Dyspnea, Orthopnea, Eupnea

I had to take a Medical Terminology class to fulfill the requirements for my degree. I thought it was kind of silly and somewhat of a waste of time, but, hey, I can’t argue with an easy A.

My class was online. However, we had to call the instructor once per week to read medical words from a vocabulary list she’d emailed to us. When I called her for the first time, she went off on this huge tangent about how she has all this experience in the medical field, but she never specifically discussed what job(s) she held.

One day, I called her to complete this assignment. I was reading down the list, not thinking much of it.

“Hypoglycemia,” I’d announce.





“Um….try that again.”


I was kind of surprised. I didn’t think I’d mispronounced anything.

“Disp-nee-uh,” I tried a little slower.

“No. Minus 5 points. It’s pronounced dis-pee-nee-uh. You need to pronounce the ‘P’. Next.”


“Um…ok…orthopnea.” (Orth-op-nee-uh)

“Again, pronounce the ‘P’. Minus Five again. Orth-o-pee-nee-uh. Next.”


“Pronounce. The. P. Ee-you-pee-nya.”

“Interesting,” I said, carefully choosing my words. “I’ve never heard it pronounced like that before.”

“Well, when you’re in the business for a long time, you pick up on these things.”

“I see.”


Maybe I–and everyone I’ve ever worked with or been exposed to in the medical field–is wrong? But I’m willing to bet you all (y’all, yous guys, etc.) pronounce it the same as I do, despite the differences in our colloquialisms. That’s just me though. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Because she definitely did. 15 points worth of it, actually.

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?

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.

My First NREMT Cognitive Exam

Although the calendar had just flipped over to September, the weather still remained unforgivingly hot and humid. It was my first week of college, and my first week out in the big bad world all by myself. I knew absolutely nobody in this city, and I was hours away from anything remotely familiar. So far, I was making the best of it. I was excited and ready to prove to the world that I could do grown up things. Because, obviously, at the age of 17, I was pretty much a full-fledged adult.

On my list of grown-up things to do was to go and take my computer-based test for my First Responder ticket. I’d taken the class back home during the summer, seeing as I wasn’t quite old enough to take my Basic course. All that was left between me and my first EMS provider license was a computer test.

Being a college freshman in a city, I had no car. I had already taken a taxi once before that week, and that was a disastrous decision. It’s just too intimate a setting. Call me crazy, but there’s something unsettling about being trapped behind plexi glass, in a locked vehicle, being driven by a stranger listening to tympanic membrane-rupturingly loud music, that occasionally tries to scream-ask me questions like, “DO YOU LIKE SAND CASTLES, SWEETHAHT?” Also, the posted sign that says “There is a $50 fee for vomiting in the back seat” is there for a reason. They didn’t just opt to put that there one day. It actually happened. Right exactly where I’m sitting, most likely, seeing as there’s really nowhere else to go.

Long story short, I hate taxis, and try to avoid them. Which leaves me with the bus system. I had spent the entire long, sticky, swelteringly hot night before the exam peeling apart the bus schedule brochures I found in the lobby of my residence hall. It all seemed to be working out perfectly. I had enough time after my chemistry class to walk over to the bus stop, take the bus to the center, test, and be back in time for dinner.

I couldn’t sleep at all. Well…partly because it never got below 102 degrees in my dorm room that night. But even if the temperature had dipped to a more sleep-conducive level, my excitement and nerves still would have prevented me from getting much rest.

After my chemistry class the next day, I swung by my dorm room to drop off my books, pick up my exam entrance ticket, and triple-check that I had all the appropriate forms of ID. In what was one of the two acts of kindness my roommate had displayed all semester long, she left me the last apple we had left (we really needed to go grocery shopping) with a note that said, “Good luck!” After slinging my purse over my shoulder, I grabbed the apple and set off into the stupid hot afternoon sun towards the bus stop.

The thing about bus schedule maps is that they don’t give you nearly as good of an idea about distances as you’d assume. They also don’t account for the additional travel time needed for an anxious, sleep deprived girl who’s well on her way to heat exhaustion. Nor do they give any indication of changes in elevation–suprise, cities aren’t perfectly flat.

I thought doing something other than walking would help calm my nerves, so I ate my apple on the way….really fast. Before I reached the end of the first block, my now cramping stomach was filled with butterflies and golden delicious apple. I get super queasy when I’m hot, nervous, or tired. I happened to be all three, so I spent most of my walk trying not to wretch, and/or die in the 105 degree heat. Later that day, I would consult Google maps to find that I’d walked about 1.5 miles to get to the stupid bus stop–while apparently passing several other bus stops that would’ve taken me to the exact same place.

When I finally arrived, I stood in the baking sun, absolutely pouring with sweat, waiting for the bus. I felt dizzy, realizing that I hadn’t had anything to drink all day. The sizzling waves of heat floated above the pavement, making me question if that was normal, or if I was about to pass out. I was unapologetically mouth-breathing, and trying really hard to make my retching as discreet as possible. I checked my watch, and saw that the bus was probably about 15 minutes late. I was sick, tired, a little lost, and alone in a city where I didn’t know a single person to come help me. A part of me wanted to cry, give up, and go back to the dorm. The other people waiting for the bus shuffled away from the crazy-looking chick with the sweaty eyeliner running down her face. Except for one brave individual, who decided to get sociable with me. Probably out of pity.

“So where are you going today?”

“To take my first responder test…” I panted. She gave me a quizzical look. “It’s like an EMT, only you can’t do as much.”

“You look like you need an EMT yourself. You want me to call you an ambulance?”

“Nope. Definitely not. Thanks.”

By the time the bus did show up, I almost forgot why I was there. I was just so overjoyed that I was about to get on something with air conditioning. When I stepped onto the bus, I fumbled around, looking for my student ID (which provided free bus fare). The bus driver chuckled and said, “You aren’t from around here at all, are you?”

“Nope,” I said sheepishly. “Actually, maybe you could help me. I’ve never taken the bus before. Obviously. Can you let me know when we get to this destination?”

Surprisingly, he happily obliged. The woman I chatted to at the bus station told the driver, “She’s going to take her EMT test.”

I shuffled my way to the back of the bus and clung on to the overhead bar for dear life. The tall towers of downtown started to shrink away into dilapidated buildings with rusty metal bars over the windows. Angry looking people hung out on stoops and street corners, glaring at those who walked past. Abandoned cars with broken windows lined the streets. The lights of police cruisers glittered down a side street. I couldn’t be 100% sure, having never really seen them in real life before, but the signs and walls of buildings seemed to be full of pock-marks and bullet holes. My heart pounded away in my chest. Oh, God, where am I going? What am I doing? I’m not ready for this at all.

When we finally arrived at my stop, the bus driver called out, “Miss? Your test center stop!” I made my way off the bus, and stopped to thank him before leaving. He yelled out to the rest of the bus, “WISH THE KID GOOD LUCK! SHE’S GOING TO TAKE HER EMT TEST!” To my surprise, the bus erupted with loud cheers and well wishes. I smiled and scurried off the bus. It certainly made me smile…but now I had that overwhelming terror build up inside me. I was about to go take the test that justified all my hard work all summer, and all the craziness of getting to this testing center, which was apparently in the bad part of town.

A week later, much healthier, and many degrees cooler, I received a letter from home. Sitting on my bed, I opened it up.

“Probie To Pracitioner, Congratulations on passing the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians First Responder…”

I beamed. Yep. Definitely worth it.

That Awkward Moment When…

Ever have one of those awkward moments where you really wish you hadn’t said/done that? Me too. More than most people, it seems. Anyway, here’s a “Aren’t you glad you weren’t her?” moment a relative emailed me about.

I dropped by the gas station on my way home, as I sometimes do. I’m about to go in to buy myself a soda, when I see this guy struggling with some bags. (For the record, I also thought it was weird that ANYONE buys BAGS of stuff from convenience stores, but, okay.) So, being the awesome and caring person that I am, I instinctively go to help him. And I say, “Would you like a hand?”

And I’m not even joking….turns out the guy was an AMPUTEE. He was actually missing a HAND. 

He stared at me like I was the world’s biggest asshole, ever.

Here’s to hoping your day is better than mine.

“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.

The Sunflower Seed Catastrophe

I play favorites. Meaning I have a favorite ambulance to drive. The brakes require the right amount of pressure for me to stop the truck comfortably. The steering isn’t too soft or too hard. It’s a decent size truck to work with, and I can easily back it in almost anywhere. She’s my favorite, but she’s not perfect.

One of her imperfections, for instance, is the profound lack of cup-holders. Just a suggestion to any ambulance manufacturers out there–CUP-HOLDERS ARE VERY IMPORTANT. At least to me. In place of a cup-holder, we have this small caddy thing that we managed to stick between the flashlight-holders on the center console of the truck. It’s not ideal, but we’ve gotten used to it, and we make do.

My partner and I were sent on a transfer to Far Far Away Medical Center towards the end of a busy shift, so obviously I took my favorite ambulance. It was one of those shifts where you didn’t have any time to eat. When my partner, the patient, and I were stuck in an elevator, my stomach decided it was a good time to let out this 30 second long growl that probably caused a minor earthquake in the region. The patient looked at me and asked, “Hey, you alright there? Do you want me to ask the nurses to get you a sammich?”

Once we started back home, my partner and I whole-heartedly agreed to stop somewhere to get food for the ride back. My options are pretty limited, what with the gluten free diet and all. So I wound up getting a bag of sunflower seed kernels. It’d at least be something to put in my stomach and survive the drive home. As we made our way our to the truck, I quickly scarfed down a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds. Once back in the ambulance, I set  the open bag in the little caddy thing, and started driving back home.

My partner and I chatted, as partners tend to do. And my partner decided he wanted to eat my food….also as partners tend to do. He reached over and went to pick up the bag without asking. He didn’t look down at the caddy (and sunflower seeds), trying what I can only assume was an attempt to be stealthy. Just as I asked him what he thought he was doing, he knocked over the entire caddy, and spilled my seeds EVERYWHERE. All over the floor, all over the console…just, everywhere. There was not a single stupid seed left for consumption in the bag.

It’s a good thing I like the guy. Because hunger does strange things to a person. And when the relief of hunger is stripped away right before your eyes, it does even stranger things. Like briefly make it okay in your mind to kick the offender out of a moving ambulance at highway speed. Then turn around and run over him.

Like I said…good thing I like the guy. And the M&M’s he offered as an apology/replacement.

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.


The Enigma

I’m at home one day, undoubtedly doing something productive (ha!), when my cell phone goes off.

Probie To Practitioner: Hello?

Captain Enigma*: Hey, P2P, how are you doing? It’s Enigma.

P2P: Fine, thanks, and yourself?

CE: Good, good. Hey, give me a call back at the station, ok?

P2P: Wait, what? Like now?

CE: Yeah. Gotta go.


…Ok…So I give the station a call. Literally, it couldn’t have taken more than 10 seconds to dial the number.

CE: Grover’s Corners Fire Department, Captain Enigma speaking.

P2P: Cap, it’s me.

CE: Oh, hey how are you?

P2P: Good, thanks. So what’s up?

CE: Oh, nothing much. What can I help you with?

P2P: …You called me? So I’m calling you back…?

CE: Oh. Huh. I wonder….ohhh, right right right! Can you cover me later? Just for like 6 hours?

P2P: Yeah, no problem.

CE: I had something else to tell you…I’m not really sure now what it was.

P2P: Huh…I’m sorry.

CE: Oh well.


*Side note: Not a true captain. But the name sounds so much more awesome than just “EMT Enigma.” Kind of like a superhero with the power to baffle.

Prediction: The Next Rough Shift

It’s been eerily quie—–erm…..peaceful around these parts lately. Actually, for a disturbingly long amount of time. Some would assume that now would be the time to kick back, relax, watch some good ol’ ‘murican football, and enjoy the down time. But no. These stretches of silence make me uncomfortable. Life is a constant roller coaster of ups and downs…working in EMS is no different. For every prolonged shift of stillness means an interminable ass-kicking shift from hell.

Something like….a blimp and a pack of hang-gliding enthusiasts colliding over downtown. Followed by a cement truck colliding with a dump truck  colliding with a tractor trailer full of Japanese giant hornets. Next, we will have a paraplegic with CHF experiencing fluid overload, stroke-like symptoms, C. diff, and a UTI. We will be called back to that same house an hour later for the man’s cousin, who will have followed up the statement, “Hold my beer and watch this,” by swallowing three D batteries, and losing about 5 watch batteries up his nose. Just as we are making up the cot from that call, a man with a GI bleed will crash into a flock of turkeys…and just when he thinks he’s survived that, he will inevitably hit a deer. Or three. Meanwhile, all of the residents from the local nursing home will finally uprise and escape, taking the streets/fields by storm. Inevitably, in all the fuss, someone on the complete other side of town will call 911 for the man flu.

And that’s just going to be the first half of the shift.