911 Operators and Dispatchers, My Ride-a-Long in an Ambulance
Starting the Day
When I got to Medic 12's station, I was immediately put to work checking and cleaning the "bus".
The ambulance was a freight-liner, larger than I imagined and ran on diesel fuel. While in the bay it was plugged in. The power is called a shoreline and it helps charge the batteries and the equipment in the truck. Every morning they do an inventory of all the medications, and pull the ambulance out of the bay to give it a good wash.
One paramedic showed me where the backboards and orange vests were kept, and I wondered if I really wanted to go to a car accident. But then I remembered I'm okay with blood, its vomit that gets me. I usually mercy puke.
The ambulance crew work 24 hour shifts. One day on and two days off. Since I worked a 12 hour shift, I only rode for 12 hours.
What to Wear
Working 24 hours a day, the crew has a different uniform for days and one for nights.
The day shift wore the BDU Cargo pants with a button down white shirt. Very professional, with the appropriate emblems and patches. The pants had the pockets that held all the necessary tools as well as the cutting off the clothes in a car accident scissors.
At night they wore a jump suit. This way they could sleep comfortably until the tones in the station went off indicating the had a call. It can be worn over casual clothes and easily pulled on, or worn partially on and then pulled up in a hurry.
The First Call
I arrived at the start of the shift, 0700 hours. We cleaned the bus, and by ten hundred hours we were relaxing in the station.
Relaxing until the LOUD BLARING TONES jumped me out of my skin! The paramedics were used to it, and immediately went into action. Quietly getting ready so they could listen to the details of the call as the dispatcher aired it over the Plectron radio.
"Adult female, conscious with difficulty breathing"
Our ambulances run lights and sirens on chapped lips, so this was no exception. I was glad to see that discretion was used as we blared through the streets, slowing to almost a stop to see if we could get through the intersection safely.
We arrived at a tiny little house in a not very good part of town. When we walked into the home, immediately to the left of the front door was a bed. A bed with a tiny little human being, attached to oxygen already, her body in a cerebral palsy like spasm, moaning and groaning. Her mother and another adult male in the home, explained that she was non-verbal and only moaned like that when she was in pain. Her breathing was gurgle like, as if she was trying to breath and use mouthwash at the same time.
As I looked around the home, I was shocked to realize that my two car garage was probably bigger than the entire house. "There but for the grace of God," I thought.
My heart went out to this family and the patient as the paramedics spoke in soft soothing voices. "We're going to take care of you sweetie," and "Nice and easy" as they loaded her onto the stretcher.
One paramedic stays in back with the patient when transporting, so I got to ride shot gun to the hospital. Although paramedics are allowed to use discretion as to when to run code, it is usually reserved for unconscious and trauma alert patients. However they did not take their time. I was so proud of my paramedics. They were professional, empathetic and courteous.
It was a somewhat solemn ride back to the station, as one medic finally stated, "Not a fun call."
Have you ever been transported to the hospital in an ambulance?
The Second Call
About an hour into being back at the station. Just enough time to settle back in and pop a soda, the BLARING TONES SOUNDED again. "Well it would take me a while to get used to those tones" I thought as I peeled myself off the ceiling.
"Unknown age male, conscious and breathing, down on the floor of the funeral home."
Oh boy. I'm not sure we had the exact same thought as we looked at each other getting into the ambulance, but I bet it was close to, "This will be interesting."
There were people in the gravel parking lot to greet our arrival and direct us into the funeral parlor. A small place with a very tiny aisle between pews lay a large adult male sobbing like a baby. The open casket was up front. There was no way a stretcher would even fit through the aisle, much less the three of us trying to approach this man. So I held back and one paramedic went up to him.
I don't really know how he did it, but I was a proud dispatcher again to see my paramedic help this man to his feet. He was calming down. He was led back to the enclave, and after taking his vitals, he refused treatment and we headed back to the station.
The Third Call
The third call came in after a somewhat rushed lunch. The pace of my chewing fell in line with the paramedics. Rushed just like a 911 operator or dispatcher does and I can only assume because many a meal had been interrupted by those BLARING TONES!
My lunch was digested and I didn't jump quite so high this time.
"Male, conscious and breathing, burns to the feet."
When we arrived at this home, we were directed to the back. Again, not in a great neighborhood, the ground was gravel and a large man was standing there barefoot.
He was angrily yelling and screaming and the crew told me to stay back. This was probably a call in which we should have waited for the police, but somehow that information was unavailable and not relayed. And in defense of my fellow co-workers, a call taker is only as good as their caller, a dispatcher only as good as the information they receive.
My paramedic spoke into his radio to have police respond. This was due to a domestic violence situation. Apparently his other half was quite upset, and took a lighter to his feet. Maybe he was being a couch potato for just a little too long, or maybe she just wanted him to take out the garbage and he refused. I really don't know, but he obviously did not need an ambulance.
The police eventually arrived, the patient signed off, and we rode lightheartedly back to the station.
My Last Call
Around 1600 hours the TONES BLARED again.
My heart only leaped a bit this time.
"Elderly female, conscious and breathing, psychiatric patient, violent, stand by for scene secure."
The address was a retirement home, and the dispatcher added that security was with her. By the time we arrived the police were there too.
This tall elderly red head was quite calm, but wanted to "leave this place." Her face was deeply wrinkled and her voice was raspy like the smoker I found out she was. In fact this was the whole reason for the call.
When we got to the hospital, there was quite a wait. She was not having any difficulty breathing, nor did she have any smoker related health issues. So I sat and talked with her while one paramedic did paper work and the other flirted at the nurses station.
She told me that they were at dinner and she wanted a cigarette. When she was refused she upset the chair and threw a few things. She went on to tell me that the only way she will take her medication is if they let her have a cigarette. She had managed to have her purse with her and pulled out her pack of Winstons to show me. When she opened her purse I could see it was completely full of all kinds of things. She pulled out an 8x10 glossy photo of herself. It was black and white and creased in the middle from being folded, but the picture was her as a young pin up girl in a one piece bathing suit. This looked to be from the Betty Grable era and she was stunningly beautiful.
She told me she won a beauty contest and that she did not get along with her son. She talked quite a bit, repeated herself often and I was absolutely fascinated.
I'm not sure why they admitted her but they did, and once again, we went back to the station.
After 12 Hours
My 12 hours was up, and although it was only four calls, I was exhausted. This was not routine for me like it was for the paramedics. I guess I was lucky not to have back to back calls that some paramedics work through, evidenced by still being in their night jumpsuit when they should be in their day uniform.
I gained new insight - with everything from the tones, the timing of the voice over the plectron, to learning what the paramedics do on scene. Having these visuals allowed me to create more vision in my head when I'm behind the dispatch console.
I absorbed as many details of the day as I could and left feeling so proud to work for such professionals. I promised myself that I would remember everything, put all that I had learned to good use behind the console.
How would you rate the paramedics you've come into contact with?
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