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.