It is easy at times to get caught up in the ‘I went to paramedic school for this?’ syndrome. The short version is this: Yes, I did. Not every call is about advanced airway management, cardioverting, or pulling someone out of a tangled wreck. Sometimes the job is about nothing more than just being human.
We waltzed into the patient’s home after a light knock on the door. “Hi there,” I said as brightly as possible. It had been a busy day and we had been running from one call to the next without a break.
The patient was a very large man sitting in a recliner in the living room. He answered, “I can’t make this damn chair work.”
I looked the patient over. The call was for lift help, which usually meant that someone had fallen and couldn’t get up. “Um, okay. Are you having a medical problem? Did you fall?”
“No, but if I can’t get this chair to work, I won’t be able to get up,” he answered. “I’ll end up starving to death and then my neighbors will start bitching about my stinking carcass. My neighbors are assholes.”
The chair in question was an ‘Eazi-Lift’ chair that rises up and makes getting in and out of the chair much, well, easier. It’s was all the rage for people that had problems standing and sitting.
With as much customer-focused care and compassion as I could muster, I said, “We will be glad to assist you out of your chair.”
I got an eyeful of distain. “I don’t WANT to get out of my chair right now. I want to watch TV. I just want the damn thing fixed so if I have to take a crap I will be able to GET out of my chair and not have to sit here in my own crap all day!”
I hid my irritation that the patient had called an ambulance because his new chair wasn’t working. “Um, okay.” I took the remote control and fooled with it for a few seconds. Nothing happened when I pushed the buttons. I set the remote control down on the end table.
“See what I mean? Damn thing is a piece of garbage,” the patient said with disgust.
“How long have you had it?” I asked.
“Just had it delivered yesterday. The idiots that carried it in the house scratched my woodwork. I’m going to bitch to someone about that.”
“Was it working yesterday?” I asked.
The reply is laced with animosity. “This is the first damn time I’ve used it. If I had tried to use it yesterday, I would have called you yesterday. Can you fix it, or do I need to call someone else?”
I glanced behind the chair and saw that the electrical cord was still rolled up with plastic on it. I unwrapped the cord and plugged it in, took the remote and pushed the up button. The chair began rising.
“I think I found your problem,” I said.
“What did you do?” he asked, rudely taking the remote out of my hand and pushing all the buttons. The chair began rising, dropping, vibrating, and the foot rest moved in and out…just as advertised.
The ‘patient’ was elderly, large, cantankerous, and lacked manners. But instead of embarrassing him, I said, “The electrical intake process had not been activated yet.”
“Whatever the hell that means,” he said. “I hope to hell I don’t have to call you people again.” He turned on his TV to the Price Is Right and within seconds, it was as if we no longer existed.
“Me, either,” I said, and we left to go run the next call.
“Dispatch…patient contact. False activation,” I said. I knew the outcome before we ever set foot in this senior living apartment, but we always had to check.
“Ten-four. We will notify the alarm company,” dispatch replied.
EMS and the personal medical alarm has a love-hate relationship. We love it because on that rare occasion when someone needs it for a real emergeny, they can talk directly with an operator and indicate the reason for the alarm activation. When that information is forwarded to us, it gives us a heads up as to why have been summoned: A fall. Chest pain. Shortness of breath. It’s always nice to know ahead of time what we are getting into. The hate part comes in with the number of false alarms caused by everything from rolling over on the button in their sleep, to grandkids playing with it, to using it like some people use the phone to call room service.
In this case, the woman that had activated her alarm had seen me many times before. And, as with virtually every previous false alarm, she played coy as to how ‘that darn thing’ could have gone off again. But I knew what was coming next.
“Say, while you are here…” she started innocently.
“Fluffy needs to be fed?” I asked.
“If you don’t mind,” she said sweetly. About the time I refused to feed her cat, I am sure this sweet little old lady would mutate into an ogre with red, beady eyes and fangs. “Her food is in the pantry. She likes a can of Whiskas with a little dry food mixed in. Could you also make sure she has some fresh water? Not too cold. She won’t drink cold water.”
“I know the drill,” I mumbled under my breath.
The lady with the itchy medical alarm trigger finger was hard of hearing. I could pretty much say whatever I wanted, which I did quite frequently, and she wouldn’t know what I was saying. I mixed up Fluffy’s dinner exactly as the cat liked it, and set it on the floor of the kitchen. Fluffy, a beautiful but somewhat obese Persian, sauntered in with an attitude, like most cats have, and hissed at me. I wanted to give Fluffy a little nudge in the ass with my boot but grandma was only hard of hearing….she still had good vision.
The elderly woman was playing us. She suffered with various forms of illnesses, namely because she was somewhere between 80 and 200 years old, but she did have a bad case of arthritis. On the days her arthritis flared up, we would get the I-don’t-know-how-the-darn-button-got-pushed activation because it was hard for her to get out of her chair and feed Fluffy, the cat with the insolent attitude.
“Anything else before we go?” I asked very nicely.
“I can’t seem to find the remote for the TV,” she said.
My partner went over and found it on the chair right next to her, right where it usually was. He handed it to her and painted on a warm smile – the one I had taught him to use instead of the sneer that he usually had.
“Say, if you don’t mind…could you turn the TV to the news. I can never figure these darn things out,” she said.
My partner turned on the TV and flipped the channel over to the evening news. “All set,” he said, dripping with a syrupy sweetness that made my stomach lurch. He handed the remote back to the little old lady.
“Okay, we need to go now,” I said. “You have a very good evening.”
“Would you mind…”
“Yes!” my partner started, and then toned it down. “We will make sure your door is locked and the lights are out.”
And we did. And then we hustled out to the truck to take the next call.
I hate night shifts, namely because it messes with my Circadian Rhythm, but also because the ‘clientele’ is, shall we say, a little unique. I have achieved enough seniority with my company that I can generally work day shifts. On occasion, though, I pick up a night shift and by the time the sun comes up, I remember why it is that I hate night shifts so much.
It wasn’t busy. We sat around the station for three hours before the first call came in. It was the kind of night that the pillow was calling my name but I didn’t want to sleep for fear the city would suddenly explode and I would have to rely on the natural adrenaline that is supposed to kick in when people start getting hurt or sick. That didn’t always happen, no matter how exciting the night became.
We walked into an apartment at around one AM for an unknown medical problem. As God as my witness, I swore I heard dispatch say that the patient needed to have his genitals checked. I was in that twilight stage…hearing and seeing things, but not really sure if I was dreaming or it was reality.
“Hello?” I called when no one answered the door.
“Back here!” A male voice answered.
We walked into a back bedroom and found a man lying in bed. He didn’t look like he was in distress. “Ambulance,” I announced needlessly because I was pretty sure he had figured that out. “What’s going on?”
“I need my balls adjusted,” he answered.
It took me a few seconds to process his request. “Are you injured?”
“No, I just need my balls adjusted. They are up against my leg and it is driving me crazy.”
“Uh, okay,” I said, assuming there was more to this request than what met the eye. “May I ask why you don’t, um, just adjust them yourself?”
“I can’t. I’m a quad,” he said.
My partner, who was on the backside of a 36 hour shift, was ready to pop a vein. “You called an ambulance because you need your balls moved?”
“They are driving me nuts,” he said, not realizing the funny he made.
Rather than debate the merits of calling an ambulance for something like genital repositioning, I put on a pair of gloves, pulled the blanket back, and gingerly readjusted his testicles. I was blushing, partly from embarrassment but also out of frustration
“Better?” I asked.
“Much. Thank you. Hey, while you are here, do you think you could put some powder on my balls?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” my partner cut in. “Just what the…”
I cut him off. “Sir, you need a home health care aide. An ambulance is not…”
“She’s on vacation,” he interrupted. “I didn’t know who else to call.”
His voice was conciliatory, and I realized how debilitating it must feel to be mostly paralyzed and relying totally on the mercy of others. If, for some reason, the home health care agency neglected to show up sometime, this guy would lie in bed all day without the ability to bath, go to the bathroom, or feed himself. I felt a rush of guilt for whatever irritation I had been feeling.
“Where is the powder?” I asked.
My partner gave me a dirty look, clearly trying to convey the message that I was encouraging this guy to use 9-1-1 for something we should not be called for. I shrugged it off.
“On the dresser,” the guy said.
I found the powder, shook some out onto his genitals, and then pulled the blankets back over him. “Anything else?” I asked.
“My billfold is on the dresser. I want you guys to take some money. Call it a tip.”
“No, sir, we can’t do that. We are not…”
“Look, I know it isn’t your job to come take care of a cripple. I appreciate you showing up. I would like to tip you.”
His humiliation was complete, and I had been a part of it. I wanted to crawl into a hole.
“Sir, as much as we appreciate the gesture, we cannot take money from you. Not only would it be unethical, it is illegal and we could lose our jobs.”
“Suit yourself, gentlemen. But thanks to you, I will be able to sleep tonight,” he said. “You have no idea how much I appreciate this.”
We turned off the light and walked quietly to the truck. We didn’t speak as we drove back to the station. There was nothing to say.