GOLDSBORO, NC—Anticipating the very likely need for rapid medical evacuation, a fleet of ambulances from several regional hospitals took up positions Saturday at the edge of Fairview Park, where a group of 41-year-old former college friends had gathered for a casual game of touch football.
EMT crews wasted no time readying an extensive supply of ice packs, neoprene wraps, and transport gurneys while the men, most of whom had played often in their teens and early 20s and not a single time since, split into teams and agreed on the location of the end zones.
"As soon as dispatch informed us that 15 middle-aged guys were talking about 'tossing the old pigskin around,' everyone on duty stopped what they were doing and got here as fast as possible," said ambulance driver Reed Macallen, opening a fresh package of Ace bandages and making sure his defibrillator's batteries were charged. "Given the widely varying levels of physical fitness and lack of any protective gear whatsoever, it's only a matter of time before emergency medical services are required."
"Someone's pulling a groin on the first play," he continued. "That's pretty much a guarantee."
As the graying men performed no more than thirty seconds of light stretching, paramedics went over response plans for various scenarios, from a player slipping a disc while bending over into a three-point stance, to somebody tearing a hamstring after deciding to actually punt the ball instead of just throwing it to the receiving team.
Separate provisions were made to handle any player who blows out a kneecap while trying to run a route seen on television, dislocates a shoulder in an attempt to block a player charging at full-speed, or—following a mid-game loosening of the two-hand-touch rule to "spice things up" with leg tackles—shatters a femur.
"The bottom line is these guys will be running and in some cases jumping, and that's going to cause problems," said local EMT Kathy Leland, prepping a morphine drip she explained would be administered to the first player to scream in agony from a fractured neck vertebra or Achilles tendon rupture. "As soon as a rusher gets past a center, or there's a fumble, or there's a friendly pile-on, or someone tries to showboat and trot in for a touchdown backwards, we'll be out there with the stretcher."
"It's a safe bet most of these guys have forgotten they haven't really exerted themselves since the early '90s," she added.
Paramedics confirmed that all local trauma centers had been notified of the game and that every licensed physician in Wayne County would remain on call until it ended. While they hoped it would be unnecessary, officials said a medevac helicopter could deploy at a moment's notice in the event a player had to be airlifted to a hospital in Raleigh with a more comprehensive cardiac unit.
"As if the situation weren't risky enough, they'll almost definitely be trying to impress their wives and children, who, unfortunately, are cheering them on from the sidelines," Leland said. "Not to mention the fact that a college-aged nephew of one of the men has been recruited to play, and several guys have said they want to 'show the kid how it's done.'"
Moments before kickoff, ambulance crews could be heard starting their engines after the well-built 22-year-old was heard from across the field jokingly calling one of the players "old man."