For those of us who live this crazy life, share this insane passion for walking on the lunatic fringe day after day, the following is just another day… For those of you who don’t here’s a glimpse in what it’s like to spend a day under the lights…
0300 – The alarm clock explodes in the darkness, shattering the illusions of peace and quiet I enjoy in the tranquil place in my mind. My escape from the brutality of the real world in which we live is over. Dragging my all but lifeless carcass out of bed to the kitchen, the aroma of coffee just a half a shade lighter than mud makes its way to my nose…
One cup in… I open the closet containing my heavily starched uniforms and select one for the day, on goes the ballistic vest, the crisp white shirt, and the highly polished boots.
A gentle kiss to the forehead of the boys before leaving the house and 30 minutes later I pull into the garage. The rig is checked, necessary equipment gathered and we are out the door… 30 seconds, not even enough time to make it to the driveway and the radio crackles to life… Medic 8 I need you at…. for a man down… it’s 0408
Can you imagine the helplessness I feel as I check the pulse of the lifeless body on the floor, the feeling of inadequacy I’m filled with as I have to look up into the horror filled eyes of the man’s wife of 40 years, her barely audible pleas to save him blasting through the early morning silence like thunder.
I know it’s too late, and as much as I would like to clear the call and get back to that second cup of coffee in the rig; I give my partner that look – the one that says I know it’s hopeless, but we’re gonna work him for his wife’s sake. Without missing a beat the pads go on, the compressions and interventions start – not for the long gone soul lying between my knees, but for his wife, that she may feel some comfort in knowing everything that could have been done for him was.
We’ve known all along that we would pronounce this gentleman, all we’ve really done is prolong the time we have to decide which words to use to tell her. Knowing that she will hear them over and over in her head, likely for the remainder of her days, it’s no small task to figure out just what to say.
The helpless inadequate feelings have to be replaced with quiet confidence and the strength to reassure her when she starts wailing that if only she had found him sooner he might still be alive.
We pronounce the gentleman, and put ourselves back in service.
1/2 way to our assigned post – Medic 8 I need you at….. for an MVA with entrapment
As I reach into the twisted metal to help the firefighters extricate the battered and bloody teenage girl from the carnage caused by a full speed impact into the concrete divider, my mind wanders, wondering how I would react if this was my sister, my daughter, how would I react to the news of the accident?
30 minutes after they arrived on scene the fire crew has succeeded in freeing her.
Her soul beat her body out of that pile of twisted metal by at least 10 or 15 minutes.
She is pronounced on scene – this time we don’t go through the motions.
Loading the gear back into the bus my mind again flashes – to opening a door and finding a police officer standing there; his head down as if examining the shine on his shoes, his hat in hand, a voice that wavers ever so slightly as he begins “ma’am I’m sorry to inform you… ”
This time when we go back in service, we don’t even get an assigned post – Medic 8 I need you at…. for a 96 (psychological emergency)
Still not even 1/2 way through that second cup of coffee, we arrive on scene – the man standing there bleeding around his handcuffs isn’t happy to see us – he knows that our presence all but guarantees that his suicide attempt will be unsuccessful.
We load him into the bus and transport him non emergent to the local trauma center – 10 minutes of the most scorching verbal abuse I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to experience. (I went through Marine Corps bootcamp at Parris Island – so that’s saying something) I’m forced to put a spit hood on him, because no amount of trying to calm him or reassure him that I’m there to help curbs his deadly accuracy with his bodily fluids. The verbal lashing continues all the way there and through our hand off to the receiving facility.
The nurse who takes my hand off report only half listens, more concerned with what and who her fellow ED nurses did last night. When the doctor comes in she calls us “the ambulance people” and only gets 1/4 of our report right.
We are trained to not take the verbal abuse of our patients personally, and we are conditioned shortly after we enter the field to expect lack of respect and belittlement from some less educated “medical professionals.”
We are told to let it roll off our backs – in theory it works – in real life sometimes not so much. I’ll tell you with my voice that it didn’t bother me, that I’m used to it by now and we’ll crack a joke or two in a pathetic attempt at veiling our true feelings… if you listen to my eyes though they tell a different story.
The radio is full of life now, seems the city has started to stir and as it does it inevitably chews some of the residents up. We have to wait our turn to clear the hospital, and when we do we are immediately dispatched again.
Medic 8 I need you at ……. for a 45 female with chest pain.
More inappropriate jokes about 12 leads and hoping shes at least 1/2 way attractive en route. In other company the jokes would be seen as cold, harsh maybe even borderline perverse, for us its more of the same.
It’s almost sad now that I think about it the ways we mask the impact of the job, the masks we wear among the only other people who really understand what we go through.
Upon our arrival, we are straight faced and all business.
We find our patient lying on the couch, her husband trying to to keep their 4 children at bay while we enter. Two steps in the door and my partner and I share a knowing a look – she’s sick no question about it.
We work fast, running through our interview and packaging her for transport. She’s having a massive STEMI (non medical translation – REALLY BIG heart attack) the cardiac alert is called in and we make haste for the door. It’s almost funny how our training totally takes over and we lose all the humanity of our job when its a serious call. 1/2 way through the livingroom I’m reminded of the humanity as I feel a small little tug on my sleeve.
I look back wondering what I could have snagged my sleeve on and am met with the epitome of innocence, maybe 5 years old, tears streaming down his dirty face – his voice cracks as he speaks… “Mr is my mommy gonna be ok?”
It never ceases to amaze me when the bulletproof shell I have built around me breaks down, somehow its always at the times when I need it the most. I can’t look him in the eye, and I stand there for a second, trying to cough words around the lump in my throat, the tears well up in my eyes as I squat down and tell him she’s in good hands and I’ll do everything I can for her, but we need to get her to the hospital.
It’s hollow, it’s not what I want to say… I don’t have the time to give him an gentle embrace and I’ve been doing this long enough to know not to make promises I have no control over… I can’t explain how it isn’t up to me if she makes it or not, all I can do is try to get her to the cath lab before I have to work another arrest today.
She makes it to the cath lab and hopefully beyond – but I have more calls to run, I’m only half way through my shift I can’t take the time to follow up right now.
Six hours later – we pull into the garage – the afternoon was a little easier than the morning, not as much acuity to our calls and no more death notifications, so I’ll take it. We service the rig and get it ready for the next crew.
12 hours – no time for breakfast, no time for lunch and back to the barn 30 minutes past end of shift, another typical day.
The guys are all standing around talking about their day on the street – I’d love to talk some, maybe it would help to prevent some of the burn out I’m racing headlong toward – but I don’t have time…
I have class for the next 4 hours and if I’m lucky I can make the cross town drive and get there in time.
2200 (10 PM) class is over and in 30 minutes I’ll pull into my driveway – I’ll get my leftover dinner out of the microwave, and eat it cold like I always do so the beeping timer doesn’t wake anyone.
I stumble through the darkness careful to avoid any noisy toys so i can kiss my boys on the head before collapsing into bed at 2345 (11:45 PM)…
0300 will be here before I know it and I’ll have to it all over again.
For those of you who don’t live this life, or live with someone who does -I wish you could realize the physical, emotional and mental drain of missed meals, lost sleep, lost family time and forgone social activities that we all experience, not to mention all the tragedy our eyes see each and every day that we pull on our uniform.
I wish you could know the brotherhood we share and the satisfaction of having saved a life on the rare occasion when we get lucky enough to actually do that, the sense of purpose that comes from being able to be there in times of crisis.
Unless you have lived with one of us, you will never truly understand or appreciate who I am, who we are, or what this job really means to us…
I wish you could though.