“ That we have been granted a unique privilege by society, to enter into individuals most private lives (to share their most intimate thoughts, feelings, emotions and sorrows) it is a rare privilege which we think so little of and teach so little about in our medical schools, yet it is central to everything we do”
– Fisher “Back To Happiness” 1987
Those words resonate with me at the level of my very being. It is something we so often take for granted. I wonder how many of us stop to actually think about it…
Think about what it is like for someone to call 911 – to know that regardless of who shows up, the police officer, the fire fighter, the paramedic – regardless of who it is – they are opening up their entire life; to you… their home, the most sacred aspects of their lives – mostly without limitation because the situation is out of control for them and they need help…
That is what we do everyday, when we go on 911 calls.
There is an awful lot of gravity to that – what an incredibly special a privilege that is.
Speaking only for myself – I am not a very trusting person, I do not welcome strangers into my home – in fact I am VERY thankful the state I live in has a “Make My Day Law” – I feel strongly about that personally…. But when I need help; I’m calling 911 and no matter who shows up it’ll be “by all means, come on in.” All of a sudden everything flips, because I feel out of control in the situation and I ask for help.
It is all of us that are put in the position to help those people – I hope we always remember what a truly special opportunity that is…
It is a delicate line we walk each and every time we put on our uniform. That fine line between EMT or paramedic/patient relationship and public safety.
Where do lines of confidentiality begin, and end… where are we willing to blur them a bit? ARE we willing to blur them at all?
Due to HIPPA laws we are not allowed to tell the police officer how many drinks our “drunk driver” patient admitted to… but in the interest of public safety do we allow the officer to stand at the back door of the rig and listen to the responses our patient gives to our assessment questions? Do we ask the officer to ride along for “our safety” so he can get the information he needs for his investigation and we don’t breach HIPPA laws? Or do we steadfastly protect the privacy of that patient and close the doors of the bus behind us when we get in and tell the officer he can meet us at the hospital and do his investigation there?
What is the right answer to that question… both options are completely legal – and neither is necessarily right or wrong.
What about the call you respond to for chest pain and see a huge pile of cocaine on the coffee table? Does that change the answer, does it influence your judgement?
I’m not talking about the “mandatory reporting” issues those are clear-cut… I’m talking about those calls that fall squarely in the middle of that grey area.
Where do your ethics draw the line between respecting that immense privilege you are granted in being allowed into someones most sacred and private places and the general safety of the public? Have you ever thought about it?
It was suggested that we think about these tough decision type of calls ahead of time, so that we can make a split second decision we can live with when we are called upon to do so.
In theory that sounds like a damn good idea, however, I wonder if that isn’t like playing “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” on your couch… It’s easy to find the answers when there is no pressure…
When there isn’t $ 1,000,000 on the line and no lifelines left I can right off the top of my head tell you that Dr Ignaz Semmelweiss is the Hungarian obstetrician that required his students to wash their hands in an antiseptic chloride solution before examining patients, and because of that simple task, maternal death rates plunged from a high of 18 percent to a low of nearly 1 percent in 1847. (Our pharmacology instructor is a big fan of “cocktail party trivia”)
I wonder if the memory of that particular nugget of information would come quite so easily with the spotlight shining on me under all the pressure a game show contestant feels…
Is coming up with answers to these difficult ethical questions any different? Isn’t it easy to know what the right answer for you is sitting there at your desk reading this? Isn’t it easy for me to say “well this is what I would do” hiding behind the blinking cursor of this blog?
I’m not by any means suggesting we should never think about these things… more that, I’m not sure we can answer them with any degree of certainty until it is OUR feet that are being held over the fire.