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Home > Topics > Holiday
December 23, 2013
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Everyday EMS
by Greg Friese

Ask a simple question during an in-between moment

A single question can unlock memories that will distract your patient from their current pain — and fill your day

By Greg Friese

I hear over and over from EMTs and paramedics that their best ever moments in EMS began by asking a patient a simple question about their life, memories or accomplishments. We have many wonderful “in-between” moments in EMS: the time between assessments, the time between leaving for the hospital and arriving at the hospital, the time between arriving at the hospital and giving reports. Use any of these in-between moments to ask your patient a simple question.

Happier holidays

During the holiday season, you might ask patients questions like:

  • Do you have a favorite Christmas or holiday memory from your childhood?
  • What was the best gift you ever got? Or the best gift you ever gave?
  • If you could be with anyone, who would you be with on Christmas Eve?
  • When you were still cooking, what was on the menu for Thanksgiving dinner or other holiday meals?

Adjust the questions to your patient’s age, ethnicity, and religion. Be a detective and ask a question that will have meaning to the patient.

Picture their past

At any in-between time, you can ask patients about the treasured photos and other keepsakes they have sitting beside their bed, in their front hall, or on their desk. You might ask:

  • I noticed a photo in your bedroom. Was that you? Who was with you in that photo?
  • Tell me something about the group of adults and kids in that photo in your hallway.
  • I saw a picture of a handsome gentlemen (or young lady) in a military uniform. Did you serve? Or is that your brother, sister, son, daughter, niece, nephew, mom, or dad?

Of course you can fill the in-between time with checking boxes on the electronic patient care report or fiddling with the cardiac monitor settings. But that’s not going to give you any “I heard this amazing story from a patient today” opportunities for your family and friends.

Most times a single question is enough to unlock a treasure of memories that will fill your day and distract the patient from their current pain or misery. Ask patients a simple question this holiday season and share the results in the comments. Or share one of your favorite questions with other readers.

About the author

Greg Friese is the Director of Education for CentreLearn Solutions, LLC. He is also an e-learning designer, writer, podcaster, presenter, paramedic, and marathon runner. Read more from him at the blog. Ask questions or submit tip ideas to Greg by e-mailing him at
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Ann Maureen Dunphy Ann Maureen Dunphy Tuesday, December 24, 2013 8:18:19 AM Great idea and good job Greg!!
Greg Friese Greg Friese Tuesday, December 24, 2013 8:42:24 PM Thanks Ann. There is a good chance I learned this from you. In between the shock and awe there is a lot of heart and caring. Merry Christmas.
Tim Hillier Tim Hillier Saturday, December 28, 2013 4:38:41 AM Great article Greg. I am going to share it with all my staff.
Greg Friese Greg Friese Saturday, December 28, 2013 1:53:47 PM Thanks Tim. Happy "between" holidays.
Lauren Flanagan Lauren Flanagan Sunday, December 29, 2013 4:02:37 PM This is a tactic i have employed many times over the years and it works almost 100% of the time. Im often accused of being a chatty Cathy but it works well. I enjoyed this article very much.
Willie Crinion Willie Crinion Monday, December 30, 2013 3:30:47 AM I remember as a child talking to an old man in a nursing home and it turned out he worked on the Spitfire design team ! still remember it 35 years later.

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