Taking On Fire

All names and locations have been changed.

I was still an EMT and was working a 48 at a hospital-based service in the middle of nowhere. It was one of these places where you can’t even get a cell phone signal, where football on Friday night shuts the entire town down, and where God has to provide a pipeline for the sunshine. Most shifts were fairly uneventful at this place. I spent more time helping in the ER than I did running calls on most shifts. We didn’t see a whole lot of action but when the poo hit the fan, it hit hard.

My partner and I had just finished lunch and were flipping through the channels on the TV. The other crew had just left town on a transfer from our hospital to another facility so we were the only truck available in the county. The phone rang and I got up to answer. “Mercy EMS, where is your emergency?”

“This is Central, we need every truck you have to respond to the Bates Motel!”

I start writing down information. “Ok, we are the only truck in the county right now. What’s going on there?”

“Just go! Now!” I put my pen down. “Ma’am, tell me what’s going on.” “Just go!” The dispatcher hangs up.

I tell my partner what’s going on. “Do you want to go in blind?” He said, “Well, we might as well.” Before we could even get out the door, Central was calling us back and asked what was taking so long. “Listen, there is only one ambulance in the county, my partner and I are it. We are leaving right now if you will stop calling so we can leave!” She hangs up again and we go en route.

The Bates Motel was not far from our facility. It also was not far off from the depiction of the real Bates Motel. Nasty, shady looking, the works. We pull in and quickly realize that we are in the middle of a bad situation. And then we realize how bad it really is. Cops everywhere, guns are drawn, they are pointed toward a room, and three patients that we can see.

With no advanced warning, in spite of the dispatcher knowing was going on, we were right in the middle of a hot scene.We look at each other and partner says, “Scoop and run!”

We looked at each other and my partner says, “Scoop and run!”

A very quick field triage was as follows: One green, one yellow, one red, zero black.

We got them all into the truck and I haul ass out of there. “Medic 51 to Mercy ER.” The nurse answers, “Go ahead 51.” I key the mic back up, “We are coming in hot with three gunshot victims, we had to get out of there quickly due to shooter being on the scene, ETA 2 minutes.”

After we got back and I was able, I called Central back about that call. “Hey, just so you know, my partner and I did not appreciate being sent into a war zone without any advanced warning. You knew what was going on, you should have told us!” She cops an attitude, “It’s your job to help people and to go into those scenes!” Incensed, I retorted “No, it’s not! We don’t have guns, we don’t have vests! We are supposed to wait for the cops to clear the scenes and you know that! If you ever pull that kind of junk again, you better hope I don’t get hurt. That will be the worst day of your life!” She shoots back, “Well, a kid was shot!’ “And what good would we have been to her had we been shot?!”

The idiot had no response.

“Exactly. Next time, use your brain.”

The next day I left and received a phone call from my supervisor. “Don’t come in your next shift. You’re suspended for the way you talked to that dispatcher. And if the administrator wants to fire you, I will not have your back. You’re on your own.”

I sure enjoyed that unexpected week off. I slept soundly.

Invasion of the Pussy Cat Snatchers

llxcowmThe shift had been particularly busy. I had been on three out of town transports with a whole bunch of in-town 911 calls and transfers in between. My partner on this day was particularly salty because he had worked at his other job the day before and had zero sleep.

At some point in the early evening, he let his frustration be known. “This is bullshit! I need some sleep!” I was tired too, as in case he didn’t know it I had been running my ass off all day too. “While I understand that you have been up longer than I have, you’re not the only one on this box who wants some downtime.” He muttered something under his breath, and frankly, I don’t care what it was. I was just glad that we were on our way back to quarters and that there were some other units in front of us in the rotation.

A couple of hours later, dispatch tones out our unit. “Medic 51, respond to 76 Burch Street for a 35-year-old female complaining of vaginal bleeding.” We go en route and I’m pulling up the CAD on my Toughbook. “Hey, wait a minute. I know whose house we’re going to. She’s batshit crazy. I can almost guarantee you that this is a psych call.” My partner, still half asleep and fighting to keep the rig on the road, seemed to disagree. “Bullshit. We’re about to deliver a baby.” I shot him a dirty look as we went on-scene.

The house was the one I pictured. I ramshackle crack house in the middle of the ghetto. As I was about to get out of the truck after plotting how I was going to move around the three vehicles of assorted functional ability, the screen door came open, a woman came running out, and into the side door of my truck she bolts. I was obviously taken aback and shot my partner a surprised look.

I joined my patient in the back, finding her already lying on the stretcher. Not one indication of pregnancy or vaginal bleeding of any significance was noted, so I start questioning her. “Hi, Stephanie. Remember me?” She nods. “Yes, you took me to the E and R last time. The doctor said I had a cold.”

“Exactly, a waste of my time” was my thought. I then said, “Yes, that was me. So, what’s going on today?”

Stephanie holds her stomach and looks up at me. “Aliens came to my room tonight and they… did things to me.” Trying to keep myself from laughing, I ask her what the aliens did to her to make her need my help. She gets a very serious look on her face and says, “They stole my pussy cat.”

Silence. I could not speak. If I had opened my mouth, I would have started laughing my ass off.

Finally, I regained my composure while my partner just shook his head and got up front. I asked, “Stephanie, are you talking about the kind of pussy cat that goes ‘meow’ or are you talking about the one between your legs?” She says, “My pussy, my stuff. Let me show you.” She starts to unbutton her pants and I tried to tell her that it’s not necessary.

Too late. The pants are off and she is spread-eagle on the cot. “See! It’s gone!”

I assured her that her anatomy was there but she insisted on going to the hospital. After covering her and belting her in, I gave my radio report. “General, we’re coming in with a 35-year-old female whose chief complaint is missing genitalia secondary to a close encounter of the third kind. No sign of injury noted all body parts are intact. Vital signs within normal limits, we will be there in five. Any questions?” The nurse on the other end takes a moment to key the radio back up. “Nothing further. We can’t wait for you to get here. General clear.”

I couldn’t help but notice the laughter in the background.

After she’s dropped off and we return to base, my partner said, “Thank God it wasn’t a baby. It would have been like that scene in ‘Men In Black!'” He did not like being reminded that childbirth is an EMT skill, not a paramedic-only skill.

And thankfully, we slept the rest of the night, though I did dream about aliens who claimed to be here for our pussy cats.

My First Ghost

All names and places have been changed.

The ink on the card that the NREMT had send which read “Paramedic” was barely dry when I acquired the first of what I call “ghosts.” Ghosts are what I call the patients that I have who will always stay with me and that I think of almost every single day. For many reasons this was a day that I would never forget… but it’s one that I wish I could.

It started out easy enough. This was one of my first shifts out of orientation at my service and I had just clocked in. I was met by my partner for the day – Kirsten – with her usual bear hug. “Dude! Congratulations. I can’t believe I get to work with you as your partner now.” I smiled, “Yeah, let’s hope it’s a good day.” While I was checking off the truck we made small talk about where to grab breakfast in a few minutes. Soon I was joined by an EMT student from the community college who was assigned to my truck for her clinical rotation. As Kristen and I are showing her the equipment, the tones drop.

“103, respond to Elm Ridge Apartments, apartment 47. 8 month old female, un-witnessed cardiac arrest. Fire department is en route.”

I look at Kristen and utter the first word that came to my mind: “Shit!”

We respond and hear the crew chief go en route in the sprint. We arrive and as I’m walking up the stairs a firefighter comes running down holding a blanket wrapped… something. “Bring her to the truck.” I open the side door and he places the lifeless little one on the cot. I begin setting up for an IO while Kristen puts the monitor leads on her. To say that I have tunnel vision during this time would be an understatement. I tell the student to begin compressions and I am about to drill the infant’s leg. I start going over the PALS protocols in my mind.

(Thinking): “Ok, let met get this IO going and push some Epi… Fuck, what’s the dose? Gotta get a tube in… Why isn’t she compressing?!”

The crew chief has joined us by this point and can tell that I have total tunnel vision. He looks at me and taps me on my shoulder. “Stop. Take a good look and look at what’s going on.” I regain some of my composure and take a look.

Quickly, I realize the gravity of the situation. She’s cold. She has rigor. She’s dead.

Fighting back tears, I key up the radio and call for the coroner. PD has arrived by this point and have begun talking to the parents. I jump out to deliver the bad news. This is news that no one should ever have to hear, and damn sure should not have to deliver. I ask them their names and their daughter’s name and begin talking to them as gently as I possibly can. “Kimberly has been without a heartbeat and any breathing for quite some time. I’m so very sorry but there is nothing we can do for her. She’s gone.”

Needless to say, they become quite upset and I comfort them as best as I can, all the while trying to fight my own grief and hold back my own tears. These people have just lost their treasure, their gift from God, their little girl. And here I am, an uninvited and – at this point – seemingly unwelcome spectator to the initial stages of their grief. I feel utterly powerless. I am unable to even attempt to do what I have trained for over a year to do because there is simply no point. It was too late.

I was too late.

Eventually we transport Kimberly to the morgue. Mercifully, the rest of the shift was mostly uneventful, a true gift from God if you ask me. Later that night after I talked to my wife, I went to a secluded spot at the station and sobbed. The weight of this call was squarely on my shoulders and I needed to let it go.

To this day, there’s rarely a day that I don’t think of Kimberly. For months I would regularly see her lifeless face whenever I closed my eyes. This eventually passed, but the memory of this event has left me a little more broken than I was previously.

Kimberly: My first ghost.