Adventures In EMS
Reflections After Memorial Weekend
People in EMS are crazy. It is a pre-requisite of the job. If you are not crazy going in, you will either be turned or foisted out by your own sanity. We are among the crudest of folks as well as some of the most compassionate all wrapped up in an adrenaline pumped package. EMS is the extreme sport of jobs. Okay, maybe being a jet pilot is a bit more extreme, but you get the picture.
I am lucky enough to be an Intermediate EMT in a rural call area. This means firstly that I can stick people with IV's and intubate them (insert a tube down the trachea or esophogas, depending on the tool, to establish an airway) and secondly I get "play time" with my patients. Okay, that probably sounds dirty, but it isn't. What I mean is that, in the city, EMT's pretty much get vitals and dress wounds for the medics and everyone gets the patient for about twenty minutes. In rural EMS, I am in charge as there is no medic and we can spend up to an hour or more with the patient. And all of that means I get to actually practice medicine to my training. It's a terrifying thought, though, that I am literally in charge of life and death and I'm only 24. Don't worry though, I so can handle it.
That's perhaps the first example of the insanity that is in EMS. We are obscenely arrogant. Which makes a sort of sense, after awhile, we finally realize that while someone may be crunching numbers, or others ringing up merchandise, we get to flip those lights and sirens and live a life most people live vicariously through the television.
The primary reason that we are so devoid of sanity though has to do with the chaotic nature of our jobs. If you think the person best suited to the trials and tribulations of the sick and injured is the organized and anal, you've never been to an emergency. In order to grasp the flying reigns of this wild horse, we have to be able to function under any stress, the organized and anal crack quickly, like dry reeds in a heavy wind.
One of the downfalls of rural medicine is the call volume. It is low. Sometimes really low. We don't get a lot of calls from people unless they're REALLY sick or REALLY injured, or worst yet, REALLY afraid. And it seems people in rural areas are made of pretty hardy stuff. I knew one guy who got so annoyed at his friends and family stressing over an amputated digit, he tossed it into the sage brush, and went back to building whatever he had building. There's truth to the concept of "cowboy it up".
This weekend, Memorial weekend, has some of the highest call volumes of the year for my area, because the town I work in is a recreational town. This weekend I dealt with a horse-rider, motorcyclist, drunk, and elderly local lady. I called life flight twice, and transported a young man who would be arrested on the other end of his ambulance ride. Oh yeah, and flirted with a hot flight medic. Don't forget that. Because when all hell is breaking out, we poor crazy EMT's are in our element. It is the time when we are probably the purest forms of ourselves. People may be amazed that we joke with our patients. Let's face it, most of the things that put a person in an ambulance, besides illness that is, have some funny parts to it. Besides, laughter is excellent medicine, especially when your dealing with a twenty-something young man, fully aware that he's with an ambulance full women, and he can't help but cry. You get him to crack a smile, and he feels just a wee bit more comfortable.
And the last part of the crazy has to do with appreciation. Oh everyone appreciates the EMT's, while they're healthy. Everyone says they appreciate us when they're in our car. But most of the time, they don't. They expect us to come up in our noble steed of red and white and cure what ails them. The truth of the matter is that much of what we do does little to decrease their pain, and a lot to increase their discomfort. Ask anyone who's been on a backboard, had a broken collar bone or dislocated shoulder to have one of us splint them. It hurts, a lot. And out here, I can't give anyone pain meds, just a little oxygen. People in pain are not gracious, and nor do they need to be, but most people who face the onslaught of anger, frustration, and anxiety that we do, are miserable. And we couldn't be happier with our jobs. We hear that tone out, and it's like the world is a brighter place, not because we revel in someones pain, but because we get to be there to try and put them back together. We may say we do it to help people, and no doubth there's truth to that, but it's at least as much about the call as it is about the patient.
Stay tuned for more articles on the adventures in EMS.