husband to Franklin Memorial Hospital’s emergency department in Farmington, about an hour away from the ski resort.
About half a kilometre into the journey, fearing her husband would die, she asked the driver to let her sit in the back with him so she could hold his hand.
Instead, the driver let her out on the side of the road and drove away.
"He left me on the side of the road in a snowstorm, with me then chasing the ambulance screaming my head off to stop," she said. "Here I am, looking like a freaking lunatic, pulling cars over to ask them to help me."
Morse, who has more than 20 years’ nursing experience, including 10 years working in an intensive care unit, said she has grave concerns about the care paramedics gave her husband. She said she plans to launch a complaint with the hospital, which owns the ambulance service.
"They obviously need to improve in their skill level," she said. "The only reason I am so angry or I want to say anything is . . . I would never want another family to go through this. When you respond to a critical scene that can happen on a ski hill you need to be prepared."
Morse said the ski patrol at Sugarloaf responded immediately to the accident.
"The ski patrol was certainly excellent. The response to my husband on the mountain was excellent. They got him off the mountain very quickly."
The patrol transported her husband to a medical clinic at the base of the hill and assessed her husband as having possible fractured ribs and internal bleeding.
When paramedics from Franklin Memorial’s ambulance service arrived at the ski hill clinic, they took over her husband’s care.
"He didn’t have a physical exam from the time he arrived into the clinic, nor did he have his blood pressure (taken)," she said. "(Paramedics) didn’t bring a (blood pressure) monitor into the clinic and he didn’t even have an IV started."
When Morse asked the paramedics to take her husband’s blood pressure, they told her they were getting to that but splinted his elbow, which they suspected was fractured, she said.
"I didn’t think that was the priority . . . given the fact that he had presumptive fractured ribs and internal bleeding.
"They did not listen to his chest. They did not have their stethoscopes on."
Morse said her husband was alert and talking to her the whole time but had significant abdominal pain. She estimates the paramedics spent at least 30 minutes with her husband at the clinic before putting him into the ambulance. He went into respiratory arrest before the ambulance left and she ended up performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her own husband.
"They refused my help. . . . He still at this point didn’t have an IV in."
Morse got out of the ambulance and fetched the clinic’s nurse, who helped perform CPR on her husband. After some technical difficulty, the paramedics started an IV and assured her they would insert a breathing tube down his throat. She was told she had to sit up front in the passenger seat.
On the way to the hospital, Morse said she communicated clearly to the driver her wish to get in the back with her husband.
"(I said) he is dying and I know he is dying and cannot live with myself if I am not holding his hand. I can’t explain to my boys — they are 11 and 14 — I cannot explain to them that I wasn’t with their father when he died."
Morse would later learn that her husband died just a couple of minutes after she was left on the side of the road. Morse managed to flag down a driver who took her back to the ski hill’s clinic. There she retrieved her car keys and drove to the hospital’s emergency department, where she had been told her husband would be taken.
"It is like a comedy of horrors," she recalled. "I get to the hospital after an hour. I walk in the emergency room bay doors and I say my husband was brought here and they look at me like I am freaking crazy.
"The nurses didn’t even know who my husband was."
The paramedics had not contacted the hospital to say they were bringing in an injured skier or informed them to say that the patient had died en route and that his wife could be arriving at the emergency department, she said.
"The (nurses) had to call the paramedics to find out what happened," Morse said. "They had turned around and they brought him back to the ski hill to the clinic."
One of the paramedics then informed Morse on the phone that her husband had died.
She could not say if she thinks her husband could have survived his injuries with better care.
"My husband had significant and severe chest trauma," Morse said. "I don’t know if it would change the outcome."
When contacted Saturday, Ralph Johnson, a spokesman for the Franklin Memorial Hospital, said he had not heard of any complaint about the actions of the ambulance driver and paramedics in connection to the accident.
If a family member makes a complaint to the hospital "it would immediately open an investigation," he said. "We would investigate it internally and share the results with the family."
The ambulance service, owned by the hospital, is called Northstar Ambulance, he said.
"I called the executive director of the ambulance service, . . . this was news to him," Johnson said.
Morse said the nurses at the hospital were caring.
While she will never get over what happened, one bright light was the New England Organ Bank, which helped her husband’s end-of-life wish to be an organ and tissue donor come true.
"That is the only positive in this whole situation," she said.
"I just can’t imagine another family going through this."