A couple weeks ago, my other half (MOH) and I were out to dinner with some friends and they asked him about his job as a paramedic. I listened to him telling them about cleaning the station, restocking the supplies in the ambulance, and the routine transportation of patients from hospital to hospital. They might have been expecting him to share a story or two about the types of calls he gets sent on as opposed to the hum-drum of quieter times at the station. Maybe not. But it did get me to thinking about some of his more non-routine experiences.
He could have told them about the time he was dispatched to a psychiatric hospital. A patient had attempted to disembowel himself with a bow he had broken off his glasses, pulling a nice chunk of intestine out of his abdomen by the time he was discovered. He might have mentioned going to the home of a man “experiencing chest pains after exercising.” MOH and his partner were led to a bedroom where the walls were covered in nude artwork, which included a painting of the woman leading them to the man now panting on the bed. A triple X-rated movie still played on the TV. Once he was called to an office building where a custodian reporting for work found a man in the custodian supply closet. The man was sitting in a wheeled office chair, his pants around his ankles. He was non-responsive.
Emergency medical service is not the career MOH had planned. He was working in the engineering department of a small telephone company when he discovered what would quickly become his passion. He signed up for an EMT class and when completed, started volunteering at our local ambulance service. He was soon living with a portable radio attached to his hip and raced to the station every time it blared its shrieking tones. He would jump up and race from the house just as we were about to sit down to dinner, or leap out of bed in the middle of the night, to attend to whoever had called for help. He took additional classes, becoming an EMT Specialist, and then Paramedic. As part of class, he and his classmates learned to start IVs by practicing on each other and were required to satisfy a specified number of clinical hours at a hospital where they learned to intubate patients and administer medications. When the future at his office was looking grim, he made the career jump to be a full-time paramedic with a large community emergency service.
It might seem like a no brainer to change a pursuit you enjoy into your career, but the transition was huge for our family. We had a nine-month old baby and I lost my evening and weekend parenting partner. We had both worked at our jobs Monday through Friday, 8am – 5pm, but now he was entering a 24/7 workforce and he was on the bottom of the seniority list. Suddenly he was working 7pm – 7am, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On the morning commute to my job and my son’s daycare, we literally passed MOH on the road in the mornings and we would wave to him as he headed home to go to bed, knowing he would be getting ready to leave when we got home. It was also a game changer for him to go from running one or two adrenaline charged calls a week, to sometimes attending eight calls in a twelve hour shift.
He’s worked many different days and shifts over the years, but working nights, weekends, and holidays are just a given to EMS workers. Over the years he has alternated between 12 hour shifts and 24 hours shifts. Sometimes the hours are boring, and sometimes they are busier than most of us can imagine. He has worked a non-stop 24 hour shift during a snowstorm only to be held over two hours past his off time and then had to make his own way safely home through the same snow covered streets and highways from which he has been rescuing people all day.
Over the years I have tried to be supportive of his crazy schedule. Eventually I accepted it, but truthfully, I sometimes sat by myself at school events, looking at the couples enviously or feeling sorry for MOH that he was missing out. I don’t say this to elicit sympathy. I’m just suggesting that if your spouse works Monday through Friday, or can otherwise attend all of your child’s school events, you should appreciate it. Thankfully our son was very accepting of the situation. He didn’t know any different and was very proud to say his dad was a paramedic. One of his favorite memories is of the cub scout trip to the ambulance station that his dad was able to arrange. All the boys got to climb in the ambulance and take turns on the gurney. The trip included a trip through the working dispatch center, and I think some of the dads were actually more geeked than their kids.
‘Wear your seatbelt.’ ‘In the event of an accident, every loose item in your car can become a projectile.’ ‘Don’t put your feet on the dashboard. If the airbag deploys, it could break your legs.’ Chances are you’ve heard some of these warnings before, but let me tell you, it’s much more chilling to hear it come out of the mouth of someone that has seen the after-the-fact results.
The other day we were in the car and I was driving. I had the sun visor pulled down halfway. MOH reached over and snapped my visor shut. “Hey, I need that,” I told him. He reached over, this time pulling it all the way down. Now I couldn’t see. “Stop interfering with the driver,” I said starting to get annoyed. He said in an even tone, “Did you know that a sun visor tilted toward your head can scalp you, even in a minimal impact event?” I silently snapped the visor shut and put on my sunglasses.
MOH has had MANY close calls while transporting women in labor and has delivered a baby or two. He’s been called to scenes where family members have pleaded with him to resuscitate family members who have died hours before and cannot be helped. He was first on the scene of an accident involving a minivan full of teenagers – having to determine who received care first and who could not be saved, while panicked family members arrived, descending upon the chaotic scene. Twenty-six years of the good, the bad and the ugly has a profound effect on how a person sees the world.
This year, National EMS Week is May 19 – 25. Here are a few tips from an EMS worker that will help you, and those trying to help you, should it be necessary.
Make sure your street address is prominently displayed and easily visible from the road. In the event of an accident, stay in your car, especially if it is dark or snowy/slippery. If EMS is needed at your house, secure pets in a separate area, even if they’re friendly. And, please, when you see an ambulance with flashing lights coming up behind you, pull over to the right. A paramedic and his wife thank you.