Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ambulance Man

It's 12:10 p.m. in Pittsford, NY, and all is quiet at the volunteer ambulance. I'm the medic tonight. My driver is watching one TV, my dispatcher the other. In a moment all that can change. The horn goes off, my pager goes off, and then my jacket and stethoscope go on. In about one minute we'll be opening the garage doors and heading out with lights flashing and siren also blaring if there's any traffic.

Since I retired at age 53 back in 1998, I've volunteered about 8,000 hours at our local ambulance corps. We get about six calls every day on average, and I've answered about 1,275 of them over the years. Most calls are not too challenging because the patient's condition is not unstable (unstable means they could possibly die). We comfort those patients and their families, provide whatever emergency medical care they need, and deliver them safely to one of the four emergency rooms in our town. Mostly, that's what EMT's do.

On more rare occasions the patient's condition is unstable, and we work pretty hard to keep them alive. If I'm lucky, a paramedic is close by to join my driver and me on serious calls. Sometimes we fend for ourselves during anxious minutes when things are happening fast. The minutes may be anxious, but we are trained to not look anxious. We do what we have to do, quickly and efficiently. Most of the time we get these patients safely to the ER, but sometimes (mostly due to major heart attacks or car accidents) the patients are not so lucky. We do our best, and soon we are back at the base waiting to go out on our next call.

You might think that dealing with death is a tough job, but most times it is not. "We are all terminal", as the saying goes. We deal with the death of an older person in a respectful way, but we accept it for what it is. But the death of a younger person is very hard to take - so much life is now gone. Similarly, some people have major injuries or sudden illnesses that we know will affect the entire rest of their life in a most negative way. Even a badly smashed wrist can be life-changing. The "bad calls" generate traumatic stress, and often the next week is not so good.

It's now 9:45 a.m., and I got 1 1/2 hours of sleep last night. Three calls, two fairly serious but not life-threatening. Those two serious ones were people with medical issues causing "10 on 10" pain - more than they have ever had in their life. I found one person balled up and shivering on the floor of the upstairs bathroom shower stall. Some of the details are too unpleasant to write about. That's the kind of thing EMT's deal with on a regular basis.

If you've got a few hours of free time each week, think about volunteering for your local ambulance or fire department. There are few better opportunities to serve your neighbor and follow the commands of Jesus or whatever deity you recognize. You will soon find out that plenty of other people have it worse off than you do, even on your worst day, and you will wake up every morning thanking God for the good life you've been given.

1 comment:

1138 said...

Not my thing, but on behalf of people like myself - thank you.

I'm the guy that photographs the accidents, murders and other assorted tragedies.
Your right, quite often our worst day is a walk in the park next to someone else's.