Flight

Working for an aeromedical transport team wasn’t always a goal of mine. It wasn’t something I’ve always wanted since I was little (although there is a picture of my 3-year-old self wearing a medic’s helmet and grinning broadly in a helicopter in a photo album somewhere). It wasn’t part of the reason I got into EMS. But my fascination and desire to earn my wings grew steadily over my short medical career.

The first time I ever saw a flight crew, they were coming to pick up our patient in the hospital. My preceptor tried not to smile when he saw the awestruck look on my face. They  were  calm, and collected. They walked with a swagger into our ER. They asked these questions with big, fancy words. And, okay, I’ll admit it, they looked so cool in those swanky flight suits. As they loaded up and prepared to head back to the helicopter, a nurse asked one of our paramedics if he could help carry some equipment back to the bird. He agreed, before handing a bag to me. He knew how badly I wanted to watch a helicopter take off, and that I’d never seen one before. I carried the bag with pride out to the helipad, and watched with total awe as they took off. When I got back to the ambulance, my preceptor chuckled at my obvious excitement. I told him I wanted to be just like them. Always supportive, he told me that one day I could be.

To this day, watching helicopters take off and land through my classroom’s window is a great tangible reminder as to why my butt is growing numb in those awful plastic seats. I can do this. I will do whatever it takes, and I will get there. It won’t matter how many all-nighters I pull, how many tears I shed, or how frustrated I get. I will get there, some day.

Just imagine my elation when my old preceptor handed me a ride-along application packet for a aeromedical critical care transport service. When I was accepted, I marked the date down on my calendar. It gave me something to look forward to, amongst the boring clinicals, personal problems, and seemingly impossible countdown until graduation. Soon, I would finally get to spend a few hours living the life I wanted so badly.

That day has come and past. The experience was a mixed bag.

I loved the crew I was with. Everyone was so friendly. There was such a camaraderie, and it was everything I could have hoped for. It just made me want to be a flight nurse or medic that much more. I was practically shaking with excitement went the helicopter was pulled out of the hangar. Everything inside me lit up with happiness as we lifted off.

The flight made me feel a little funny. I wasn’t exactly nauseous or dizzy. I just felt that familiar general strangeness I get whenever I fly in airplanes. It’s not uneasiness or sickness. Just this very subtle difference. When we landed, we piled into the back of an ambulance. It wasn’t anything like the ambulances back home, but it was oddly comforting to me nonetheless. I was standing in the ER, maybe a full three minutes after we’d landed, when it hit. I was overwhelmingly nauseous and dizzy. I leaned up against the wall, and tried to pay attention to what was going on. (I wasn’t allowed to engage in patient care–even to help lift–anyway, so I wasn’t missed terribly.) Now I started shaking with nerves. What was I going to do? Here I am, feeling absolutely awful, and I still have two more flights ahead of me? There’s no way…

Oddly, when we got back into the helicopter, I felt fine. The patient was hardly labor-intensive, to put it lightly. But the nausea and dizziness just evaporated. The flight was flawless. Again, maybe three minutes after we’d landed, I felt that disorientation, dizziness, and nausea creep back into my body. Nobody else seemed to notice, but then again, I wasn’t needed or asked to do anything. I continued to feel crummy for the flight back to the hangar. Although I started to feel better back at the hangar, my stomach didn’t fully recover for an hour or so afterwards.

There were so many things I loved about my opportunity to fly. But, it’s all dampened by this huge overwhelming fear: what if I can’t do this? What if I’m extremely prone to being airsick? This isn’t something that can be fixed with better grades, more studying, more experience, or more certifications. This is something I can’t control. To be stripped of this dream terrifies me. It has completely flipped everything around. It’s made me question and worry about so much. I hate to have this goal, this dream, this desire that has fueled so much, be completely snuffed out. All because of one glitch in my stupid body.

I’ve talked it over with a few people who have flown. Most have told me not to worry about it. I had literally scarfed down an entire Tupperware container of ravioli in three minutes before the mission because I could practically feel my blood sugar dropping. (I hadn’t eaten all day because I was so excited…don’t do that.) I had slept three hours the night before, worked the entire day before, and slept another three hours the night before that. It’s safe to say I was pretty sleep starved and running off of pure adrenaline, excitement, and caffeine. I’d also never flown in a helicopter like that.

I’ve been told that practically everyone feels airsick at some point in their flight career. That I’m willing to accept and take as it comes. My fear is that airsickness is my baseline, but I won’t really have any way of knowing right now. Is it possible that my sickness (which oddly only happened after I landed) was mostly due to the fatigue, overly full belly, and inexperience? If it turns out to be a more regular thing, is this something you can “train” yourself out of? Would frequently spending time in a small plane help accustom me to being in the air? Could medications be effective?

I’m so desperate for any answers that will tell me that my dream doesn’t have to disappear. I just want a glimmer of hope or good news that says I don’t have to give up and throw everything away. That is perhaps the most devastating part.

Newbie A Newbie: What To Bring For Your First Shift

You took the class. Studied hard. Stressed for the exams. Took your national/state exams. Convinced yourself you failed all of them and wept softly into a pint (of Ben & Jerry’s?). Found out you passed. And then landed a job as an EMT. Congratulations!!!

It’s been a pretty stressful past few months. I wish I could tell you the stress was over. Honestly, it’s not. It just takes on a different form–albeit, a more enjoyable form (at least I thought so). Soon, you’ll officially be taking your first step as an official EMT: your first day on the job. I don’t know about you, but I had no idea what to expect. But, I’ve come up with a list of things that are pretty important to have with you on your first day. Without further ado…

 

A WATCH – Don’t try and tell me that you can ballpark a pulse by simply feeling it. I’m calling you out on that right now. That may be true of some experienced EMS personnel, but it’s not true of you (yet). Also, you’re going to be recording times on the procedures you perform, the medications you give, and the vitals you take. Sure, some ambulances have clocks in them. I can honestly say I’ve never been in an ambulance where they worked correctly for more than a shift. Just trust me here, and go buy a watch.

You can get whatever you want, but I have some personal preferences for watches. Firstly, I use an analog watch. Watching the seconds count off on a digital watch is just way too confusing for me. It’s like somebody saying, “23, 39, 0, 62, 11” when I’m trying to count. With an analog watch, I can count in my head and simply observe the time pass in segments. Also, I like a strap that I can disinfect and clean easily; namely rubber or plastic. Also, I prefer the band to be solid, as opposed to having links. You’d be surprised about the gross stuff that can collect in those nooks and crannies. I prefer my watch to be waterproof so I’m not constantly taking it off whenever I wash my hands. I also like one with a second hand that “ticks” instead of “sweeps”; I can’t accurately tell 15 seconds with a second hand that’s constantly moving (sweeps), versus one that ticks out every second. Lastly, I want something on my watch to glow–and not just because I’m like birds and small children when it comes to bright and shiny things. I work lots of night shifts, so I want either the numbers or the face of the watch to light up.

All that being said, I don’t buy crazy expensive watches. My favorite watch was $20, had all of features listed above, and I wore it every day until it broke after 2.5 years of wearing it. And, let me tell you, that thing took a beating. Figure out what works for you.

 

PENS – At least two, at a bare minimum. I go through pens like water. I’m constantly losing them, breaking them, or permanently lending them to someone. True story: I once found myself in the back of a rig on a call with no pens. Even my partner didn’t have one. So I wound up writing all my notes down in Sharpie. That was incredibly hard to read later on, and, frankly, pretty embarrassing. Don’t be that guy me. Always keep pens on you. No crazy colors either–a simple black or blue is good. Ballpoint pens are good, seeing how so many services use that carbon copy “Bear down because you’re making 7,238 copies” paperwork.

 

SOME CASH – Odds are, you’re going to get hungry. Or thirsty. Or under-caffeinated. Even if you’re one of those responsible people that packs snacks and a meal, unforeseen things happen. Your relief doesn’t show up on time…or at all. Your truck breaks down. You don’t have enough time to get all the way back to the station to grab your food. Besides, it’s amazing how overwhelmingly tempting it is to grab at least a little something when your partner decides to swing by Dunkins, or 7-Eleven, or Panda-Wok, or whatever. Keep a little cash on you…you never know when it’ll come in handy. Better to have it and not use it, than to not have it and need it.

 

PATIENCE – This one’s pretty simple, although it can be hard. EMS can be a pretty stressful field. Maybe it’s a call. Maybe it’s the weird hours. Maybe you don’t get along so well with your partner/preceptor. And, to add to that stress, you’re brand new! You’re still getting a feel for how things work. You’re getting to know your new coworkers. You’re getting used to being in a moving vehicle all the time. You’re trying to apply your textbook knowledge. You’re finding out that the real world and the classroom don’t always line up (You’ll probably first notice it when trying to take a blood pressure in the back of a truck. That was a shocker.) And, not for nothing, you’re doing it in a pretty high stakes environment. These are real people, with real lives. It doesn’t get much more overwhelming than that.

Remind yourself that you’re brand new. Your partner/preceptor’s actions and decisions are going to look so fluid and effortless. Meanwhile, you’re fumbling around, untangling the nasal cannula and praying that you put it on right. Trust me, your coworkers were once in your boots. It may  have been last year, or twenty years ago; but they were there. They were just as nervous, frustrated, and overwhelmed. All you need is time, experience, and the desire to learn.

The beautiful thing about being so new in your career is that you can pretty readily remember why you wanted to do this job. Remind yourself of that when you get down on yourself. Even the most seasoned paramedic with the entire alphabet after his name will have off days. You’re human, and you will make mistakes. What’s more, you’re a human who is trying something new. Expecting perfection is unrealistic. Cut yourself some slack, and commit yourself to learning.

 

SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE – Actually, this is the opposite of something to take with you. It’s something to leave at the door: your (excessive) pride. Like I already mentioned, you are going to make some mistakes. When your adrenaline takes over, and you start ventilating someone with a BVM at 60 breaths per minute, your preceptor is probably going to try to do something to correct you. He might not be super kind or subtle about it (If that happens, sorry. Maybe he’s having a bad day.) Don’t snap back. Don’t snarl, “I know what I’m doing!” When someone tries to teach you something, don’t wave them off–even if it’s something you already know. They’re trying to help you. They don’t know you, so they don’t know where to start. Most of all, ask questions. Don’t worry about sounding dumb.

While we’re on the subject, if you don’t know how to do something–say something. If I hand you a glucometer and say, “Can you grab a sugar for me?”, and you don’t know how to do it, tell me. That’s an easy fix. If you roll your eyes and say, “Uh, yeah,” and then spend 5 minutes unsuccessfully screwing around with the device just to prove you’re “not an idiot”…guess what? You’ve proven to me…well, I was going to say “that you are an idiot,” but that’s a little harsh. You’ve proven to me that you possess some traits that don’t come off very well when you’re brand new: lying, pride, and thinking you know it all.

Asking questions doesn’t make you stupid. It makes you seem receptive to learning. A desire to learn more about the field builds the foundation for other providers to trust you. It means that you care enough about what you’re doing to admit where your deficits are, and that you want to fix them. You care enough to want to be better. And that’s huge.

 

Alright, I’ve prattled on for long enough. Stay tuned for Newbie A Newbie: What To Bring For Your First Shift – Part II!

Angels

It wasn’t until we were in the truck and moving that I really noticed it. Those eyes. They looked so, so much like my grandma’s. The same cool, celery green that turned that softly blued in low light. I was torn between wanting to stare at those eyes for the duration of this trip, and wanting to look anywhere else.

Those eyes remained closed, mostly. When they did open, they pulled at my heart, reminding me both of the happier memories and the harder good byes. Her gaze drifted around the truck, never really focusing on anything. I couldn’t help but wonder if my grandma did the same thing when she rested on that very same cot, taking this very same journey. I absentmindedly wriggled my hand into hers and lightly squeezed. She very gently squeezed back. We continued on in silence, lost in our own thoughts.

Her lips moved, forming words I couldn’t quite read or hear. Her gaze still hung around me, not at me. I leaned closer, struggling to hear over the road noise. I asked her to repeat herself. She spoke just a little louder, but not quite loud enough. I asked one more time. She squeezed my hand. Quietly, shakily, but certainly, she answered.

“I see angels.”

My heart thudded in my chest. I asked, “What?” more out of disbelief than not hearing her correctly. She repeated herself.

“I see angels.”

It was reassuring, and shaking. Comforting, and shocking. Instilling hope and unease. I’ve seen people die. I’ve heard a loving last testament, spoken with the hope it would be passed on to those who were held dear. But this, for some reason, came as more of a shock. I don’t know what I do or don’t believe in. Maybe that’s why I can’t figure out how this feels.

To this day, I don’t know what to make of it, or my feelings around it.

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.”

Only One Pair of Gloves Per Call

“You must only use one pair of gloves throughout the duration of a call.”

I’m looking around the inside of the ambulance for a little plaque or a sign that says this. I already checked the protocol book…it’s not there either. I’m willing to bet a week’s pay that such a rule does not exist. So then why do people act like it does?

Let’s get specific here. Someone calls 911. You show up in your shiny truck with your partner. Turns out, the guy’s not feeling super well. In fact, he looks almost as icky as he feels. Poor dude. Better get him to the hospital and see if we can make him feel a little better. So you do your on scene assessment (and, assuming you’re doing it right, you’re touching your patient), load him onto the stretcher, put him in the truck, and help your partner get some things accomplished in the back.

After a few minutes, you look at your partner and say, “Ready to go? Need me for anything else?”

And he’ll say, “No thanks, buddy, I got it now. We can get going.”

“Righty-oh,” I hope you don’t say, and then get in the front of the ambulance and drive.

With your freaking gloves on.

The very same gloves that were just all over Mr Sicky back there. You pretty much just rubbed your patient’s body all over that steering wheel. And if you did something more invasive? Like check his BGL? Or start an IV? Or intubate? Or suction? Then his blood/saliva/vomit is all over that steering wheel too.

I don’t know anyone who ordinarily drives (non-emergency, like between calls) with gloves on. So, if you are in that category of people who puts your gloves on when arriving on scene, then doesn’t take them off until you’ve transported the patient to the hospital…then you just inadvertently exposed yourself, your partner, and anybody who drives that truck, to the very things that you wore gloves to protect yourself from.

Maybe I’m crazy. That kind of thing just drives me nuts. Take the gloves off–And throw them away!–when you get up front to drive. If you can use some sort of hand-sanitizing product after taking off the gloves, even better.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for where that sign is…

Quality of Life

“…This patient is a DNR,” The nurse mentioned in her report.

The newbie beside me gasped and whispered, “A DNR?? How awful! I can’t believe that.”

The nurse and I exchanged looks for barely a fraction of a second, before the nurse stated gravely, “Let me tell you what’s he’s been through, and maybe then you’ll understand.”

Let me begin by saying that I–and most EMS providers I know–are pro-DNR. I didn’t have to be in EMS too long before I started to truly understand why people wish to be DNR’s. “Quality over quantity,” many people say, focusing on the quality of life rather than the length. It seems many of us fear the chance of being “saved,” only to be in a permanent vegetative state, or disabled secondary to an anoxic brain injury.

Now, this patient we had received report on, in addition to an extensive medical history, had been suffering from severe brain damage for many years now. He now had the estimated cognitive ability of an infant.

I will admit to you that I’ve never really been comfortable with the mentally challenged. That might make me a bad person…it’s certainly not a trait I’m proud of. I think that those who do work with them are amazing, wonderful, gifted people. But I’ve always felt uncomfortable, awkward, nervous, and unsure around them. It’s almost a fear, for lack of a better term. I guess I just don’t know what to do, or how to act. So you could imagine my stress and uncertainty when I spent time with some mentally challenged individuals, such as the patient mentioned at the beginning of this post.

I know many (yeah, ok, myself included) would see a severely handicapped, mentally challenged individual like that, shake their heads, fill with pity, and wonder about that person’s quality of life. Maybe you don’t. You’re probably a better person than me. But that’s what that nurse did. It’s what I know at least a few others have done. And it’s what I did.

As I watched others interact with this patient, my fears, discomforts, and worries about being around the mentally challenged just slipped away. They played with him, chatted with him, playfully teased him about flirting with his “girlfriend” (one of the nurses), and touched his shoulders or hair. And you know what? I didn’t see suffering in his eyes. I didn’t see misery. I didn’t see a tortured soul, trapped in his body. I saw playfulness. I saw a smile in his eyes and on his lips. I heard his laughter. He was surrounded by caretakers who loved him and genuinely cared for him. Seeing him as a joyful, content human being forever changed the way I see the mentally challenged, as well as eased my discomfort and fears. I can confidently say that, to him, he had a great quality of life.

Overall, yes, I still support DNR’s. But for the first time, I saw the other side of the story. Is it where I’d like to picture myself? No. But that man, despite all of his medical issues, was happy, and he loved his life the way it was.

Just interesting food for thought, I think.

“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.

“Ma’am?”

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.

I’m A Girl. Not A Damsel In Distress

We had a call for a very elderly subject who was combative. It was one of those days where our resources were spread super thin. My BLS partner and I made up the only available ambulance crew in town, so we took the call.

While we’re responding, my male partner says to me, “Don’t worry, I’ll tech this one. I won’t be putting you in the back with a combative patient.” Now, this is a partner that I consider a friend. So I was a little taken aback.

“Okay, no problem…..you know I’ve had combative patients before right? And I was okay?”

He cuts me a sideways glance. “Well. Let’s just not take chances.”

We pull in, hear that police has cleared the scene, and start to unload our equipment. As we head into the building, one of the other ambulances whips into the parking lot. That crew is made up of an I-tech and and basic, both males. They grab a hold of my partner and head into the building, while yelling back to me, “No! Stay with the ambulance. We’ll handle this.”

What? I’m being booted off my own call? I’m being told to go wait in the ambulance until the boys sort this out? Seriously? Angry and hurt would be an understatement.

I’m about 5’8″ and around 130 lbs. I was a competitive swimmer for half of my life. So, yeah, I have a bit of a swimmer’s build. I’m not very big, and all of my muscle is lean and doesn’t add a tremendous amount of bulk to my frame. And, yes, I’m a girl. I’m not very intimidating to look at–I know that. But I’m not this delicate flower that needs protecting all the time either. I might not have been at this game for too long, but I’ve been on a few combative patient calls that–not for nothing–turned out to be much more aggressive and violent. I held my own, helped my partner, and treated the patient. Guess what? I didn’t cry, I didn’t hide, and I didn’t look around and hope to be rescued. And I’m still alive today, and still working in EMS.

I understand the need and desire to protect your partner. And I understand they were trying to look out for me, and their intentions were not malicious. In our down time, when I tell them about someone who pissed me off or emotionally hurt me, those guys half-jokingly offer to have my 30+ “big brothers” go beat someone up.

But the thing is, I have the need and desire to help my partner(s) too. We’re in this together. I don’t want to be “saved” or “kept safe” if it means my partner going in without me. Honestly, I’m offended. Is my help not good enough because I’m small? Because I’m a girl? I know they don’t want to see me hurt, but they shouldn’t worry about that any more than worrying about their male partner getting hurt. I’m capable of keeping myself safe, and helping out in situations like this. And I’ve proven that before. I am no more of a liability than any of the guys I work with.

I don’t know. That’s my big gripe for the day I suppose. Whining over.

The Flashers

Aha! That title certainly got your attention, didn’t it?

Anyway, this is another local greeting phenomenon more commonly observed in whackers (newbies, probies, FNG’s, etc.).

You’re driving along in the ambulance, responding to some 911 call. The lights are going, but you’re not flying anywhere really. Just cruising along, minding your own business, chatting with your partner about what the call might be like and what you should do for lunch later. Cars are obligingly pulling over (not really stopping, but at least slowing down) in the opposite lane of traffic. Things are alright. There’s a car approaching with the red fire half-plate. You and your partner raise your fingers in the courteous three-fingered wave as the car gets closer.

All of the sudden, BLAM! The car seems to have exploded into a flashing, glowing, retina-burning display of red and white lights. Shocked, you and your partner blink several times, attempting to clear the purple spots from your vision. If your vision clears in time, you’ll note that the guy never made an attempt at pulling over.

“What in the hell was that? Did a stoplight just fall out of the sky and explode on that car, or what?” Your partner asks, rubbing his eyes.

I never did quite understand that. Yeah, I mean, I get the whole “We’re part of the same gang” thing. Kind of a new spin on “flashing your colors” I guess. But the three-fingered wave should suffice. That’s a good, solid, brief interaction where nobody gets hurt. Why throw the lights in the mix too? Did you think that maybe, if you showed you were “one of us” you wouldn’t have to pull over? It’ll take like 4 seconds, I swear. You’ll get to where you’re going at the exact same time.

While we’re having this discussion, why do you have so many lights? Are the grills lights AND dash light AND visor lights AND mirror lights AND roof-top light bar (that was meant for a truck, but you drive a sedan, so it hangs over the sides by a couple inches) really necessary? If you’re responding to a call, and the jerk driving in front of you won’t pull over for your dash light, what makes you think they’re going to pull over if you add an additional 173 lbs of lights? It’s…it’s too much. I appreciate your enthusiasm, really, I do. But you’re going a teensy bit crazy there. Relax a little. Save your month’s paycheck for food or rent instead of more light equipment.

Don’t even get me started on the personal vehicles that “blat” or “whoop” their sirens at you in addition to the light show.

Long story short (Newbies, I’m talking to you), don’t be that guy. Don’t light everything up like a Christmas tree on the Fourth of July every time you see an emergency vehicle. It’s shocking, if not scary. And maybe even dangerous. And, frankly, kind of confusing. And then jerks like me will write blog posts about it. So stop it.

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

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