Just Be Quiet

This particular male subject was impressively intoxicated. If he wasn’t such a jerk, and if we weren’t so busy dodging (mostly unintentional) swings and (mostly intentional) loogies when he broke the police officers’ grip, we might have all looked at each other with the “Wow. Strong work. Good job.” expression.

At one point, he looked at me and charmingly slurred (minus the expletives), “You look good, so iss alright. Lemme tell you, you’d never leave the kitchen or my room if you wuz my girlfriend. (hiccup)”

As I opened my mouth to reply, my big brother partner snapped back, “Hey, enough! You do not speak to my partner that way. Ever. She’s here to help you. You’re going to sit there and respect that, and we’re not going to have any more problems. Are we clear?”

The patient looks at me and says earnestly, “Sweetheart, I’m sorry.” Then he rolls his head back to my partner and lets out a long-winded, ever-loudening, slurred apology.

“Man, I’m sorry. I’m not meaning to cause no dizzrepeck. Not to you. Not to your lady fran’. Not to the ambalamps. Not to God. Not to the cops…well, maybe to the cops. But not to you. Or her. I’m sorry. I wuz jus’ compamentin’. Because she’s pretty. And you’re pretty. You’re BOTH pretty. I’m sorry. And I’m drunk. So iss h’okay. Maybe iss not okay. No. Iss no’ okay. I’m sorry. And–”

“Sir, don’t be sorry. Just be quiet.”

“H’okay.”

People Are Cool Sometimes

I don’t like Valentine’s Day. Not just because I’m single, either. Even when I’m not, I think the holiday is kind of silly and serves to make people upset, using it as just another benchmark after a break up, or the loss of a loved one, or whatever. Just something to grind in the “ouch” a little more. I won’t whine about it any more than that, because I’m sure you know 292,928 other people who cry “foul” and bitterly complain about all those same things.

That all being said, there are some people out there that do some pretty cool things. I went to CVS today to do what I do most every Valentine’s Day: unashamedly treat myself to a big bag of candy. (Incidentally, that’s a similar practice to my major exam day ritual…only it doesn’t just have to be candy on exam day. It could be any bad-for-you, taste-good food. Did I mention this year, Major Exam Day and Valentine’s Day were on the same day?! It was a wonderful stomachache-inducing catastrophe.)

Anyway…where were we? Oh yes. Buying myself a diabetes starter pack large bag of candy. As I contemplated whether I wanted chocolate or chocolate-and-peanut-butter, I noticed this man buying somewhere in the area of 50 Valentine’s Day cards. I was trying not to pass judgement on him buying cards for his 50 girlfriends as he went to the check-out counter to purchase them.

Not long afterwards, I was leaving the store with my bag in tow. Then I noticed the casanova from the card aisle standing on the corner. He was handing out cards to anyone who walked by who looked like they could’ve used a little sunshine in their day. I smiled to myself, content with my newly restored faith in humanity.

Instead of asking, “Why?”

You don’t have to be an EMT to experience tragedy. Although, we tend to bear witness to it more often. We are professionals at maintaining a level of calmness in the face of crisis. We were called to help, to fix, to save, to salvage; not to participate. We protect our bodies with gloves. We protect our psyches with adrenaline and “it’s not my emergency.”

After the adrenaline subsides and the call is over, you’re left with the aftermath. Sometimes the stories can’t be stripped off with your gloves, or the memories thrown away with the syringe wrappers. Sometimes they stay with you. In this messy and hectic career, you’re bound to get some of the shards of people’s lives embedded in your skin. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something massive and catastrophic. Your partner on that call may not even remember it today. These stories stay with everyone for different reasons.

Eventually in your career, you will find yourself carrying around a few faces, names, dates, or addresses forever. And they will not all be war stories you will flaunt or boast.

With many of these stories comes a simple and powerful question: “Why?” It’s a big impenetrable wall between you and (what you assume will be) peace. If you ever find the answer, it may not be good enough to excuse or explain what happened. More often than not, though, the answer will never come. It will never be clear.  “Why” will haunt your dreams and shadow your days. You will bludgeon yourself with it over and over in dizzying circles, searching for answers that may never come, only to find yourself exactly where you started–if not even worse off. You will kill yourself with “why”.

I try to make peace with my “why’s.” In fact, I try not to ask the question at all. Instead of asking, “Why?” I try to say “Thank you.” Thank you for giving me the chance to help you. Thank you for letting me learn from this, and using it to help my patients in the future. Thank you for asking me to be there to do the best I could at that time with those resources. Thank you for allowing me to look at what I have.

I have a warm bed. I have a roof over my head–and a fairly nice one at that. I live in a safe community. I work at a job I love, and one that challenges me every day. I work with awesome coworkers that I care very much for. They make me laugh and grow, support me, challenge me, and encourage me. Although I complain about it, I’m well on my way to a great and exciting career as a nurse/paramedic. I have a knack for writing. I have a blog that people read, and has allowed me to make connections and friends I never would have dreamed of. I have a wonderful family that cares about and for me. I have friends that love me. As for the things I do not have: I have tomorrows to earn and attain them. I am not perfect, but I am better, and I am enough.

Kids Say The Darnedest Things

P2P: Do you go to school? What did you do in school today?

Kid: I decorated a cupcake.

P2P: Did you? Well that’s pretty cool.

Kid: I talked with her. We were friends.

P2P: With the cupcake?

Kid: Yep.

P2p: What’s her name?

Kid: Um…I don’t know.

P2P: What? Well, you’ll have to ask her.

Kid: But I ate her!

P2P: *gasp* But you said you were friends!

Kid: We were! She didn’t mind. She was a cupcake.

P2P: Well, are we friends?

Kid: Yes.

P2P: Are you going to eat me?

Kid: Are you a cupcake?

P2P: No…

Kid: Then no.

Fake Confidence is Still Confidence

“How are your IV’s coming?” My EMT-I partner asked me, as we responded to a call.

“Ugh. Terrible. I can’t hit the broad side of a barn now. Haven’t gotten one in forever.”

“Ohh, that’s okay, we all get ruts,” The paramedic called out from the back.

“No. This is more than a rut. I learned on one catheter, and then we used another type during clinical, and those have two completely different finesses to them. Now that we use the first catheter type here, I can’t seem to get the hang of it again.”

“You’ll figure it out again. You’ve just got it in your head now that you can’t do it. Cut that out. You gotta have confidence,” The I-tech said.

“Fake it til ya make it?” I asked.

“Hey, fake confidence is still confidence,” He replied. “You’re gonna get this one. Trust me, when the pressure’s really on, and the guy really needs a line, you will somehow find a way.”

Not long afterwards, the medic and I found ourselves on either side of the patient, bouncing down the road to the landing zone. Alcohol swab in hand, I searched up on down her cold, sweaty arm for something, anything, that I could stick. This was my first patient who, without a doubt, needed an IV. I traced my fingers down her arm, poking and tapping where I hoped to find veins. I was starting to get worried when…oh, Perfect!  I could feel that spongy rebound under my fingertips in the crook of her arm. If I looked at it at just the right angle, I could almost make out a tiny raised section of the vein, making it that much easier to go for. I watched for a steady straight-away in the road, painted the vein with the alcohol wipe, and uncapped the needle. As discreetly as possible, I took a deep breath to both steady my nerves and strengthen my courage. I raised my voice and said to our deteriorating patient, “Okay! Big pinch in your arm, ready? One, two, three!”

A smile tried to edge its way onto my face as I watched the flash chamber fill with blood. I couldn’t believe it…when it actually really mattered, I got it! Knowing I wasn’t done yet, I leveled out, and advanced the catheter. I heard the click of the needle into the safety cap, and knew I was in. It flushed beautifully, and was secured with a tegaderm and (probably too much) tape. I even made the stupid little chevron out of tape. I worked to keep myself from visibly shaking from the excitement. No one was coaching me through, or watching over my shoulder, or setting up any of my equipment. For the first time, I got it done all by myself–and when it counted for something, too.

When we watched the helicopter take off with our patient inside, there was something extra satisfying knowing they were using the line that I had started. Those medications could help preserve the patient’s life.

I turned to an ear-to-ear grin on my partner’s face. “What did I tell you? When you need to get it, you’ll get it! Right? Right???”

“Fake confidence is still confidence!” I replied, a huge smile stretching across my face.

The medic clapped my back, saying, “Hey, congratulations on doing your job.”

“Would you hush? Let me enjoy my glow.”

“Well, glow and clean up the back. You and the medic trashed that place,” The EMT-I interrupted. “Then we’re getting a celebratory coffee. Good job, kid. Well done.”

Sunny’s Story

Like plenty of other little girls, I had a soft spot for stuffed animals. Of course, I had a favorite stuffed animal. It was a yellow lab that I named Sunny. She came with me on all kinds of adventures, from playing at home, to kindergarten, to my first swim meets, to family vacations. Every night, I fell asleep with her tucked under my arm.

And, also like plenty of other little girls, I moved to another state during my childhood. About a week before moving day, my family and I headed up to Maine for a short vacation. Every summer, we would spend a few days in Maine, enjoying the change of scenery on the beach. Nothing about this trip was unusual. We packed up the suitcase with swimsuits, towels, toiletries, clothes, aloe gel, and never enough sunblock. And, of course, I held Sunny in my lap for the car ride up.

Just like all the other vacations, I returned happy, freckled, and sunburnt. But, now that vacation was over, we dove full force into the whole moving ritual…saying good bye to friends, having those last play dates, eating out at the local restaurants for the last time, and packing what seemed an impossible amount of stuff. Those last few days were all cardboard boxes and hugs good bye. Mom packed a few boxes into the minivan, and we waved good bye to New York through the car windows. Dad stayed behind to help load the rest of the boxes into the truck with the movers. We would meet up in our new home the next day.

When we arrived in our home that evening, I realized that Sunny wasn’t in my bag of clothes. I had slept without her for the past few days, seeing as everything was being packed up. I assumed she was in one of the boxes back in New York, and tried to settle into a fitful sleep in the unsettlingly quiet country.

As any of you who have ever moved know, the next few days continued to be constant activity too. Now we had to unpack the ungodly amount of cardboard boxes, buy furniture, start school, make friends, learn the lay of the town, and get used to all this quiet and driving 15 minutes to get anywhere. To add to the confusion and anxiety, a few days after we moved, we found ourselves watching 9/11 unfold with the rest of the country, hoping that our friends back home were safe.

In all of the chaos, my concerns about Sunny took a back seat. It wasn’t for another month or so, after all the boxes had been unpacked, that I started to grow concerned. I was starting to accept the fact that Sunny had been lost in the move. One day, however, I came home to find Sunny sitting on my bed. After picking her up and squeezing her, almost crying with happiness, I noticed a handwritten note, detailing her adventures over the passed month-and-a-half.

I had accidentally left Sunny behind in our hotel in Maine. Housekeeping had found her, and instead of throwing her out or putting her in lost-and-found, they looked up our home address, and took the time and trouble to mail her back. Once the package had arrived at our apartment in New York, we had already moved. The landlord opened the package and instantly recognized Sunny as my near-lifelong companion. He mailed the package to  (what he thought) was our new address. Unfortunately, it was addressed to a house number on our new street that didn’t exist. But, we moved to a small town, and plenty of people knew about the new out-of-staters that talked with that heavy New Yawk accent. Noting the return address, our mailman brought the package with him on his route, knocked on our door, and asked my mother if this box, by chance, was meant for us. She wasn’t expecting a package, but recognized our old address on the box, and accepted it gratefully. When she opened in up, Sunny sat inside. She was a little bit dirty, but no worse for wear.

Sunny and I have both gotten older. She’s been well-loved, and she certainly looks it. Her fur is flatter, and the color isn’t so vibrant. Mom’s performed a couple of “surgeries” on her, including sewing her leg back on. The stuffing has been squished and flattened in her abdomen from all the hugs over the years. I still have her in my bedroom.

I keep her not only for sentimental value, but because she’s a symbol of something great. Several people–all but one of them being complete strangers–unknowingly worked together to do something amazing for one little girl. At any point in that chain, Sunny could have been abandoned, given away, thrown away, cast aside, or forgotten about. Most little girls that leave their favorite stuffed animal behind in a hotel room never see their plush friend ever again. But all of those people took the time out of their day to try and get that stuffed animal back into the arms of the little kid that loved it so much. To them, it was just some toy that could be easily replaced, sold for $15 down at the store. But to me, it was Sunny; protector from nightmares and monsters in the dark, friend in new and scary situations, and life long playmate. Sunny was irreplaceable to me. Although it probably didn’t matter to them, it mattered to me. And somehow, all of those people understood that. It made a big difference in my life; one that I’ll never forget, and never be able to thank them for.

Be “Sunny’s helper.” Be the stranger that reaches out. The small things that you do and think nothing of, might make a world of difference to someone else.

Birthday Letter

This has nothing to do with EMS whatsoever. I just have a great friend who mailed me a birthday letter that made me laugh. And here it is, without further ado:

 

Dear beloved,

It’s been eight long, arduous months at sea. As of right now, my ship, The Atlantonauticus Rex TM, is taking quite the beating in this storm. The Atlantic is treacherous and seemingly content in destroying my life and everything I possess, which is oddly similar to my ex-wife’s personality. She, too, managed to ravage every poop deck she encountered. What a cantankerous pitbull. Regardless, I’m beginning to fear that I may never see the children, little Edward or little Jeanette-Norma-Jeanagain, ever again. Also, I may never see “The Dark Knight Rises” ever again either, which is a shame, because Anne Hathaway. Mmmmm. If you could send that in your next parcel, dearest, that would be most desirable. Send Anne Hathaway, I mean. She’s skinny enough; she could probably fit into the envelope quite comfortably. Oh, and if you want to send the movie, you can, but I’ll probably end up feeding it to Anne. Hathaway gets quite hungry, you know, but she’s a nice enough house pet. Sometimes I feel I shou–

Oh dear, that wasn’t meant for you. That was for…errr…hoo-boy….

BIRTH. That’s why we’re here today! “Here” being two completely different places, of course. Ideally, my postal dwarf will have reached you by your birthday, but knowing Niklovitch, he’ll decide to be “fashionably late,” resulting in this postponed delivery. If it’s pretty late, then you can celebrate the anniversary of Susan B. Anthony defying laws in 1872 and voting, helping the Women’s Suffrage movement [1].  Enjoying her acts of defiance, she continued to break other laws. She defied all standards of decency and ran around in the nude shortly after. Then she broke the law again by robbing a jewelry store. And finally, she defied the laws of gravity, physics, and God-knows-what-else and flew to the moon. And used her time machine to fight Abraham Lincoln [citation needed]. Assuming you get this in time for election day, you can celebrate by voting! I AM accepting write-ins for president, but I encourage you to write-in Winston Churchill in order to put the government in an awkward spot if he–a dead WWII-era British Prime Minister–wins the American election somehow.

But…20 years old! That is an achievement! You’ve personally seen through two decades! Actually, maybe not, if you don’t count sleep as “seeing.” So, let’s chop that in half, roughly, because you slept a TON when you were a lil’ thing. So you’re 10 years old! Congratulations! I got you Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bumper stickers, or whatever the hell 10-year old girls like. What the hell do they like, actually? Whatever, I’ll get you one of [whatever they like], but you have to behave when we go to the McDonald’s Playpen. No, I’m not going in with y– I said no, I can’t actually fit inside, honey. I’m goin–I SAID NO–gah, I need aspirin.

Let’s pretend you’re actually 20, you adorable-yet-persistent 10-year old. Phew, thank god. Alright. 20 years old can be rough sometimes, but this is just like every other year; full of ups, downs, and even arounds, if you’re clever. Each new year of living is a neutral slate, ready to be chiseled into something good, even if it takes a bit of work or you break the chisel (us guys have Viagra for the latter?). Additionally, each subsequent birthday is a step closer to independence and freedom in personal decisions, such as deciding whether or not it is a good idea to indulge in indecent exposure at your frandfather’s birthday party at the nursing home donate your entire savings to the Nigerian prince who emails you asking for help/your credit card number in reclaiming his family’s royal estate. Never mind the fact that his email is “nigerianprince@compuserve.net”–it is ultimately your decision to help this poor, desperate man or not. It’s only his estate, after all.

So 20 isn’t exactly anything new–it’s unlikely that you’ve popped out of some dark crevice somewhere this year, unless you happen to explore Southwestern caves frequently or spend your time Batmanning for a living. But it’s a lovely new chapter with untold promise. Like seeing a new episode of your favorite TV show, and it turns out to be REALLY FREAKIN GOOD, even if you didn’t expect it to be. “Oh, this show is good, I like to watch it every week” you say, but then the next episode could leave you feeling like “THAT WAS FREAKING AWESOME, WHY IS THE SCRIPT OF THIS EPISODE NOT TATTOO’D ON ME AS A TRAMPSTAMP YET?” And even if it’s nothing particularly new, there’s always this: “The year you were born marks only your entry into the world. Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating.” (Jarod Kintz, some book or article or something). And you have every reason to celebrate, even if it’s not 100% clear all the time.

Keep your chin up and  “I’ll write once I land on Russian shores. We decided to take the long way around and our new Angelina Jolie is eating the crewmembers. Please send firearms with your next par–“ Oh dammit.

Thank you for everything, from your friend,
TEA LUST, WHICH HAPPENS TO BE MY RAPPER NAME.

Warm & Fuzzies

I guess paramedics get the warm & fuzzies when they put all the pieces together, figure something out, and–through working their paramedic magic–make the patient feel better. That call where all the odds are stacked against the patient. Where death is hovering around the truck, breathing down the back of the medic’s neck. And you find out a few days later that the patient walked out of the hospital, back to his family, his career, his home, his life.

As an EMT-Basic, the calls that give you the warm & fuzzies are different. You have to find your gratification in the less gory, less heroic, less battle-story-worthy calls. You have to find it in the grateful nods of heads, the thank-you’s, the smiles, and the occasional heart-felt remark.

Like I’ve complained about time and time again, I feel like more of a truck driver than an EMT. I seldom get to tech calls anymore. But one of the calls I did tech was for suicidal ideation. When I met the patient, she was crying, pulling tissue after tissue out of the box, attempting to stem a flow that must have felt like it would never stop. We discussed the deep and philosophical, and the random and whimsical. By the end of the ride, we were laughing, smiling, and playing 20 Questions. As we backed into the hospital, she stated, “You know, I’ve never felt like I could talk to an ambulance person before. I just feel like you get it, and I could talk to you. I’m feeling less nervous now…thank you.”

There it was. After long last, that full feeling in your heart. That happy, accomplished feeling that courses  through your veins. The warm & fuzzies. Basics, we don’t have too much in our medical arsenal. The difference you can make in a patient’s life will most likely not be from the medications you can give, the procedures you can perform, or (I hate to say it, and totally expect backlash from this) the education you’ve received. It comes from drawing from your experiences, your humanity, your empathy.  It comes from just being there. For being human. That’s what will make a difference to many of your patients. That’s where you’ll find your moments of fulfillment, the calls that make everything worth it. That’s where you’ll find your gratification. That’s where you’ll find your warm & fuzzies.

When Disaster Strikes…

Everyone. Meet Harley.

Harley

Harley says, “Hello.”

He attempted to save my life today, and warn me of the doom and gloom to come. I just thought he was squeaking a lot and running around like crazy because he wanted attention and/or food. So I remedied the situation with feeding him hay, not realizing he was attempting to save us all.

About an hour later, we had an earthquake! In New England! What??? It was only a 4.6, but considering nothing ever happens here in the middle of nowhere, it’s kind of a big deal. Well, at least that’s what the local news stations and Facebook would have you believe.

New England Earthquake 2012

All in all, an interesting day off. I actually witnessed that whole phenomenon where animals seem to have knowledge that some natural disaster is looming. So, thanks Harley. That was pretty cool of you.

 

The Three-Fingered Wave

Every community has its own little quirks. I suppose this one is ours. Fellow rural firefighters and EMT’s use this little greeting while passing each other on the road. It’s the three fingered wave. You see it most when you’re driving the ambulance, and other motorists with fire department or EMS plates will greet you with it. Although, from time to time, I have seen other emergency service workers do it from POV to POV…as in one driver sees that another driver also has a fire/EMS plate, and will give them this little wave. I guess it’s a less bad ass equivalent to the little peace sign that motorcyclists use to each other. It’s just one of those, “Hey, I’m one of you. Super secret squirrel hello to you too, brethren!”

It goes like this. You’re cruising around, off to the fire station, home, grocery store, bingo, squash lessons, or wherever else your day is taking you. While you’re enjoying your leisurely drive, jamming out to a little Journey (or whatever you listen to), you see a car coming around the bend traveling in the opposite direction. Oh, what’s this? There’s a little red half-plate above, and a little blue half-plate below the license plate? You don’t say? It appears to be a fire department member! You don’t recognize the car, so it’s not a department you work for or with. Regardless, a red plate means fire department, and a blue plate means EMS. Well, it appears the other driver has also taken notice of your little half-plate too. He smiles as you draw closer, and he executes the three-fingered wave maneuver. And, being a polite little country bumpkin, you return the three-fingered wave.

Now, this wave is kind of tricky to explain. It starts with your hands on the steering wheel. You move one hand to the top of the steering wheel so it can be seen above the dash (for purposes of this explanation, let’s say it is your left hand). You grip the steering wheel with your left pinky and ring finger (and, of course, your right hand is also on the steering wheel so you have control of the car. The last thing you want to do is run your car off the road or into your newly-made EMT friend). Then, you raise and spread your middle finger, pointer finger, and thumb, with your palm facing the road.

It’s basically the peace sign with your thumb added in there. Only, it’s less throw-back-y. It’s the same sign than Germans use when indicating the number “3” (apparently they don’t use the ring, middle, and forefinger like we Americans usually do), or the American Sign Language sign for “3” (only with the palm facing outwards instead of inwards).

Just an odd little thing I noticed (and kind of like) about my region.

The Three Fingered Wave

Image Credit