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Home > Topics > EMS Management
January 22, 2014
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Behind the Patient: Street Portraits
by Michael Morse

Whose patient is this, anyway?

Dealing with a disrespectful doctor made for an awkward situation on a recent medical call

By Michael Morse

She appeared from the confines of her sanctuary, white robe billowing behind her as she strode toward me, and with the air of authority that 30 years of life and a few years of medical school bestowed upon her demanded her patient be taken where she, the physician, ordered.

I stepped out of the elevator and asked my partner to continue toward the ER, which was 100 yards away, in the same building. My patient was having enough problems and did not need to witness a very unprofessional display.

“My protocols are very specific,” I explained to Daughter of Socrates. “The patient is in sinus tachycardia, and the appropriate facility for this patient is here, not there.”

“Are you a physician?” she gloated, as 20 now extremely uncomfortable people watched the display, some eager for the elevator doors to open and offer an escape, others amused by the spectacle.

“No, I’m the EMT, and she is now my patient.”

“She’s my patient, and you will take her where I tell you.”

The dispute

What’s next, I wondered.

“Is not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”


I couldn’t wait for the elevator doors to open so I could get back to MY patient. The doctor fumed. Had she or an informed representative of hers greeted us and explained the situation, and had a continuation of care form and a copy of the EKG and pertinent history been ready — rather than a curt reply from a secretary stating, “it’s in the computer” when I asked for the reason for our summons — things would have gone differently.

The inquisition

“What is your name?” she demanded.

I told her.

“Who is your supervisor?”

I told her. And for good measure I also told her the name of the director of emergency medical services for the State of Rhode Island.

“I want their phone numbers.”

“I’ve got a patient to take care of, go away.”

“There are plenty of people taking care of her,” she replied, referring to the four firefighters and my driver who responded to the 911 call for a female with a rapid heart rate.

We come to this place a number of times every week; the staff refuses to use the hospital’s transport system or a private ambulance company, preferring the speed with which the 911 responders arrive.

Blessed escape

After an eternity, Moses parted the Red Sea, and the elevator doors opened. I jumped into the full car, behind the other passengers, and waited for the doors to close, separating me from the aggressor.

“What is their phone number!” she demanded.

“Call 911, you have that one on speed dial.”

The doors closed.

Looks like I’ve got some typing to do.

I get more respect from people living on the streets, with nothing, no money, no food and no education than I did from that doctor. I think I’m going to put a little extra effort into my report.

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
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