Words of Wisdom in the Back of a Truck

I’ve been told by many a good teacher that every interaction with a patient presents a learning opportunity. I really believe that’s true. Each individual allows you to refine your assessments, or practice interacting with people. But, I’m also learning that each patient has a chance to teach you something; give you something to think about.

I once had a very sick patient, going through some very challenging things physically, mentally, and socially. With everything going on and going wrong, one could only expect that he would throw his hands up and say, “Can I just have one thing go right? Can I just have one good day?” I’ve said that myself plenty of times over lesser events. I searched for words. I tried to verbalize my sympathy. I quietly noted aloud that all the gray, rainy days must be exhausting for him.

“But, you know,” He said calmly, looking away as if he were actually physically searching for words, “Even too much sunshine can get you burnt.”

The dull roar of road noise was the only thing that filled the silence as we absorbed his words. He sighed and nestled a little deeper into his pillow.

“Balance, dear. Life is about balance.”

Another Day In The Life

Nursing Assistant: Can you bring in the patient through the employee entrance? I’ll meet you on the other side. Just knock, and I’ll open the door.

P2P: No problem. We’ll scoot right over.

(20 seconds later…)*knockknockknock*

Nursing Assistant (surprised): Who is it?

P2P (also surprised): Uh…ambulance?

P2P’s Partner: Housekeeping! You want mint on your pillow?

EMS Week 2013: Knowing and Not Knowing

About three years ago, I carefully stepped down this short hallway, not all too certain what to expect. The hallway opened into a small, practically empty room. A dusty mammoth of a photocopier sat in the corner beside stacks of office paper. A few framed photographs adorned the otherwise blank white walls. The new summer sunlight streamed through a small window near the ceiling. An open door in front of me led into an even smaller room, lined with cluttered desks. To my right was an open door with a sign saying “PERSONNEL ONLY”.  I froze up, awkwardly standing in the middle of this room in a place I clearly didn’t belong.  What was I doing here anyway? Just as I turned to look at the now very alluring front door behind me, a voice asked, “Can I help you?”

I snapped my head back from over my shoulder, suddenly very aware of how out of place I seemed. I swallowed. A man with salt & pepper hair stood in the doorway, a quizzical but friendly expression on his face? Was he always there? How did I miss him before? He must think I’m crazy for just wandering into this station.

“Uh…hi. My name is Probie To Practitioner. I’m here to uh…see if maybe I could…work on an ambulance?” It was more of a question than a request. The words felt strange coming out of my mouth, and even stranger to my ear. You? On an ambulance? You’re afraid of your own shadow. You’re afraid of talking to this man here. And you’re trying to do what??

He grinned broadly at me. “Ohh, you’re the one who called earlier! Come on in! Let’s show you around, see how you feel, and go from there. Alright?”

“Hey, wanna show her around a little? Show her the ambulance or something?” This gentleman asked a short paramedic, with tired circles under his eyes and a welcoming half-smile on his face. The paramedic agreed, stepping into the doorway, and making a motion for me to follow him. He walked through the door that said “PERSONNEL ONLY”.

This was where I hesitated. I stopped, mid-step, and mentally told myself “No, you’re not ‘personnel’.” I spent a moment internally arguing this point. I just felt odd, barging into the personal space of a place filled with prestige, courage, and tradition. It wasn’t something I was a part of. I realized how stupid I would look, awkwardly posed outside the door, and how much more stupid I would sound trying to explain my reasoning to the paramedic. Quickly, I hurried through the door, catching up with him.

I followed out into the bay, smelling of cool concrete, metal, and rubber. The rest of that afternoon would be spent with an awed smile on my face, feeling like I was half in a dream, going through an ambulance check with this paramedic.

It was a peculiar moment of knowing and not knowing.

At the time, I didn’t know that this station would become my second home. I didn’t realize I’d walk these carpets thin. I didn’t know how many roaring laughs and gravely whispered conversations would reverberate off these walls. I didn’t know I’d be spending countless hours here. I didn’t know that the cool smells of the bay would become so relaxing and cleansing to me.

I didn’t realize that the paramedic who showed me an ambulance for the first time would go on to be my mentor, and one of my dearest friends. I didn’t realize that these same people I had held in my mind as heroes, would one day be held in my heart as family. Some would move. Some would leave. Some would die. Some would come and stay, others would come and go. I didn’t know how much they would do for me.

I didn’t realize the lengths to which I’d go when I was here. I didn’t realize what this job would ask, demand, and take from me. I didn’t realize how much of myself I’d give to this field, this lifestyle. I didn’t know how EMS would bend me, push me, and teach me. I didn’t know how much it would make me grow. I didn’t know how many lives I would touch, or to what extent.

Despite all that I didn’t know, I somehow knew one thing: I belonged here. It may not have been a conscious thought; even if it was, I’m sure it would have been drowned out with all the other thoughts of self-doubt and disbelief. But I felt it. I felt it in my heart, and in every fiber of my being.

EMS Week 2013. We have one mission. We are one team.

And I am beyond honored to be a part of yours.

Crappy Call

After cleaning up the back after a particularly…uh…crappy call…

Partner: If this next patient poops on the stretcher, I’m going to lose my shit.

P2P: Cool. Then you guys can have a shit-losing contest.

Interesting Patient Conversation

There was still 30 minutes left in our transport, and the patient was incredibly stable. Not knowing what else to really do, we struck up a conversation. He was an interesting fellow…one of these laid-back, intellectual types with a dry sense of humor and a fierce wanderlust. He made insightful remarks, and smiled these dashing crooked smiles that made me frantically wonder what subtle irony or quiet punchline I’d missed. We’d talked about weather, family, and the best way to make stuffed peppers. He told me about the traveling he’s done, and how he never stays in one place for too long. Sooner or later, the urge to find a change of scenery and pace plucks him from one community and pushes him to another.

“You know, way back in the day, I was a photographer. Well, I still am, but I did it commercially. I worked for this company, and I primarily went to schools and did school portraits. I like portraits. If you look at a good one, you can know the person without ever meeting them,” He told me, occasionally offering a small, knowing grin, or raising his eyebrows.

“But I was bored at this job. It was just one grumpy child forcing a fake smile after another. I was taking this young lady’s picture once…she was pretty, definitely. But she just wouldn’t smile. She wouldn’t even fake one. So I asked her why. What was wrong? Well, she rolled her eyes at me and told me she was bored. She was bored with school. So I told her, ‘Bored people tend to be boring.’ She took offense to that, I guess.

It just seemed so painfully obvious, really. You’re bored? Then do something. Find something that entertains you. Change something. If you’re bored, then you get boring. And then what are you doing with your life? And then it dawns on me…I was boring. I was bored with my job. Bored with that town. Bored with doing the same thing all the time. So I left. About a week later, I packed up all of my things, got in my car, and just drove. I found some little town in Wyoming, and lived there for a few months. I’ve been something of a traveler ever since. I don’t like to be bored.”

Just An Ordinary Day

There wasn’t too much remarkable about that day, at least when it started. I woke up to a typical light overcast outside my window. I did my usual morning routine. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into my ordinary “day off” attire…boots, jeans, a t-shirt and a jacket. I threw my worn bag into the passenger seat of my unassuming car, sang along to the radio in my usual off-key pitch, and parked in the supermarket parking lot. It was, by all means, an ordinary day.

I grabbed a shopping basket, and meandered through the aisles. The other patrons milled around in their usual way. An older lady with a blue scarf was sorting through the produce, trying to pick the best tomatoes of the bunch. A boy in a Spiderman t-shirt was fruitlessly pleading for his father to buy him the big bag of Reese’s. Some woman with glasses was spelling out her coworker’s name for a baker to write on a cake. I was making that time old decision: chicken or beef. There was really nothing to take notice of. Which is why I’ll never be quite sure what caught my eye and redirect my focus.

It was just a man, chatting with a friend he happened to bump into. I returned to deciding what I was going to do for dinner, when my memory started to stir. I glanced back at the man out of the corner of my eye. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place it…no…it couldn’t be…I tried really hard not to stare in disbelief.

I remember everything about the last time we’d met. I remember the weather, the time, the place, and everyone that was there. I remember the furniture, the pictures around the room, and the clock on the wall. I remember someone dancing from foot to foot, deciding whether they wanted to watch or not. I remember someone trying not to cry. I remember trying to speak lowly so I wouldn’t cause even more emotional trauma to everyone there. Funny thing is, I doubt he remembers our encounter, even though I treated him kind of roughly.  See, the last time we met, he was dead. My partners and I were pounding on his still, pale chest. We were squeezing each breath into his lungs. All in the hopes of converting that rhythm into something more life-sustaining.

His skin glowed now with a radiant life. His cheeks were much rosier than in my memory. He had a quick mind behind his sharp eyes, as evidenced by the laughter of his friend. A deep chuckle came forth from the man’s wry smile.

The feeling that built in my chest was one that defies words. The man that stood only a few yards away from me was so alive. He was doing normal, every day things. To anybody else, this scene was average. Just an average man, wearing plain clothes, running ordinary errands, talking about typical things with his friend. And yet, there was something so extraordinary about it. Just the whole notion of being alive is such an incredible thing all of the sudden. Every blink, every breath, every heart beat was such an amazing thing. Every movement, every chore, every interaction, every joke…it all suddenly carried so much more weight. He was a man who’d beaten the odds. And, in my small way, I had helped him do it. And that just felt…incredible.

I wanted to savor that moment, that feeling, forever. Where the gravity of the things I do for a living really sets in, but in the most surreal way. Where suddenly everything was brilliant, and nothing was taken for granted. I walked past him, offering him a big, genuine smile. He smiled back at me, a little confused as to why I’d be grinning like that. He would probably  never know, and oddly, that is fine with me.

I continued on down the aisle, back to my every day life. He carried on with his. And that makes all the difference.

“I’m on the phone!”

We roll up on scene to find our patient standing outside on her cell phone. Figuring she’s still on the line with 911, we get out of the truck and approach her to see what the issue is. Something scared her enough, hurt her enough, or made her sick enough to want immediate evaluation. As my partner and I approach, we see she’s talking to her boyfriend, using the same attitude that would make your mother snap back, “Don’t you use that tone with me!”

“Ma’am? I’m P2P and this is Partner. Did you call for an ambulance?”

We receive a glance, before she goes back to arguing with the boyfriend. I give it about 30 more seconds.


Then comes the eye roll. “Yes, hold on, I’m on the phone.”

After another 30 seconds of uncomfortably shifting around, I ask, “Ma’am, could you please put your phone away?”

Up comes a raised index finger, the unofficial sign for “Wait a minute, I’m too busy to be bothered with you right now.” Then a pair of incredulously raised eyebrows. And the hissed statement, “Would you shut up?! I’m on the phone!”

“Oh, my bad, ma’am. I’m sorry. See, when you called 911, we thought you had an emergency, so we came over to see if we could help. Because, well, that’s kind of our thing. Sorry to interrupt you. Is there a better time for us to come back? Like maybe, oh, never?” I replied, right before climbing back in the ambulance, leaving the supposed patient to finish her argument uninterrupted, and riding off into the sunset, never to deal with her again.

That’s not true, actually. That’s just what my brain fantasized about.

What actually happened? After asking if we would shut up, she saw the expressions on our faces, and the glance I exchanged with Partner. Then she huffed and mumbled into the phone, “I’ve got to go….” before hanging up. And then we went on doing our evaluating our patient, and doing the ambulance thing.

God. I hate patients on cell phones.

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.

Scared Myself Half to Death

It was quittin’ time. That mid-winter evening darkness had consumed the world outside the station. I tugged on my bright EMS coat, preparing for January’s frigid bite once I left the warmth of the building. I grabbed my keys, wished the new crew well, and headed into the bay.

It was chilly and dark there. A few flickering fluorescent bulbs seemed to provide more shadows than light. I edged my way between the back bumpers of the trucks and the racks of turn-out gear. The smell of old, sooty fires hung in the air. All was quiet, except for the occasional clicking within the settling and cooling engines, and a slow, periodic drip of water onto the concrete floor. I rounded the corner of a fire truck, intending to walk the aisle between the fire engine and the ambulance, make my out of the station and into the night. I didn’t take two paces before the dim light illuminated the silhouette. My heart briefly stopped in my chest. My breath caught in my throat, just before letting out a terrified cry.

The flickering light provided just enough backlighting to make it out. Black boots hung at my eye level. The figure was still. The only movement came from the slow, occasional drip of melting ice off the boot’s soles. I covered my mouth, trying to stifle the scream. This couldn’t be happening.

The door to the living space of the station opened on the other side of the bay. My partner’s voice shouted out my name in concern, followed by the thudding of heavy boots running on the concrete floor.

I broke my gaze from the legs of the figure, and saw another slumped figure only a few yards away. And there was another. And another?

As the crew drew nearer, they flicked on the rest of the lights. In the brilliant light, we could see what had actually happened.

The red cold water exposure suits were hung from a clothesline high above our heads. They had been taken out and used for training purposes that morning, and then hung out to dry overnight. A half-dozen red suits, complete with black rubber boots and gloves, were strung up along this little alleyway. Laughter shattered the unnecessarily horror-filled silence.

Well. At least my reaction was highly amusing to the relief crew. You’re welcome, guys.


Antibiotic Cookies

Not my story, but it made me giggle.

A friend of mine went to take his practical exam. He got to the medical assessment station, finding that his patient was suffering from an allergic reaction. He asked her about her allergies. She replied, “Peanuts and penicillin.” The last thing she ate? “A cookie my friend gave me, about 10 minutes ago.”

He very seriously looked into her eyes, placed a hand on her shoulder, and said, “Was there penicillin in the cookie?”

He was joking. Guessing by the described blank stare, she didn’t think it was very funny.