I searched my closet for a light blue shirt, and dark pair of pants. Until I finished my required training period, I wouldn't be assigned a uniform, but still needed to look the part. Wincing at the bright orange of the "trainee" coat, that screamed FNG from a mile away, I packed the pockets with pens, paper, gloves, my wallet, my cell phone, more pens just in case, tissues, trauma sheers....anything I thought I could possibly need during the 6 hour shift.
Totally gung ho, ready to "save lives" and "do good in my community," I bounced my chipper bubbly self into the firehouse all full of smiles, agreeableness, and interest. I was secretly trying to hide the fact that I was terrified of what I might see, and that I would kill someone.
5 hours later, all I had done was spend an hour and a half inventorying the rig, and gone out to dinner. The perkiness was starting to falter. The nerves were starting to win. The rest of the crew sat in the day room, and watched TV as calmly as you please. Outwardly I was watching with them, but inwardly I was having self doubt. Is this all you do on a volunteer ambulance?? Watch TV and go out to dinner?? What have I gotten myself into?
Beeeeeeeeep-BEEEEEEEEEEP-beepitdy beepitdy BEEEEEEP....the tones dropped 15 minutes before the shift was supposed to end. The sound echoed off the walls of the bay, and reverberated in my stomach. This was it. My very first call on an ambulance. All fatigue cleared away, my adrenaline started racing. I was holding my breath in anticipation, just waiting for the dispatch to come back with details on the call.
My crewmates slowly disengaged themselves from the couch, muttering under their breath, since it was so close to time to leave. Most calls in this town average about 2 hours, between the ride to the hospital and back, and scene time. They wouldn't see their beds for a few hours, and weren't happy about it.
"Dispatch to MVEMS, respond Priority 1 to 15 All American Street for the cardiac arrest, possible DOA"
17 words that made my heart almost stop, and my stomach find it's way to my throat.
Wait. It's my first call EVER. Can't we start with something easy, like a broken arm or like, a kid falling off a skateboard?
The drive to the house goes by in a blur. The driver is talking to me, calmly, and gently. He can sense my fear. I'm trying to hide it by acting totally calm and natural...asking what size gloves everyone would like, what did they want me to carry, making idle conversation. But my hands are shaking.
When we arrive, PD has confirmed the DOA, and just wants someone from the service to come in and pronounce. We cancel the medic, one EMT goes in with PD to do the dirty work, and PD asks the rest of us to hang tight, to not mess up their crime scene.
Then a family member runs out another door: "My mom just fainted!!! You have to help her! The shock was too much for her!"
The rest of us go inside, where a very nice family has just received the news. Their brother or their son was found dead in his own bed in the apartment off the family's house. His brother went out to the apartment tonight to ask him something, and found him. His family is overcome with guilt and mourning.
The mom of the deceased sits on a couch. She is supported by her daughter-in-law. The trainer tells me to get vitals. I step up, and gently ask her if I can take her pulse and blood pressure. She looks at me with sad eyes, and agrees. She begins to cry again, as I try to talk gently to her. My hands shake again, trying to take her blood pressure. The trainer becomes inpatient with me, telling me I'm taking too long. She grabs my arm, and drags me back, and takes over.
The trainer turns her back to me, effectively cutting me out of the entire evaluation. I have been dismissed. I stand there, and try to send comforting smiles to the family, completely unsure of what I should do now. I feel like a fool.
I'm worried. I'm thinking that I've failed at EMS, since the trainer snapped at me.
We leave the main house, and the trainer tells me that I need to see the DOA, so that she can review the steps for DOA's. I'm dragging my feet. At this point, I shook during a blood pressure. She must think the worst of me. It's not that I don't think I can handle a DOA, its that she is making my nerves freak out, because I think she's thinking I'm a moron.
She brings me over to a cop, tells them in a brusque voice "She's never seen a dead guy before, so I'm bringing her in" The cop looks startled. OK, so maybe it isn't just me that she's short with.
The gentleman is lying on his bed, sprawled out, face down in a pile of vomit. The smell of booze fills the air, as we see bottles of beer laying around the room. At least the alcohol is kind of masking the other smells. It's a summer night, and the air conditioner doesn't appear to be on in the place.
He's been gone for a while. The family reported that the last time they saw him was on Friday. It's Sunday...whoops, technically Monday now. He very well could have been gone all weekend. The trainer walks right up, grabs my gloved hand, and forces me to touch him. "That's what rigor feels like, and see that? That's lividity" and she begins to cover our DOA protocols.
My first call taught me a lot of lessons. The biggest one was that I will never ever be that kind of trainer. I will never ridicule my students, or make them feel humiliated for being scared. I understand the lessons she was trying to teach me, but I will never repeat them in the same way for anyone else.
Since that day, I hold a special place in my heart for the newbies. You can spot them a mile away, in their hideous orange coats, and from the nerves written on their face. We've all been brand new at this at one point or another. Remember your first call?
3 years ago