, Muskogee, OK

December 19, 2012

EMS helps dying man see family

Sentimental Journey a day trip to Poteau

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Seeing his family is the best Christmas gift Robert Smith could have, and Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service was able to grant him that gift Tuesday.

For Smith, it was a day full of joy to be spent with family members at a cousin’s home in Poteau.

“I’m terminally ill, and I want to see them all together while I can,” Smith said, as he rested on a gurney in the back of an ambulance, waiting to begin his journey. “Without this, it just wouldn’t have been possible. Just seeing the folks will be good enough for me.”

The Sentimental Journey program has been turning up at local ambulance service providers across the country in recent years, and MCEMS thought it was a great way to give back to the community, said Rebecca Smith, public relations officer.

“Our community is so good to us, and we feel like we really have a partnership with Muskogee County,” Smith said. “And we want to give back as much as we can.”

So, the inaugural Sentimental Journey was undertaken Tuesday for veteran Robert Smith, who is receiving care for cancer at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.

Smith and his wife Cindy rode in an ambulance provided by MCEMS with two paramedics for the trip. They stayed about four hours, then were brought back to the hospital.

MCEMS hopes to continue providing such trips for terminally ill patients, whether they are hospitalized, at home or in hospice care, Rebecca Smith said.

“We’ve worked about a year to incorporate this into our service. We had to have training and policy changes,” she said. “This particular ambulance has padding on the inside which comes off and reveals a window so the patient can look out because we may take patients that can’t get out of the ambulance.”

The service is free and is paid for through donations, Smith said.

And the paramedics that work for MCEMS will gain something from the trips too — a chance to make somebody happy, she said.

“When someone needs an ambulance it’s the worst day of their lives, and it’s so easy for the medics to take that internally,” she said. “And when you deal with stress, pain, trauma and sadness, it’s really nice for the medics to have a chance to participate in something good, where they are making a difference.”

Any hospital or hospice agency can refer somebody for the program. There is a process to apply, and not every patient will be able to participate, Smith said.

Trips should be within 50 miles of Muskogee, though requests for longer trips will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

There are limitations, depending on the medical care needed, medication needed and more, but each referral will be reviewed and considered.

Call the business office at (918) 683-0130 to make a referral or to get more information.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or