Saturday, October 25, 2008

My First Call....

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?


Michael Morse said...

My first cardiac arrest call was similar to you experience, I was on a fire engine, first in. The officer in charge felt that EMS was below him, and barely concealed his contempt for the EMT's. Before the ambulance arrived, we started cpr, my officer stood to the side. looking at his watch. I'll never forget what an ass he looked like, annoyed that he was inconvenienced. Eventually the rescue arrived and ran the code, I continued CPR until we got to the hospital.

That was nearly eighteen years ago, I can honestly say no matter how tired I am, I never act like an idiot. We'll, maybe once...

Great story! This is cool, me, you and Bernice all on one blog!

Bernice said...

Wow! It is hard to believe that some people fild their actions perfectly acceptable.

Yes, I still remember my first trauma code. Three of them within a month of me finishing school. Talk about trial by fire!

Ambulance Mommy said...

This IS fun, you are right Mike! :)

And frankly, really cool for me, who just started this whole blogging thing not that long ago! :)

Sheri said...

When I joined the squad, my worst fear was a car accident, which is how my brother was killed. I wasn't sure how I could handle it. Of course, my very first call was for an MVC, and I was terrified all the way out there! It turned out to be a refusal, but I remember it like it was yesterday!

brendan said...

Not a company I'd want to work for.

Walt Trachim said...

My very first call as an basic EMT 15 years ago was a cardiac arrest. And I never forgot that call because the EMT who was in charge (all basics on that call) was a blithering idiot who treated my very much like your trainer/FTO treated you. And it wasn't fair.

I've taken the approach with anyone new to just really work with them and not to treat them like I was treated. It works.

Great post!

Paramedic 134 said...

My very first call as a paramedic was a workable/possibly viable cardiac arrest. They had put me on a truck that day with an EMT-Intermediate who was 20 years my senior in age. (in NC, a skill level between an EMT-B and Paramedic. EMT-Is can start IVs and such). Talk about being baptized by fire.

As for "trainers" or preceptors who act like this, we all have to remember that WE were once students/newbies at some point too.

Good luck!