A lot of us in EMS have a twisted sense of humor, myself included. Some of the things we joke about would most likely be construed as repulsive to an outsider. It is difficult to explain to people that are not associated with EMS the stuff that goes on behind closed doors. Most of the time I don’t even try. So, I use humor as a means to manage the surge of emotions associated with some of the tragic things I see. The way I look at it..if I am too busy laughing then I don’t have time to be sad. So, it should come as no surprise that we even have our own little games we like to play.
Too Drunk For Detox
“….units en route to the man down…patient is a thirty year old male, highly intoxicated. PD requesting an ambulance…”
Another person that is ‘too drunk for detox.’ I figure this will be the name of a country and western song someday. Even though we are en route for what will probably be a relatively easy, garden variety ‘too drunk for detox’ dispatch, it is the repeated exposure to calls like this that have a way of wearing on my soul. Seeing yet another person – or maybe someone we have picked up many times before – whose life has deteriorated to such an extent that they drink until their liver is the size of a football, can be depressing.
“What’s the wager today?” my partner asked.
“Lunch,” I answered. “I’m hungry.”
“Can we go some place good this time?” he asked. He was obviously unimpressed with my choice of eatery the last time I had to pay off a debt.
“How many Big Macs can you eat?” I asked. “Besides, Chinese gives you gas and I am NOT living through that hell again.”
“Fine,” he said grudgingly, knowing he had no plausible defense.
“I’ll even let you pick first,” I offered generously.
“I am going with point three four.”
“I will say point three nine.”
“Same rules?” he asked.
I nodded agreement. Whoever guessed closest to what the patient’s blood alcohol level was without going over won the bet. If you guessed it right on the number then your partner had to send a company-wide email extolling the virtues of their partner. Depending on the partner, sometimes those emails were rather short.
It turned out the patient was, indeed, a run-of-the-mill drunk at 11:30 AM on a weekday. His blood alcohol level was .41…way too drunk for detox. We transported him to the nearest hospital. The bet was a push. We ate at McDonald’s anyway.
Guess That Language
“…units en route to the medical emergency…a strong language barrier exists. We are trying to gather more information. P.D. is en route, also. Continue emergent for now..”
As is human nature, birds of a feather flock together. (Yes, I know. I said human nature and then used an animal cliché. So what.) With so many emigrants coming into the United States from dozens of different countries, the number of languages we were being confronted with totaled into the hundreds. However, because birds of a feather DO flock together, and depending on the address of the dispatch, I could guess with a reasonable amount of certainty as to what language we were going to encounter.
“I’ll betcha a dollar the patient speaks Shona,” I said as a matter of fact. I had an advantage because I knew the town better than my partner, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try and get a dollar off of him.
My partner gave me a puzzled look. “What makes you think that?”
“Call it a hunch.” It was quiet for a few moments. I needed to set the hook. “There are, like, a billion different languages in the world and I am picking just one. Do we have a bet?”
“Why do I feel like I am about to get screwed?”
“Fine,” he said.
Then dispatch said, “Units en route to the medical emergency…patient speaks Shawna…”
Without keying the microphone, I yelled at the radio, “Shoooona. Not Shawna. Jeez, everyone knows that.” Then I keyed the microphone and said in a calm voice, “Copy update.” Then to my partner, “You owe me a dollar.”
“How did you know the language?”
“Look at the address,” I said. “It’s in the middle of the block on the west side of the street. If you are from Zimbabwe, chances are you live in that apartment building. Most people from Zimbabwe speak Shona.”
The birds-of-a-feather theory is not racist. It is common sense. If I moved to a different county, you better believe that the first thing I would do is find people that spoke my language…and then I would find a cheeseburger.
“I’ve been to this apartment building a hundred times. It was a sucker bet.”
“I see that now. Do you speak any Shona?”
“Hell no. I still struggle with English.”
“I don’t trust you anymore,” my partner said and shook his head.
“You’re young. You’ll learn. But you do owe me a dollar.”
When and Where
“Units en route to the cardiac arrest….downgrade due to obvious death…”
These types of updates caused me a lot of consternation. Someone called someone else in dead…so dead, in fact, that we were turning off our lights and sirens and driving like normal people. So now it was just a matter of how dead they were. I hate dead bodies with a passion.
“I got a buck that says at least a week,” my partner offered.
I considered his wager that the patient will have been dead for a week or longer. We were going to a poor part of town. The patient was a male in his seventies. It was a good possibility that he lived alone and someone called it in due to the smell. (Gross, yes, but this is reality) My partner knew this, of course, and was hoping he could sucker me into a bet. I wouldn’t take the gamble without hedging the bet.
“I’ll cover your dollar. But, let’s add a twist. No matter how long he has been dead, if he died in the bathroom then you owe me a dollar.”
My partner thought for a few seconds. “Now we have to pick the room, too?”
“It will keep things interesting. I will even sweeten the pot. If he has been dead more than a week AND he is anyplace other than the bathroom, I owe you two bucks. If he is in the bathroom, no matter how long he has been there, you only owe me a dollar”
“How am I supposed to remember all this?” my partner asked.
As we pulled up to the address, I opened the door and got out quickly. “I will let you know if you won. You need to trust me. Now, let’s get this over with.”
An hour later when we were leaving the morgue, I extended my hand. “One dollar, please.”
Who and What
“…Ambulance A, truck twelve…emergent response….two four six eight Main Street for chest pain…”
I pushed myself out of the lounger, yawned, and then said to my partner, “I’m getting an image.” I placed both hands on my head and acted like I had a headache and started humming.
“What the hell are you doing?’ he asked.
I closed my eyes. “Male. Twenty-five to thirty years old. And!” I continued, popping open my eyes. “He will have a previous cardiac history.”
My partner looked truly perplexed. “Are you losing it?”
Dispatch replied the update, “…units en route to the chest pain…patient is a twenty-eight year old male…conscious and alert. Difficulty speaking between breaths. Patient has a previous cardiac history…”
“Bingo!” I said as we got in the truck and sped off.
“You need to buy lottery tickets,” My partner said. He was truly in awe, which was even more satisfying than taking money off of him.
“It isn’t that difficult to figure out. It is Monday. We are going to the largest employer in the city. Someone doesn’t want to be at work today,” I said, giving away my secrets.
“And the previous cardiac history?” my partner asked.
“I bet this guy had really bad heartburn once and now thinks he has a cardiac history. That, or his mother told him that he had a heart murmur when he was a baby.”
And I was right. On the way to the hospital the patient told me he was really hung over and that he had a heart murmur when he was born. I should have bet the farm on this one.
The games we play keep me from going insane some days. Joking around seems to be the only thing that saves me from having a nervous breakdown on occasion. The games and jokes are tasteless, I know, and probably appear to be boorish. But, these things are my coping mechanisms, so I can come back and do it again tomorrow.