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Funny EMS Myths

Updated on January 1, 2015


Contrary to popular belief, calling 911 does not make a medical problem a medical emergency. Calling 911 will activate emergency services, but 9.752 times out of 10 an "emergency" is something that could have been handled, at home, with an over the counter medication, which is probably already in their medicine cabinet. No ER visit required. If they really want medical attention, they can go see their primary care physician, instead of taking a ride on the WAAAAAmbulance.

But no, we run out emergency, sirens blaring, lights flashing, stopping traffic, running lights and putting ourselves and everyone around us in danger, because the caller has:

A) Cut themselves shaving: Toilet paper, or if larger, a band aid

B) Sniffles/chest congestion/cough for 3 days: Robitussin

C) Acid reflux disease: Tums

D) a headache: Aspirin or Tylenol

E) Constipation: Stool softener

Not Pictured: An Emergency

Not Pictured: An Emergency
Not Pictured: An Emergency

Yet somehow, I have been dispatched to each of these "emergencies." I have cared for all of these patients, calming them, soothing their cuts, and wiping their tears. Then, common sense not having prevailed, transported these "critical" patients to the hospital.

I once transported a lady who just didn't want to be in the particular location she was. No medical complaint, just unhappy where she was. She can call a cab next time, thanks.


But It's Chest Pain

Even chest pain is no longer interesting. Everyone has chest pain. Hell, I get chest pain every time I respond to a "man down in the bushes" i.e. a sleeping homeless guy. About half the time, people who are having a heart attack don't even know it, no symptoms at all.

Most of the time chest pain isn't cardiac. Most of the time, it's acid reflux disease and the patient didn't remember to take their antacid. Or maybe they've been coughing for a week, which can cause pleural pain. Or a bruised rib. Or anxiety. It may be angina, which their doctor has prescribed nitroglycerine tablets for, yet inexplicably they have not taken these tablets.

None of those conditions are a heart attack, but they all cause chest pain.

If the paramedics arrive and think the patient's chest pain could be cardiac, they may be getting nitroglycerine anyway, in which case, they might enjoy a horrible headache. Nitroglycerine can cause excruciating headaches. It was featured in a House episode for this very reason.

Taking an ambulance will get me seen in the ER quicker.

There is a nugget of truth to this one, but the reality is different. Say someone calls 911 for the aforementioned bulls**t mentioned above, at 2 AM. The paramedics dragged themselves out of their station, came to the house, to deal with a life-threatening cough.

Look, a Taxi!

Look, a Taxi!
Look, a Taxi!

They get the patient onto the stretcher and lift him into the ambulance(all 300 pounds!).

And take him to the hospital. Which is overcrowded. Good thing he came in an ambulance. He will go right to the room...or a wheelchair and triage. Also known as the waiting room.

If the hospital is overcrowded, and the patient has the worst cough...EVER...he will go to triage like everyone else.

Paramedics can bring back the dead

Nope, sorry. Dead is dead.

Pictured: Dead

Pictured: Dead
Pictured: Dead
The Light
The Light

Most of the people we get back are witnessed cardiac arrests. The heart is still trying. We can try to fix certain heart rhythms with electricity - the old "college try." That flatline you see on TV....that's not a rhythm - nothing is going on in there at all. The patient doesn't get shocked here, and should get a sheet placed over them. Sometimes we can get them back, in which case the patient can enjoy a persistent vegetative state.

Make sure they grow towards the light.

You should always go to the hospital

Because we aren't doctors, we can't tell the patient if his hangnail is bulls**t. It could get infected, develop a clot. Once that clot breaks loose, it could migrate someplace important like your brain, heart, or lungs. This would cause a stroke, heart attack, or block other important things. In this highly improbable series of unfortunate events, the end result could be death.

So we aren't allowed to throw the bulls**t flag.

Sometimes we can try to steer the patient to making a good decision. But we can't come out and say that hangnail doesn't look like a life-threatening injury without breaking our protocols. That insect bite sure looks bad, because he's let it fester for 10 days and it now is infected, but it isn't an emergency...never was.

We may try to get the patient to go to the hospital, even if he's clearly in no danger, simply because we don't want to go back to his house later, for the same damn thing. If he goes to the hospital, you isn't calling 911 at 4 AM for the same damn thing he could have taken a taxi for a week ago.

Paramedics are caring and compassionate

We were once, right out of school. Repeated calls for toe pain beat it out of us long ago. Most of us are burned out to such an extent that the only thing that gets us excited is a stripper with a twisted ankle. The medical part of it just doesn't do it anymore.

Fiery Baby
Fiery Baby

We came out of school thinking we are going to rescue burning babies all day, and instead we find grandma with a nosebleed "on and off" for 3 days. Her bags are packed, because she knows she is going to be admitted and stay for a week. We should charge extra for carry-on luggage. And we take her, because she wants to go, and we can't legally say no. We are used to it, we expect it. It is now part of the job. You can either accept it and move on as part of the job, become a seething ball of hatred and fury, or turn to drugs.

You'd be surprised how many medics choose options B, C.

Paramedics can fix (Random ailment)

Nope, we can't fix an obscure disease that not even House, MD has heard of.

We can handle very few, and they are almost all true emergencies. If the patient actually is having a heart attack, we can help with early nitroglycerine and aspirin therapy, and get things started for the hospital. If he is having a stroke, and are within a window of intervention, we can help. Some breathing problems are also within our purview, but not a cough. Stuff like obstructed airway, COPD, Asthma, Congestive heart failure(basically drowning in your own fluid). Anaphylactic reactions, like when his trachea is closing up. Real Emergencies.

We can also give Benadryl for allergic reactions, because they don't sell that everywhere.

Vader was just starting an IV.
Vader was just starting an IV.

"We know what we're doing"

Most medics just don't care anymore. Those that do are either new or completely psychotic crackheads, wanting to save the world.

The new ones are the most dangerous. Just out of school, they've been taught to expect the worst. Pneumonia may get confused with a collapsed lung. They now want to stick a needle in the patient's chest, to decompress said collapsed lung. Sounds fun. Did I mention the needle is a 10 gauge, 3 inch needle in most cases? That's about an eighth inch diameter. Doesn't sound too bad, but remember this is going into their chest.

This one.

This one.
This one.

Speaking of needles

"I'm afraid of needles"

You would be surprised just how many guys with tattoos say that. Full sleeve tattoos. Hand tattoos. Lip tattoos.

They get this look in their eye, their lip quivers.

"Is that a needle?"


"I'm afraid of needles."

They confound me. How someone could have a procedure that repeatedly jams a needle in their arm for 30 minutes(or more), but still be frightened by a tiny needle?

It's like a blind person saying "I'm afraid of the dark," a dog groomer being afraid of canines, or Pamela Anderson being afraid of mirrors(maybe it's shame?)

867-530 niiiiiine
867-530 niiiiiine

Can I phone a friend?!

Now, combine the fact that it is better to have a drunk paramedic than one that was woken up at 2 AM during a 24 hour shift. This study shows it.

Yeah, unless I am in a dire emergency, I would phone a friend.

Not this friend.

Not this friend.
Not this friend.

There's a bill?

Yeah, most places the patient gets charged for this service. They are demanding immediate medical care and transportation to the hospital. That isn't cheap! Not even doctors make house calls, but Emergency Medical Services are at their beck and call.

Most patients never pay their bill.

The next time you are wondering why the US medical system is in the toilet, remember - only half of those who receive medical care are actually paying for it. If you are paying for your medical care, it means the person before and after you isn't.

Stop and say hi!

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    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      5 years ago from Europe

      I'm amazed at what constitutes an emergency in some peoples' heads, although, I don't think much happens in those particular heads.

    • Coffee-Break profile image

      Dorian Bodnariuc 

      5 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      Absolute entertainment your lens. I enjoyed it from start to end.


    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @sousababy: Awesome, I will look for it!

    • sousababy profile image


      5 years ago

      I'm just stopped by to say I created a new Pinterest board (and will create a thread in the forum) titled Rubber Chicken Award Contenders (Writers on Squidoo with the MOST Hilarious Pages). Everyday, I'll try to post one lens that "stood out" (yesterday was yours, today is one from another writer). Hope it helps . . Rose

    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @sousababy: Wow, thanks!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Another example of a system abused.

    • sousababy profile image


      5 years ago

      Nominated for a purple star too.

    • sousababy profile image


      5 years ago

      OMG, you are sooooo right about the apathy that sets in as the first person "on the scene" so to speak. I felt similarly, many times, as an ophthalmic assistant. LOL at the "stripper with a twisted ankle" quip and "make sure they grow toward the light." Fabulous work here.

      In Canada, they DO charge people for ambulance trips (still, that doesn't seem to deter these needless calls).

    • Meganhere profile image


      5 years ago

      Fantastic lens. Funny without being flippant. Very nice.

      I particularly like the comment about tattooed guys being afraid of needles. Whenever a woman says 'I can't stand the sight of blood', I think: Whaaat????

    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @Snakesmum: Humor is the only way I can really deal and cope with some of the more difficult aspects of my job. You just have to laugh about the silliness and wastefulness, otherwise you will cry about the tragedies.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      You've made this really amusing! It's sad though, that people act this way, burning out medics who are a really necessary part of society.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      One of the best pages I have read in a long time! I loved it - it made me laugh,I know how true this. lol

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 

      5 years ago from Texas

      My husband is a retired Houston Firefighter and I certainly have heard about many of the unnecessary runs that they have had to make. Keep up the great work though.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Besides calling ambulances, people often go to the emergency room for minor ailments and waste time and money. In some areas there are free medical advice centers called "Dial a Nurse" or something similar where you can call for advice to see if you need to see a doctor. And it doesn't hurt to have a medical advice book on the book shelf. I used mine quite a bit before the internet became so popular..

    • LaptopLeader profile image


      5 years ago

      Wow! Very interesting insights into the EMS. Never knew...

    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @clevergirlname: One of the interesting pilot programs allows medics to direct patients to follow up with their primary care doctors. This would make an unprecedented change in EMS, but it is only in trial phase now.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • clevergirlname profile image


      5 years ago

      That was a dark and comedic version of what's happening in the EMS. I had no idea anyone called for such asinine stuff.

      No wonder.


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