Why is it that when you first meet someone and they find out you’re a paramedic that the first question that usually pops into their head is: “What’s the nastiest thing you’ve ever seen?” Or they would respond with something along the lines: “I don’t get how you do it, all the crazy things you see.” Crazy things…yes, but what they’re all referring to is blood and gore. That’s what EMS is about right? That’s what paramedics do when they respond to 911 calls right? Good ol’ blood and gore. It’s not to say that there is no blood and gore involved. Yes, blood and gore is part of the business, but it occurs a lot less often than you think. Most of the time you’re a counsellor. Most of the time, you’re responding to non-emergency calls. Here’s a typical low-key, non-exciting and slightly frustrating day as a paramedic:
Call #1: You get a psych, who had a bit of fun with drugs the night before and is now in psychosis. Otherwise there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this fellow. You spend your early morning baby-sitting him till the police comes and you hand him off.
Call #2: You get a transfer. Yes you’re trained to respond to emergencies, yet you’re being used as a glorified taxi-driver. But it is what it is and you do the call with a smile.
Call #3: The hospital you just transfered your patient to, decides to snag you with another transfer back the way you came. You shrug, thinking, ‘Well I suppose it makes sense since we’re going back that way anyways’ and go about your jolly way. In the back of your head you’re thinking: ‘Okay, this is the last one, no more transfers for the rest of the day.’
The ambulance is running low on gas so you stop by a gas station to fill up while you quickly chomp down a snack. You decide to head down to the beach to enjoy some sunshine when dispatch snags you with a call when you are a block away. Damn! Almost made it there! This call better be good (and of course it never is)…
…Call #4: Routine for a foley-catheter issue. The nurses at the care facility can’t get the catheter in, so they call 911 to send him to the hospital. Next thing is, you find yourself stuck at the hospital because the staff wants you to take the patient back so as not to clog up a hospital bed. You’re technically clear of the call, but the hospital staff doesn’t want you to leave. The hospital staff then phones up dispatch where they do their little debate for 20minutes. You look around the ER bay and can see another five crews there all backed up. If there’s a real emergency right now, there will be no crews available in the area to respond. Frustrated? Check.
Call #5: You just manage to gobble down a lunch when you get called for another foley catheter issue. Someone’s feeling backed up. Emergency? Not really.
Call #6: An elderly lady got in a fight with another elderly lady at a nursing home and had her skin torn off. You put on a gauze and bandage it up and listen to the angry lady curse all the way to the hospital.
Call #7: Another crew called in for a lift assist which you’re more than happy to help out.
Call #8: Call came in as shortness of breath, but really it was just a man having an anxiety attack.
Call #9: Comes in 30 minutes before shift ends for a lady worried about her high blood pressure because it was 20mmHg higher than two hours earlier. You want to tell the lady to throw away her little wrist BP cuff and to lecture her on blood pressures, but instead politely offer her a ride to the hospital for a check-up since she insists. Now you’re in overtime and you’re going to be late for your dinner with your family.
So what will I tell the next person who asks me. “What’s the nastiest thing you’ve ever seen?” Well, I’ll tell them the nastiest thing I’ve ever seen, because hell, it’s way easier telling that story than the reality above.