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Home > Topics > Community Awareness
June 30, 2014
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Behind the Patient: Street Portraits
by Michael Morse

How one medic gained perspective from an 'ordinary' call

Those ordinary calls make you stop to appreciate the world outside your own

By Michael Morse

It was closing in on midnight, and we had been working since 7 a.m., myself at the helm of Rescue 5, my partner spending his day at Ladder 5 in the south side of Providence, R.I. We were detailed to the rescue for the night tour and were averaging a call an hour; the fun had yet to begin.

“This sucks,” Derek said as we drove to another call for a man down. It was the first of the month, and the city’s resident homeless had been busy turning their disability checks into ethyl alcohol, which in turn turned them from upright Homo sapiens to man down.

"Yeah, it does," I agreed. Derek does a great job on the rescue but would prefer the ladder company. "But just when you need it most, a call comes in that makes all of this nonsense go away," I said.

The quality of calls that day included back pain two weeks in duration, intoxicated males galore, fender benders, a plethora of weak and dizzy people, pseudo seizures, and other potentially serious emergencies that turned out to be little more than a ride to the ER.

"If you say so," he said, not buying my theory for a second. We had eaten dinner on the run; myself while en route to a fender bender, and Derek during a five-minute break in quarters and while walking down the stairs on the way to the next call. This was just around 10 p.m.

We were just about returning to quarters when a call came in that made us turn around.

A grateful “man down”

"Rescue 5, respond to Weybosset at Orange for a man down,” the radio blared. I expected another intoxicated male, but you never know.

We found a guy my age, groggy and sitting on a chair on the sidewalk, surrounded by police, an elderly lady and two other women. They had just left the Crosby, Stills & Nash show when the man fell.

The call itself was fairly standard: vitals, blood glucose check, 02, an IV then some D-50. But it was the gratitude from the group that turned it into the one call that got us through the night.

The 80-year-old woman received the tickets as a Mother's Day gift from her son and daughter, and was there with both her children and her daughter-in-law. She was, by all accounts, in her glory as she sang and danced along with some of her favorites.

The four were out having a great night until the diabetes "ruined everything," the son said, apologizing to the ladies. Although the D-50 did the trick, the fall the man took outside the venue and the fact that his insulin levels had been adjusted earlier in the week helped us convince him a trip to the ER was prudent.

We transported the group and they waited in the triage area as we received another call, this time for a man hallucinating.

Encore at the ER

The ER was in full gear around midnight as we dragged assault victims, intoxicated combative patients, stabbing victims and a kid tripping on acid past our four concert-going friends, who waited patiently. They lived in the suburbs, and seldom visited Providence — and never at night, they told me, stunned by the circus that the ER becomes on most weekend nights.

"We're not in Kansas anymore," the elderly woman joked, as her family smiled and shook their heads. They went out of their way to thank us again as we brought in another character.

"This has been some night!" the woman said with more spunk than people half her age as we brought another person in. She was still wide awake at 2 a.m. Her son, daughter and daughter-in-law agreed.

Seeing the ER mayhem through the eyes of people who haven't lived it for years made it all the more absurd, and strangely, more tolerable. I needed a subtle reminder that there was a world outside the one I was living in at the moment.

The night dragged on, and by 5 a.m. they were gone, released back to suburbia. Just when I had needed it, a call came our way that reminded Derek and I that we were fortunate to have the best job in the world.

I'm happy to be a part of a story they will tell for quite some time.

About the author

Michael Morse is a rescue captain with the Providence Fire Department and the author of Rescuing Providence and Responding. He has worked on engine, ladder and rescue companies during his 21-year career. His current assignment is Rescue Company 5. Michael blogs at RescuingProvidence.com.
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