It was 11:58 a.m. Monday when the "911" call came over the radio from the Emergency Operation's control center at the Montgomery County police headquarters in Rockville saying an employe at a specialty store on Wisconsin Avenue had gotten her hand caught in the steel rollers of a machine that made pasta.
Paramedic Mike Yellin had just climbed back into his ambulance, Medic 12, with a load of roast beef subs for his partner, Johm Vayer, and the rest of the day shift at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Unit.
Yellin told the dispatcher he would take the call. He switched on the siren, flicked the dome lights and hit the gas.
"It was a stroke of luck," said Yellin, who was only two blocks from the scene when he got the call. "We got there in 10 seconds."
Medic 12 stopped outside the Old World Market at 8125 Wisconsin Ave., and the two paramedics jumped out, carrying tackle boxes full of Adrenalin and first aid equipment.
They raced into the store, past a rack of expensive chocolate and a refrigerator full of spinach fettuccine, to the back of the shop where 22-year-old Tina Marie Hook of Bethesda was crying.
Hook had been cleaning the 18-inch-long, 4-inch-in-diamater rollers of a machine the store installed a year ago to produce fresh pasta. It had switched on accidentally and snatched the fingers of her left hand all the way in between the rollers.
"I thought it was a lot worse at first," Yellin recalled. "I thought her fingers were mangled.
To treat her for shock, the two paramedics slipped a needle for intravenous feeding into the young woman's arm.
"She was hollering and crying," said Yellin, who got behind Hook and helped support her by holding her up by the loops on her overalls. Her hand was so far into the machine she could not sit down. The fingers had come within inches of the blade that slices the batter of eggs, oil and semolina flour into pasta. The fingers were visible on the other side of the rollers, the paramedics said.
By 12:02 a second medical unit had arrived to administer five milligrams of morphine through the IV already in Hook's arm. The woman fainted once, but regained consciousness and stayed conscious for the duration of her 90-minute ordeal.
"I couldn't believe her stamina," said paramedic Mike Hook (no relation), who gave her the morphine. "She was crying a little, and every time we touched her hand, she'd scream. If that had been me, I'd have passed out as soon as it happened."
Vayer called the state police to find out how long it would take to get the medical helicopter in Hyattsville over to the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where it could take Hook to the hand unit of Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. State police said it would take 13 minutes.
With a store employe holding the IV line, and the medics monitoring Hook's blood pressure and pulse, four men from the rescue squad dragged in acetylene torches and duckbilled hydraulic spreaders capable of exerting 10,000 pounds per square inch.
They cut the housing off the 4-foot high machine and draped an asbestos blanket over Hook's bloodless fingers, but were unable to cut the rollers free because the 1,200 degree heat began to burn her crushed hand. And, every time they tried to move the rollers, the traumatized woman would scream.
"I was holding her the whole time," Yellin said. 'Trying to explain what we were doing, reassure her. I can't imagine standing up an hour and a half with my hand in that thing."
The rescue workers decided that they had to completely anesthetize Hook's hand. They gave her oxygen. Vayer called Dr. Peter Farney, who had been monitoring the emergency over police radio at Suburban Hospital where he has worked in the emergency room for 14 years.
He was picked up by a police officer and driven to the store, where he gave Hook six injections of xylocaine, which blocked the nerve pathways in the woman's shocked arm. Then he smeared her hand with a medical lubricant, and four rescue workers leaned into the manually operated hydraulic spreader, raising the steel rollers an eighth of an inch. It was enough.Farney pulled the hand free.
Hook gasped in relief and said "Oh, thank you."
The hand was crushed black and blue, but there were no visible fractures. Farney wrapped it in gauze, then packed it in a pillow and Hook was whisked to the waiting helicopter.
"Everybody sighed," said 21-year-old rescue worker March Muzzatti.
His boss, Lt. Jack Hartley, said: "If it had been any other [kind of emergency] it would have been no problem. I've had hands caught in mixers, elevators and everything else, but the [pasta machine] was almost impossible to take apart."
"It's made to squish anything," added Muzzatti. "It could be a trash compactor."
Hook underwent surgery at the hand unit of Union Memorial Hospital and was released with her hand bandaged in a soft cast Tuesday.
"She'll get the full use of her hand back," her sister, Norina Hook, said yesterday. "She was brave."