Adventures in EMS: Close to Home
Have you ever been affected by the actions of a drunk driver? Can you forgive them?
Have you ever driven when you might have failed the breathalizer?
I have always had a certain kind of contempt for drunk drivers. To me it was a high ranking crime. Partly because of the act itself being so deplorable, but also because, in my job, I see the gory repercussions. I know the statistics, but I also see the reality. Most people who drink alcohol, whether or not they admit to it, have driven when they might not have been as sober as they should. Even I can admit that I misjudged myself on a certain afternoon or two where the wine was a bit headier than I expected. Because of that, I have become almost OCD about when I allow myself to drive after drinking. When I am with friends, I am just as OCD about their drinking and driving habits as I am about my own. I have harassed and harangued my friends when they have mentioned driving a bit buzzed, and I always offer to drive.
I have openly admitted to showing virtually no sympathy to drunks on calls. I have been absolutely willing to use larger gage needles than truly necessary (they tend to hurt more), be less willing to make them as comfortable as possible, and to generally being a compassionless person. I am not proud of it, and I don't know how much I've changed, but I've opened my eyes a little.
A little over two weeks ago, a friend of mine was the drunk driver. I had told him more than once that he would hate himself if he ever hurt someone. There was no other vehicle, but he did have a passenger. And I was right. He does hate himself. I told him that I would pity the families he affected, and leave him to his own devices. I was wrong. I watch him hate himself more than anyone else does. The passenger is his friend, roommate, and is doing well. The passenger doesn't hate him, or even blame him. I suppose I do pity the family that he affects, because it is his own. So far the only reprimand I have passed down on him has been for his openly self-destructive behavior in front of his family, telling him they don't deserve that. He too used to be an EMT and has shared the experience, even the medical and police reports with me, and I wonder, how would I have treated him, my best friend, if I hadn't known him.
The police officer on scene pulled him out without regard to a potential spinal injury even though there were clear indicators of probable head/neck trauma by the scalp laceration and "spider web" cracks on the windshield (neither man was wearing a seat belt and only the airbags kept them from being ejected). In addition to that obscene negligence, it must have been excruciating, and, by default, loud, as the officer jostled his injured hip (dislocated, a highly painful injury that takes an awful lot of force to produce). Its difficult to ascertain what happened on the call besides the clinical details, because my friend had a concussion induced memory loss of the event. But they did stick a few IV's on him, and I know many a medic and EMT who, like myself, doesn't mind if that's going to hurt a drunk. I know with certainty that I would have done everything I could for his medical problems, but not necessarily for his comfort. He remembers the pain being a 10/10. With two doses of pain meds, he finally went down to a 9/10. They couldn't give him morphine because it is a respiratory depressant, and alcohol is a depressant; but did they give him enough? Could they have given him more?
Like a smoker, it seems publicly acceptable to ridicule and loathe a drunk driver. After all, we all know the devastation it can cause. But I can not bring myself to loathe my friend for his heinous behavior, in fact I try to soothe him, to make his own self-hate less. I think, "I know my friend is a good person, so surely some of the other drunks out there are actually good people too." It is hard to shift your opinion. Harder still to shift a fairly justified opinion. After all, it is sheer luck that he didn't kill anyone. It could have easily happened. Would I have hated him then? Is there a line between luck and hate? He behaved in the exact same way as the drunks who end up killing people, he just hit a pole instead of a car. But I don't hate him now. I can't hate him. So I can hardly hate the ones whose luck falls on the other side, the ones who not only destroy lives, but destroy their own. So the next time I work on a drunk, I'll think of my friend, and treat him like every other patient.