Thursday, February 24, 2011

New home

I have a new home with  They even gave me my own domain!  From here on out, I'll be posting at  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's a Man's World

Despite the fact that XX chromosomal arrangement makes up just over half of the worlds’ population, we ladies represent a mere 27.1% of EMS field personnel, according to data collected in 2007 by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Services’ think-tank. This doesn’t come as a shock to most folks whose idea of a typical day at the office includes lights, sirens, blood, and guts. While gender equality has been growing with remarkable speed over the last half century, in the big, bad, primarily testosterone based world of EMS, owning ovaries can certainly bring its own sets of challenges, advantages, and moments of hilarity.

It is not uncommon for me to be the only female present on a scene. I primarily work with a male partner, and it would appear as if the city fire department that typically responds with us has an even wider male to female ratio. There are obvious benefits to this scenario. As the only female, I’m usually the smallest and most flexible in the group, which means that I am typically the likely choice to crawl into a busted up vehicle or climb through an open window to get to a patient, all of which I love to do.

On the flipside, as the only female on a scene, I’m usually the one designated to take a peek when childbirth is deemed imminent and pretty much every other scenario involving “lady parts.” While I am trained to assist in childbirth and various problems that may arise, I am not well versed in other people’s vaginas. I think a friend of mine summed up my feelings on this phenomenon when she was the only female on a scene in which she was elected to check a pregnant patient for crowning. She forged ahead boldly, viewing the only vagina she had ever seen that she wasn’t born with. The patient asked her what she saw, and she said, “I don’t see a baby, but it doesn’t look anything like mine.”

I have one dog and zero offspring. At the age of 27, this suits me just fine (although my mom is showing definite signs of an attempt to plant seeds she hopes to flower into a desire for motherhood. She recently told me, “You know how I always said the best thing about pregnancy was getting to go wherever I wanted at a Black Sabbath concert? I take it back. It ended with me having you, and you turned out pretty cool.”). The best advocate for birth control I’ve ever encountered was my clinical rotations through Labor and Delivery as a mere paramecium during paramedic school.

I’ll save you the ridiculously gory details, but just know I left positive that whoever coined childbirth as “a miracle” is a sadistic asshole with a sick sense of humor. I have a very strong stomach; I studied human decomposition in college and consider a day in which I see someone’s brain awesome. Watching and participating in the birth of a human being was the only time I ever got queasy at the sight of something…right up until I went into the surgical area to see a cesarean section, where I nearly passed out. The Labor and Delivery department of a hospital cleverly disguises the gruesome nature of their trade by covering it in stuffed animals, balloons, and happy, gender appropriate colors. I’m onto their secret. When I show up on a scene, no one knows that even thinking about my previous experience gives me shudders, and everyone automatically looks directly at me as if to say, “You there, with the vagina! You’ve got the owner’s manual on this equipment and getting a parasite out, right?” It kind of makes it unfair that testicular examinations are so rarely called for in my field.

Playing well with others can be particularly challenging from the perspective of the only female on scene. Shockingly often, I get automatically passed over to receive a report from first responders, and female coworkers have told me they frequently encounter the same phenomenon. One of my friends likes to use this opportunity to ask her male partner in a sweet, soft “girl voice” what he’d like “little ole me to do" to save the patient suffering from a critical condition, just to get to see the priceless looks on the faces of her EMT-Basic partner and first responders.

Often times, I encounter reluctance from my male constituents when presented with a female doing manual labor. I’ve been asked enough times to be relieved of carrying equipment to have a standard response on hand when they are persistent: “Well, I have something kind of heavy on each side, so if you take one of those away, I’ll probably fall over. It would really help me out if you could carry my stethoscope, though.” Luckily, I work with enough folks with great senses of humor to go along with it and keep from getting offended. I actually was once pulled aside and thanked by a Fire Captain for lifting my own stretcher, which led me to wonder what other women on the job are doing that made me worthy of gratitude for doing my job.

On the bright side of being assumed weak, feeble, powerless, and incompetent, there’s really only room for improvement when the bar is set that low. That stated, I can’t help but feel my girl power pride swell when I’m on the scene with a female firefighter or partner and we’re the ones getting stuff done. I can only imagine how much harder female firefighters and policewomen have had to work to prove they are capable; I can’t help but think of them as superheroines.

Not being taken seriously can be a drain on the soul of a woman trying to make her way in a man’s world, which I doubt is something limited to the ladies of EMS. One woman who has worked in my agency pretty much since it was formed considers her breast reduction surgery a life altering change from a career standpoint. While not all male coworkers treated her poorly prior, she noticed an obvious shift in which people started to look her in her big, brown…eyes.

Which brings us to romance. EMS is an incestuous subset of society; we have long shifts and unconventional hours that most people have difficulty understanding. It can be quite the challenge for a lady crazy enough to do a job like this to find someone willing to put up with her, so it’s no surprise that we often turn to our own kind. I’m guilty of it. Twice. While my forays into the extracurricular studies weren’t what most would see as successful, plenty of relationships in EMS work. The problem with searching for that end goal in such an exclusive community is the concept that one must kiss a few frogs before finding a prince still applies, but instead of being a frog kisser, you’re deemed a “Medic Mattress.” Obviously, we ladies love being given such esteemed titles; feel free to call each other by such designations. Of course women with high stress, low pay employment that qualifies them as adrenaline junkies would never karate chop someone in the neck for referring to them by such a crass moniker. We’re sugar and spice and everything nice.

While dating within your field has the obvious benefits of understanding each other’s stress and hours, there are plenty of disadvantages. A policewoman recently told me that she dated one of her coworkers for a while, until he began showing up on her calls and being overly protective. She was once insulted by a civilian, and nearly immediately the offender was viciously attacked by gravity and a flight of stairs, with some assistance from her boyfriend at the time. When men are told their whole lives to be knights in shining armor, it must be a bit of a challenge for them to separate themselves from that mindset on the job, despite the fact that the woman they are dating may be able to handle herself accordingly. Let us not forget the men in our field are adrenaline seekers with God complexes, too.

We ladies have a tendency to be tougher on each other than the guys are on us. Girl on girl crime is pretty rampant in EMS; chances are decent that a girl whose actions may be misconstrued to give the ladies a bad reputation will get blackballed. Personally, I’m no exception. If you work with me and you find yourself letting men do your share of the manual labor, you will either get better, or I will make your life miserable on general principle. For instance, after a long shift, I was teaching a new, female trainee to change out the big oxygen tank on the ambulance. The M tank on an ambulance is about 40 or so pounds of awkward metal and compressed air, and replacing it is feasible as a one person job. When I told the new girl that we had to remove the old tank and lift the new one into the ambulance, her eyes grew wide and she said, “Maybe we should get one of these big, strong men to do it.” Aw, hell naw. My partner, who is responsible for actually training her, knew immediately to retreat as I do not take kindly to such attitudes. He slunk away just in time to escape me yelling at her, “You have a VAGINA, not a DISABILITY!” Despite my frustration, we changed the oxygen cylinder and she eventually grew into a functioning female EMT, lifting stretchers, equipment, and oxygen tanks.

As a female responder, some awkward situations will come up on rare occasions. I was once in a patient’s home in which she had hit an emergency button, prompting the entire cavalry of police, fire, and medic staff to respond to this unknown emergency. Basically, she had fallen and couldn’t get up due to morbid obesity, and was stranded on the ground like a turtle on its back. We cancelled any further response, but one police officer did not get that memo. He came in, saw we didn’t need his assistance, and began to leave after a brief chat with my male partner. On his way out, apparently, he saw me for the first time and said, “OOOOOOOOOOOOH! Look at the pretty medic!” Like I’m an exhibit in a zoo. And here on our tour of the homo sapiens exhibit, you can see the female medicus blondinus in action. Please observe how she attends to her patient while wearing the least flattering uniform of the twenty-first century. What a fascinating creature! I’m not sure of the proper protocol in handling such a bizarre remark with grace, so I elbowed a trainee, a tall, masculine African American EMT, and told him he should thank the officer for complimenting him. The officer was not amused, but I guess you can't win 'em all.

A friend of mine has quite possibly the most impressive story to tell concerning being a female in EMS. This woman looks like a Barbie doll and is both brilliant and tough as nails. She ran a 911 call in a strip club where the female dancers were dressed in costumes intended to imitate uniforms. As she was carrying equipment into the club, a very intoxicated patron who apparently was unaware of any present emergency, mistook her for an exotic dancer and stuffed a $20 bill into her shirt while slurring his request for a lap dance. The manager of the club was embarrassed and incredibly apologetic. He asked her if he could do anything to alleviate the incident and she told him with a deadpan facial expression, “Well, you could collect all my dollars for me.”

The strange isn’t limited to heterosexual paramedics and EMTs, either. Another friend of mine, who would doubtfully ever be mistaken for someone who dates the opposite sex recently had a routine transfer of an old man, afflicted with dementia and useless, contracted T-Rex arms. He asked her if she was, “one of them bull-daggers.” Completely taken aback and slightly amused at the situation, she answered, “Yes, sir, I am.” The man suddenly found enough strength and flexibility in a T-Rex arm to open-palm slap her in the face. What do you do when an old, bed bound man who is not mentally coherent slaps you in the face? According to my friend, you sit there with your mouth open in shock and call your friends later to laugh about it.

In my research to discover any present articles on women in EMS, I found something that took me completely aback. A quick Google search brought me to a 2008 Women of EMS calendar, depicting paramedics and EMTs scantily clad in bathing suits or bras with bunker pants.

Photos courtesy of

My initial, kneejerk response to this was something along the lines of outrage. Then I began to think of the double standard in using sex as a fundraising tool in public safety; I find it perfectly acceptable for men to be depicted in sexually explicit ways to raise money for the benevolent funds of fire and police systems. Why should women be any different? Despite my quest for equality, I couldn’t manage to bring myself to think of these images as anything other than a setback for women in public safety. I’ve come up with an alternate solution: perhaps there should be a calendar showing women of EMS directly after they run demanding calls. I imagine a centerfold showing a female paramedic with her messy helmet hair matted to her head with sweat following the extraction of a patient from a vehicle, blood on her shirt, standing in front of the open doors of an ambulance with equipment and blood everywhere, and a quote of “Aw, man! I got brain on my pants again!”

Female fire fighters and policewomen shouldn’t feel left out. I found skanky calendars for you guys, too. I actually found one fundraiser calendar depicting female police from Spain posing as criminals, which I found much more entertaining and artistic than minimally dressed women being suggestive while lying on a disgusting ambulance floor.

America's Female Firefighters

Policewomen posing as criminals

I also found this douche-canoe’s website if anybody feels up to writing some hate mail. I couldn’t bring myself to take him seriously enough to actually be angry, personally.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Life Lessons Learned While Ambulancing

On romance: The fairy tales have it wrong. True love is finding someone whose belongings (including expensive electronics) you can throw off of a three story balcony, who will in turn choke you into unconsciousness while you are 33 weeks pregnant with their child. 

On sanity: Hallucinating the devil is after you or running naked through an upper-middle class neighborhood until the police tackle you is very crazy.  As it turns out, I’m doing just fine comparatively. 

On physics: Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  Fences beware.  My ambulance is bigger than you, and I really suck at using reverse gear.

On gravity: When rolling a stretcher with a patient on it, allowing it to get off kilter is not a good idea.  It will flip, and you will probably not be able to catch it.  Your back will hurt for days from the effort.  Furthermore, it scares the crap out of the person on the stretcher.

On obesity: Fat people are fucking heavy.  My back hurts just thinking about it.

On mistaken identities: Most of the ambulances look pretty much the same; avoid getting in the wrong one at the hospital or on mass casualty incidents.  Also avoid checking off, putting your gear and belongings in, and sitting/waiting for your crew while growing irritated at their tardiness in the wrong ambulance, while your crew is in the right one, waiting for you. 

On diabetes: Keeping a tub full of cookies by your bed is not a cure for diabetes.  Who knew? 

On navigating: Sometimes, I get lost.  If I can find the nearest coffee shop or book store, I’ll find my way back on track.  

On linguistics: It is imperative to be fluent in the medical dialect of the people you treat.  Bonus points for saying “vomick” with a straight face the most times on a scene.  My partner holds the record, as I had to step outside to laugh hysterically. 

On misogyny: I’m trained to treat illnesses, perform challenging skills, think on my feet, and pick your fat ass up.  I also have ovaries.  Deal with it, as I can also restrain people if I see fit. 

On fashion: Bringing up bedazzling your turn out gear at a meeting will not impress your superiors.  Offering the ultimatum of either putting one’s name or JUICY on the rear of one’s tactical pants in rhinestones only serves to make it worse.  My superiors have opted to exchange our turnout gear for a bright yellow version, which is no consolation at all.  I continue to believe that I should be allowed to sparkle at all times. 

Also on fashion: Human feces is never an acceptable accessory, and it totally clashes with my rhinestone shades.  I may never forgive the lady that shat on me, despite the fact that she was unconscious. 

On fine dining: A slushee and a bag of white cheddar popcorn from a gas station is a pretty decent meal on a busy day.

Also on fine dining: If you get a chance to grab a meal at a soul food restaurant, the employees will likely treat you very well.  They know what they eat, and they know they’ll probably need you in the near future. 

On distorted self images: Jest because one sees herself as a superheroine does not mean the rest of the world does.  They may see her as the blonde, pigtailed spaz she appears to be, despite the underlying truth. 

On great partners: Only the best partners are wise and thoughtful enough to crank up the volume on the radio when Lady Gaga is airing, so that you can simultaneously treat your patient and shake yo’ thang. 

On downtime: If a civilian calls 911 to report and complain about a paramedic shopping on shift, they should truly hope the dispatcher answering the call isn’t the very same person who is receiving freebies from the sale.  A buy three, get three free sale at Bath and Body Works IS an emergency.  Everyone knows that. 

On diversity: Stupidity knows no race, age, creed, color, religion, or social status, but it is consistent job security for me.

On kidnapping: Kidnapping and torturing your pet zombie is an entertaining, acceptable, and valuable way for your coworkers to spend their time between calls, particularly if they spend all day sending you picture messages, such as these.

 Photos courtesy of Gabe and KC.

On playing well with others:  What is the first thing you do when you arrive on scene?  Immediately decide who you will trip as bait in the event the patient turns out to be a reanimated zombie, obviously.  When, and I do say when, the zombie apocalypse comes, who do you think will be among the first wave of people attacked?  If you guessed the paramedic attempting to intubate, with their face and hands directly in the face and mouth of the “dead” guy without vital signs, you would be correct.  There’s going to be hordes of zombies somnambulating about in full paramedic, first responder, and police uniforms and turnout gear.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not going down like that.  Scene safety?  It can wait.  Need for additional resources?  I’ll let you know in a minute.  General impression of the patient?  I’ll get to it.  Zombie bait?  I’m all over that right away.  If the patient reanimates, I need to know who I’m pushing down.  The misogynistic hosedragger who refuses to look me in the eye and reports blood pressures as 120/80 without ever having touched the patient, or the fireman who pulls his weight as works with you as a team?  Easy choice.  What if zombification occurs at the hospital?  You have to choose between the mean, burnt out nurse that berates you for bringing a patient despite the fact transporting patients is pretty much what you do even if you don’t get to use any cool skills or equipment, and the tech who always smiles, helps you move a patient to the bed, and doubles as a roller derby girl in her spare time.  I think you know who I want on my team. 

I know what you’re thinking, “Um, Parapup is kind of off her rocker on this topic.”  Well, guess what you’ll be thinking once you get bit, die a painful death, and reanimate as a zombie: BRAAAAAAINS! 

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Wheels on the Bus...

A few months ago, the EMS personnel of Mecklenburg County lost a dear and beloved post.  Legend has it that Post 50 was attacked by a renegade ambulance.  Post 50 was never known for being structurally sound, but was a great place to take a nap and was near a plethora of decent places to grab a meal.  It was close enough to the highway that one was likely to get a decent trauma there, and it is no secret that the crazies on the north end of the county are nothing short of spectacular.  As homage to the memory of post 50, I’ve opted to write of the things we EMS folk encounter while driving a beast of an ambulance.  Rest in peace, Post 50. 

Photo courtesy of

The Wheels on the Bus…

For reasons completely unknown to me, the general public seems to acknowledge that “ambulance drivers” are professionals impervious to other drivers, weather and road conditions, distraction by shiny objects or attractive joggers, and the laws of physics.  Statistically, it makes sense that emergency personnel are involved in less collisions that the general public because there are less emergency vehicles by comparison.  That stated, when it happens to us, we pretty much always make the news, so there is no excuse for members of the populace to believe ambulances are safer than their own vehicles; regardless, this appears to be the case. 

During a snowstorm earlier this year, several people I treated had called 911 for mundane flu-like symptoms because they weren’t comfortable driving to the hospital.  I can understand feeling uncomfortable driving in less than ideal conditions, but I fail to understand reasoning riding backward on a stretcher in a box of potential shrapnel weighing a couple tons, surrounded by loosely restrained potential projectiles, driven by people who likely chose their profession because they think gruesome stuff is cool as a viable alternative.  I also don’t understand going to the emergency room for the flu, but that is not my decision to make either.  In my agency, we have systems in place to assist us with such situations.  Despite our typically moderate climate, we have chains that can flow beneath the tires to add traction; sometimes they even function!

For the few non-EMS readers, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: we’re every bit as incompetent as the rest of you retards out there.  I can’t speak for my coworkers or other emergency personnel, but I can honestly say with total confidence that I am just not that great of a driver. 

When I turn on the lights and sirens, I’m extremely attentive.  I make it a point to know where every vehicle is and their approximate speeds, constantly looking out for danger.  I realize using the lights and sirens is precarious in and of itself, and I see myself as almost a guardian to those in other vehicles, regardless of how much they refuse to get the hell out of my way.  (For the record, the protocol is to pull to the right.  Unless you’re in England or Australia, in which case I have no idea what you’re supposed to do.) 

Once the blinky lights and blaring sirens are off, and I’m no longer the shiniest thing around, I regress into my usual shitty driver self.  I get it honestly; my mom is a terrible driver.  I’ve actually had conversations with her discussing the hazards of playing Tetris while driving.  I won’t even get into my grandmother’s inattentive driving or my aunt’s refusal to admit her belief that streetlights don’t apply to her, regardless of video documentation.  I hail from a long line of awful drivers.  I fiddle with the radio dial.  I know that my phone is in my pocket, and I have to actively fight the urge to access it.  Whatever bizarre topic piques my interest can easily cause me to drive directly past a street on which I needed to turn.  A really striking jogger runs by with no shirt on and the next thing I know, I have to stand on the brake pedal to keep from flattening the car in front of me.  I once saw a double rainbow and enjoyed the sight until my partner reprimanded me from the back of the ambulance, and I realized I was busted.   I’m susceptible to all the minutiae that cause people to play bumper cars with one another every day.  I’ve even discovered that if you opt to drive your ambulance into a field after a day of rain, your supervisor will laugh at you when he/she comes to pull you out of the muddy hole you’ve created.   

Reverse gear, however, remains the bane of my existence.  I’ve seen Snatch; I understand the principle that when you are backing up, things come at you from behind.  At my agency, the policy is that your partner gets out of the truck to assist you and make sure you don’t hit anything.  Needless to say, this policy is in place for a reason: the ambulance is big, and we hit stuff all the time. 

My usual partner likes to back drivers up by moving his arm around in the direction one needs to turn the wheel, which can be quite the deceptive move.  One day in the ambulance, a new hire, FNG, was attempting to park, with my partner backing him up. 

FNG asks me, who is reading a book in the backseat, “Which way am I supposed to turn?  I don’t understand what he’s doing.”

“Is he motioning for you to Wax On or Wax Off?”

“Um, I don’t really know.  I’m looking at him in the side mirror and I think he’s getting frustrated with me.”

“I usually just turn the way that makes the most sense and go very slowly.  If he really starts flailing, stop, you went the wrong way.”

FNG got us parked without incident, but I have had an episode in which I was not as lucky.  In an affluent part of town, a brand new fire station was built, and my agency was given the opportunity to post there.  This fire station is abnormally pretty, and I’d heard nearly half a million dollars were attributed to art alone.  Naturally, it was dark and raining, but I was working with a partner who feared no weather, and got out of the truck to back me up.  While reversing into the designated parking space, my partner held up her hands to indicate I didn’t have much room to move.  I saw her gesture, my brain made a more creative interpretation, and I continued to reverse-directly into an incredibly expensive fence.  Once I heard metal crunching, I stopped, parked, and got out of the truck to assess the situation.  Firemen came out of the station to point and laugh, and informed me that while I wasn’t the first person to hit the fence, I certainly did the most damage.  Since that incident, a bumper was installed to make the space what my supervisor called “Parapup-proof.”

My favorite ambulance mishap story comes from a friend I’ll call Evelyn Couch, who used to work in a non-emergency transport service.  Evelyn was driving a van-style ambulance to take a hospice patient who was well on his way out of this form of existence to a nursing home to which a hospital had turfed him.  Evelyn approached the nursing home, surveyed the canopy, and realized they may not fit underneath.  She relayed this to her partner in the back, ever the compassionate caregiver, who said something along the lines of, “Just get us in there so he doesn’t die back here on me.” 

Evelyn carefully pulled forward to be rewarded with the unmistakable sound of crunching.  They were able to unload the patient into the facility with stable enough vital signs.  Once they exited the canopy, Evelyn noticed the light bar on top of the ambulance, which is typically perpendicular to the length, was completely parallel.  Via discussion, the team decided that the best course of action was to pretend like nothing unusual had happened. 

Upon arrival at the station, Evelyn was greeted by an angry, red-faced supervisor, “Evelyn Couch!  Do you notice anything wrong with that ambulance?!”

“Well, it could really use a wash.”

“Anything else, Evelyn?”

“I think there’s a scratch in the paint.”  Evelyn’s supervisor failed to see the humor in the situation, and she eventually gained employment where her keen sense of humor and timing is appreciated. 
What I’ve learned from my vehicular misfortunes and the tales of my cohorts’ is that we all screw up.  None of us are immune to accident or calamity, and I’m appreciative that I haven’t caused anyone injury.  After all, the end goal is to help people, but sometimes things get in the way of that aspiration, ineptitude for instance. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Vigilante Medic Saves the Day

My day started off with a slightly unusual call: I was sent to the aid of a young man with penile pain associated with a probable STD. Outstanding. As a heterosexual female, I have no interest in penises infected with sexually transmitted diseases, but when duty calls, I must answer, and I try to do so with grace and respect. The patient was probably not hoping to have a discussion about his penile discharge with a twenty-something year old blond female, but I honestly have no idea what goes through the minds of people who call 911 for these things. After all, the ghetto is an amazing place with a totally different definition of emergency than the rest of the world, regardless of the vehicle parked in the driveway. He had no reservations about speaking freely to me of his affliction, and after a brief consideration of making the new guy in training on our truck take a peek, I decided to wholeheartedly trust the patient’s description of his junk. Simply put, I didn’t want to look.

The patient politely asked if his “little brother” could accompany him to the hospital. I took a look at the individual, appropriately outfitted in an incredibly oversized shirt, sagging jean shorts, and an impressive swagger. He appeared to be a young teenager, and I immediately decided he was harmless. Perhaps this young one would learn a valuable lesson on the importance of the use of prophylactics. “Sure, but he’ll have to ride in the front and wear his seatbelt.” My crew and I took them both to the hospital, where the staff and I shared a laugh at the absurdity of the “emergent” situation. The day prior, I treated a man having a heart attack and a woman experiencing ventricular tachycardia, both of whom I decided would be just fine by ghetto standards.

While driving the ambulance to the hospital during the next call of the day, I was singing along to the radio, and I realized the passenger seat visor looked unusually empty. The universal garage door opener was present, but the spot where I typically clip my iPod was empty. I replayed the events of the day in my head: I came to work, be-bopped around the wash bay, and checked off the ambulance equipment listening to my “Happy” playlist. None of this was unusual. My partner, Vigilante Medic, is accustomed to finding me in the box of the ambulance shaking my thang or occasionally rocking the air guitar. I’m fairly certain he’s never seen me use the laryngoscope as a microphone, but I do tend to keep that show strictly between myself and my imaginary fans. I distinctly remembered standing on the running board of the ambulance, wrapping my headphones around the iPod, and clipping it to the passenger visor.

Upon arrival to the hospital, I immediately asked Vigilante Medic if he moved my iPod. He’s always looking out for me, I trust him completely, and it isn’t offensive or peculiar for him to get into my personal items. He told me he made sure my book bag was zipped and my Kindle (I’m a woman utterly dependent on technology) was put away before anyone entered the ambulance, but he didn’t think to look for my iPod. I scoured the ambulance, finding remnants of crews past and our belongings, but no sign of my iPod. If Vigilante Medic did not move my iPod, only one person was capable of taking it. I was enveloped in emotions of fury, horror, and personal violation, but the only thing that escaped my lips was, “That little ghetto fucker!” I personally gave this premature hoodlum permission to ride in the cab of my ambulance, which is my safe haven for 12 hour shifts, and he stole from me.

I called the hospital to which I took Penis Guy, and they told me he had been discharged with ample time to leave the premises. I called my supervisor, who has always been a wealth of wisdom, and he gave me his condolences and advised me to make a police report. I then called our communications department, who connected me to the non-emergency police line (we may be county funded, but we’re not strictly ghetto). The police department offered to send an officer to the hospital to take my report, but I declined, knowing first hand that with a growing murder rate and gang activity, our vice division has much better things to do than fuss over my stolen iPod. I had no proof that Penis Guy’s “little brother” stole from me, but I had more than reasonable suspicion. I was told I’d be contacted within ten days. Vigilante Medic found me at the ambulance with a furrowed brow and a pouting, quivering bottom lip.

Incidentally, this is not my first encounter with iPod thievery. My last iPod was stolen from my personal vehicle at my former apartment complex. I responded with a passive-aggressive note stating:

Dear Douchebag That Stole My iPod,

I hope you choke.



Apparently, the letter I wrote, made 200 copies of, and distributed happily at that apartment complex was not well received given the response I got accusing me of threats. I moved within a week.

Vigilante Medic proposed an alternate route entirely, “If it were my iPod, I would show up with my biker friends tomorrow, and take back what’s mine.” We knew precisely where the hoodlum in question was picked up, and it was a fathomable assumption he would be there tomorrow. I tried to picture showing up in the ‘hood the next day, me leading a posse of my girlfriends each weighing in less than 140 pounds with an affinity for reading. I saw myself at the head of a group of Caucasian girls decked out in glitter shrieking, “If you don’t give me back my iPod, we’ll squeal in very high pitched tones, asshole!” We may look cute in proper lighting, but I don’t think vigilante justice suits us. I’m pretty sure I’d just injure myself if I tried to wield a gun, considering sometimes I fall down attempting to step out of the ambulance. I couldn’t conjure up a single scenario in which a situation of this caliber concluded in my favor. I’m more of the passive-aggressive letter writing type.

Inspired by the situation at hand, Vigilante Medic inquired our supervisor of potential legality issues, then called the communication department requesting a trip back to the ghetto. Communication informed him that the area was covered, but managed to assign us to the area anyway, putting an end in my mind to the age old idea that our dispatchers “aren’t looking out for us.”

I drove straight to the house where Penis Guy lives, in front of which Vigilante Medic, New Guy, and I strode out of the ambulance on a mission. We probably looked more like two dudes in uniforms with a chick looking around as if her head is on a swivel stick thinking, “Are we going to get shot today?” We were met by the father of Penis Guy, who informed us that the perpetrator was not his son, but he would be more than willing to assist us in locating him. At this point, I let Vigilante Medic do all the talking; I was stuck in the mode of thinking is the scene safe? I had one hand prepared to hit the emergency button on my radio and was constantly scanning the area for a potential gunmen or hoodlum wielding a knife. This was not an answer to a 911 call, I was completely out of my element, and I was scared.

Penis Guy’s father enlisted the help of Penis Guy, who was suddenly furious and quickly gaining my respect. Penis Guy told us he saw that exact iPod, my stolen iPod, and dialed into a cordless phone. He spoke into the telephone in a manner of incredulousness, anger, and exasperation that made me think I had judged his intellect and morality completely inaccurately. He demanded that my iPod be returned immediately, informed us of the whereabouts of the thief, and told us that it would be returned without delay or struggle.

I drove the ambulance to a gas station down the street, where we were met by the prepubescent bandit. I saw him walking, and he was shorter and scrawnier than me. I’d barely noticed him on scene originally, but was now realizing the thug I’d built in my mind was far different from this diminutive creature. Finally, someone I can pick on. I approached him with an outstretched palm, and he reached into his right pocket, placed my iPod in my hand, and begun to walk off. I heard Vigilante Medic say, “That’s not good enough.”

The young thug turned and said, “Sorry” while looking at his feet.

I told him, “You need to look me in the eye and apologize.”

He looked up only with his eyes, “Sorry.”

“Do you understand the gravity of the situation? I was helping your friend, and you stole from me while I was doing that. I choose to have a job where I help people in distress, I don’t get paid much, and you stole directly from me. I made a police report and I’m not convinced I should call and cancel it.” I held the young crook’s gaze and tried not to lose faith in humanity. “Have you learned anything from this?”

“Yes,” he said to his feet again.

I turned and walked back to my ambulance muttering, “This little jerk hasn’t learned shit,” and thrilled that I’d regained an item I thought was indisputably lost forever. I pushed the appropriate buttons on the iPod and found that of all the angry music on my iPod, the perpetrator had been listening to, or trying to hock an iPod playing Adele. Seriously? He would have been more suited to tune into The Clash’s version of I Fought The Law and The Law Won, but in his case the lyrics would have had to been rearranged to the effect of “I Fought The Medics and The Medics won.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Drugs, Dad, and Rock and Roll

Some calls get under your skin and shake your soul to the very core. Children in distress are always a challenge to the caretaker emotionally, and facing death can take a toll on one as well. More often than I’d like to admit, the debilitating feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, and fury have overtaken me when I’ve encountered abuse, neglect, death, and other situations out of my control. Sometimes patients and their problems just hit too close to home and force you to face fears and issues you’ve spent your entire life burying.

I recently was dispatched to a cardiac arrest, in which my unit was the first to arrive. I drove to this call completely mentally prepared to face death and attempt to combat it on behalf of another human being. I walked into a middle class house to find a young woman unconscious and barely breathing. She’s not dead, but it is not surprising that her family thought she was. She is in her early 20s, Caucasian, thin, dressed in a tank top and jeans, with long hair and a pretty face. Her family tells us that she was just released the day prior from a rehabilitation facility, in which she was treated for heroin use.

I’ve never done serious drugs, which I completely accredit to the fact that I’ve spent the majority of my life terrified of them. My mother raised me as a single mom, and has dallied in drugs and a darker culture enough to know and recognize all the signs; simply put, I couldn’t get away with that kind of shit. My mother has seen firsthand the toll drugs can take on a person’s life and how much harder said person has to work to overcome even the most basic of life’s responsibilities and tasks. She refused to allow me to assume that disability. As a teenager at the height of my mischievousness, any time I tried to deceive or outsmart my mom, she quickly and efficiently put an end to it. I once came home with some friends stoned and honestly believed she didn’t know. The next day at a video store, I picked up a copy of Dazed and Confused, and asked my mom if she’d seen it. Her response: “Yeah, when you and your friends came in last night.” Following the realization that I was not savvy after all, my mother taught me all about drugs, making sure that I would be informed when I inevitably encountered them. She answered my inquiries with brute honesty, never omitting the good, bad, funny or sad. It was like having a personalized in-house D.A.R.E. program, but this one actually worked.

While my mother instilled truth and warnings about drug use in me, my father was a fine example of why. My father has always been involved in my life, despite his divorce from my mother when I was an infant. His poison of choice is cocaine, although he has experience in other endeavors. His demeanor has always been evasive, defensive, and cagey toward the topic until recently. Over the years, I watched him hurt himself and other people with his drug use, and I’ve had my heart broken a seemingly infinite number of times by my dad because of drugs. I distinctly remember being shocked that my dad was different that those of my friends, and even more shocked and hurt when I found out chiefly why. I found him impossible to understand, but I continuously tried because he was my father and a fundamentally good person despite it all. I listened to him tell me it wasn’t a problem and he could and would stop whenever he wanted. I learned to protect myself from pain and heartache when he didn’t show up, forgot about me, ignored me, or became angry at me for no reason. I learned to hope, but not believe him every time he told me he was quitting.

Recently, my dad has given up drugs. I have been struggling with wholeheartedly believing him as a result of the failed attempts in the past. In the past few years, he developed hallucinations that nearly drove him to insanity, lost his marriage, and lost his home. While he is not solely responsible for the misfortunes that have taken the limelight in his life, he appears to have come to terms with his role. He and I have had long conversations about things that actually matter for the first time in my life. He asked me, “How did I end up with a daughter who is so good, when other people that didn’t do the things I did have bad kids?” I have no answer, and I’m not totally convinced I’m all that good. I often view myself as damaged and weird. I think what he means is that I take care of myself, don’t get into trouble, and don’t do drugs. My mother played a huge role in that, but she’s fallible and so am I.

When I saw that unconscious girl who just relapsed, I saw myself. We’re around the same age, dress similarly, and both clearly are fighting our own demons. In some alternate universe, she and I would be in opposite positions. For reasons I can’t fully explain, I didn’t do drugs and she did. I assembled Narcan, the antidote for heroin and my partner administered it nasally. The girl began to wake up a long minute after we gave her the medication. We stopped breathing for her and took out the OPA, an instrument used to hold back the tongue during ventilation. She sat up and looked straight at me, doe eyed and terrified. I told her that she overdosed and almost died. She cried and told me that wasn’t possible. It seemed that most of the people in the room despised that girl. They saw her as a pathetic and weak drug addict who couldn’t hack it sober for a day, while I held her and told her it was going to be okay. Every molecule of my body ached for both her and me.

I know that it is virtually impossible to quit a drug without episodes of relapses that are sometimes more dangerous than using regularly. I have spent my entire life enclosed in a veil of humor, distrust, and doubt as a method of self preservation that has leaked into nearly all aspects of my life, and even now I can’t allow myself to be totally unprotected. I keep in the back of my mind that most addicts relapse at some point, and I try to prepare myself in the event it happens to my dad. That girl almost died as a result of a relapse, but didn’t because someone called 911 and we showed up. We were able to breathe for her and give her a medication that saved her life. She forced me to face a huge obstacle I’ve pushed into the deepest crevices of my subconscious and come to terms with the fact that there is no wonderdrug like Narcan to combat cocaine.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


My partner and I are dispatched to a headache; this is our third headache call of the day, all of which were supremely boring. While I give my headache patients the best care I can, insuring they have no signs of an impending stroke, considering all aspects of the condition, and keeping them as comfortable as possible, I’d rounded out my previous call by looking longingly out the ambulance window, watching my coworkers wheel critical, medicated, intubated patients into the hospital, seeing my colleagues’ cheeks flushed with the excitement of their call. I want that excitement! I want to make a difference in someone’s life, but here I am on the way to another mundane headache call. What’s a girl got to do to get some neuro deficits around here?

As my partner and I pull up to an apartment complex, a first responder approaches to inform us that the patient is on the third floor, there’s no elevator, and his vitals check out fine. My partner and I roll our eyes in tandem as we mentally prepare ourselves for another monotonous experience and waste of valuable resources.

Three flights ascended, we determine the patient is stable, has no priority symptoms, and our equipment will not be necessary. In fact, the patient turns out to be such a nice person, I feel kind of like a jerk for secretly wanting to be with critical patients instead. I prepare the ambulance for a routine headache call, meticulously laying out all the things I think we might need, while my partner (who is pretty much the best paramedic on the planet and my role model) stays with the patient. I prime an IV line, turn on the oxygen tank, lay out the glucometer and blood pressure cuff, and by the time I start spying specks of dirt and spot cleaning, I realize everyone has been gone far too long. What the hell is going on up there? About the time I poke my head out of the back doors of the ambulance, a first responder comes running toward me yelling, “He passed out! We need it all!”

I scramble the equipment back together in a flash, and the first responder and I make the three story hike once again. I arrive to an unconscious, breathing patient, who has been positioned with his feet up to increase bloodflow to his brain. I quickly apply oxygen and put him on the cardiac monitor.

My partner and I simultaneously look at the monitor, look at each other, look at the patient, and look at the monitor once again, with similar blatant quizzical facial expressions. The monitor shows clear and obvious ventricular fibrillation, a non-perfusing lethal rhythm. The patient is breathing, moaning, and moving his head. We frantically double and triple check the cables, convinced there is an error. The fire department must think we’ve lost our minds. We can’t find a pulse, and we absolutely must initiate CPR. My partner prepares to shock the patient, and I perform a chest compression. The patient retorts with a clearly audible “Ow!” I have done plenty of CPR, but never on anyone who is capable of informing me that it hurts. Furthermore, I’ve never in my life seen a dead guy breathe, moan, or move on his own accord. My partner and I lock eyes, and I know we’re thinking the same thing: there’s only one explanation for this—he’s a zombie.

We actually have a cardiac arrest bag full of all kinds of goodies just for this occasion, but I didn’t think to bring it. No one thought we had a dead guy on our hands, what with all the signs of life, so we’ll have to make do with what we have. My partner sends 150 Joules of electricity into the zombie’s chest, which he clearly does not like, judging by the sound he makes. The man turns purple from the nipple line up, a textbook sign of a pulmonary embolism. I continue to perform CPR, while concurrently instructing first responders to prepare equipment.

My partner says he’s going to start an IV in a vein in the man’s neck. I have someone take over CPR, and I practically tackle my partner, which is my standard response when he’s about to do a cool procedure I’ve never done. I insert a large bore catheter in the zombie’s external jugular vein, with my partner expertly walking me through the motions.

After a few more minutes of CPR, code drugs, and defibrillation, while not being distracted by the obvious life-like state of our dead guy (for which the American Heart Association did not prepare us AT ALL), he gets a pulse back. That is to say, our zombie is now un-dead, which goes against all the comic books I devoured as a nerdy, antisocial kid. While this is obviously great for the patient, the return of spontaneous circulation also works out nicely for us, because there was no freaking way we were going to make it down three narrow flights of stairs and do CPR.

A 12 lead ECG shows the patient is also having a monster of a heart attack. So, to sum it up thus far, we have a formerly dead guy who appeared remarkably alive while dead with a possible stroke, pulmonary embolism, and big fat myocardial infarction (that’s just a fancy way of saying heart attack). This is all my fault; I pouted and wished for excitement, and the EMS gods came through with alarming alacrity.

En route to the hospital, we do the zombie-CPR-shock-drugs-un-die dance a few more times. At one point, I’m performing CPR again (I love to do CPR. There’s something thrilling about being a physically fit girl doing manual labor in a largely male dominated field, when big burly dudes say, “Need me to take over for you?” saying and honestly meaning, “No, thanks. I’m good.”) and my partner contemplates aloud, “Because he is having an MI, perhaps the epinephrine will be too much of a strain on his heart and make it worse.”

“True,” I respond, proud of the fact that I can talk and do chest compressions, “but having no pulse at all is probably the larger of the evils.”

“Good point,” he says. He pushes another round of drugs, and I get another break from CPR.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the ED staff has the delight of encountering the same bizarre circumstances as we did, and again, he regains a pulse. Doctors, nurses, and techs are all astonished, while my partner and I play the role of the experienced wise ones in this unusual scenario; after all, this is old news for us by now. The staff takes him, un-dead again, upstairs where he will undergo tests and catheterization to try to combat the zombie trifecta.


The next day, my partner and I take a non-critical patient to triage at the same hospital. My partner suggests we investigate the patient’s outcome, and I eagerly agree. We mosey up to the ICU, trying to give the perception that we belong here, despite the obvious contrast of our uniforms, radios, boots, and shiny badges to the hospital staff’s comfortable scrubs and tennis shoes.

We find a nurse, explain who we are and what we are looking for. The nurse tells us, “Sure! He’s doing great and he’ll probably be discharged by the end of the week. He’s awake if you want to go see him.”

He’s awake. This is far better than either of us had imagined. Honestly, we came to find out if he was dead or a vegetable, but this man is awake.

My partner knocks on the door gently, and he and I enter the patient’s room, mouths agape at the conscious man who is clearly not on life support. The patient looks at us and says, “Well, judging by the uniforms, you must be the people who saved my life. The doctors say that if you hadn’t have been there and done what you did, I wouldn’t be here.”

We stayed and chatted with a man that died in front of us the day before, which is the single greatest experience I may ever have in my career. All his faculties are intact, and he has even managed to retain his sense of humor. I’m more astounded than I was when he was a zombie, but I kept that to myself.

“You know, I’m really sore from it all. I’d like to know what mammoth of a man you had doing CPR on me,” he tells us.

My partner looks at me, and I feel a girl-power grin that starts from my gut and works its way up. “For the most part, I did the CPR. You didn’t seem to like it much then, but it was better than the alternative.”

“Well, thank you both.”

The intense school, the paltry paycheck, the abusive patients, the generalized assholes, and all the crap that goes along with EMS, after seeing that man alive, was worth it.