Scrub Lady and the price of calling 911

Sometimes getting the last word in works

"Rescue 1, Respond to 82 Lincoln Street for a pedestrian struck."

"Rescue 1, on the way."

82 Lincoln Street borders one of the local colleges, plenty of kids walking around and plenty of kids driving like morons to run them over. We hit the lights and siren and started toward the incident. From the top of the street I saw three police cars. We approached the scene expecting the worst.

"Where is everybody?" I asked one of the cops who stood next to his cruiser.
He pointed at one of the houses.

"She's in there."

I entered the house; it is a group home for teens. A young girl sat on a kitchen chair, looking annoyed. Before I said a word a woman handed me some paperwork and informed me I would be taking "her" to the hospital. I ignored the woman leaned over the chair, close but not close enough to be uncomfortable and asked "her" her name.

"Ashley," she said. "I'm not even hurt."

"It's our policy that clients be taken to the hospital," said the woman, again attempting to hand me the paperwork. Again I ignored her.

"What happened, Ashley?" I asked. She sat a little straighter and brushed her bangs away from her eyes. Big brown eyes that had seen more in sixteen years than most see in a lifetime. I know why these kids live here and it has little to do with them. Some people just shouldn't have kids.

"I was walking in front of the house, a car was turning around and brushed into me. They're making a big deal out of nothing."

"I'm getting my supervisor, wait here." The woman told me, holding a phone to her ear, a smug smirk on her face.

Oh no! Not the supervisor!

We walked out, Steve, Ashley and me. I told Ashley not to worry, I just needed to get her complaint and vital signs documented and make sure she truly wasn't hurt. Inside the rescue we all relaxed, took her vitals and talked a bit. She told us her mother "just lost it" and she shouldn't be living here but had no choice, for now anyway. We finished our assessment and returned to the house. The woman with the phone waited.

"It is our policy that any client that is injured be transported to the hospital to be checked," she said, triumphantly.

"Didn't you get the memo?" I asked.

"The memo?"

"Yes, the memo. The one that says the Providence Fire Department does not now, ever did or ever will worry about yours or anybody else's 'policies.' If a person is sick or injured, or needs emergency medical treatment we will decide the best course of action. The best course of action here is done. Ashley is not injured. If you feel she needs to be seen by an emergency room doctor to confirm that, I suggest you find a way to get her there."

Ashley loved it.

I've got to admit I kind of liked it too. More and more often lately, perhaps due to the newly coined phrase 'unscheduled medical care' people call us and expect prompt service and flawless delivery of their patients, or more accurately, their problems. That their problem is also a human being is sometimes lost. We left Ashley at the group home, feeling better than she had in a while.

"Rescue 1 and Engine 10, respond to 1 Hospital Street for a pregnant female in distress."

"Rescue 1, responding." I returned the mic to its place in the clip on the dash and started the thought process. A pregnant female in distress could mean a lot of things. The call is dispatched as an Advanced Life Support run, an Engine company and a rescue.

The doctor's office we were called to is connected by a long tunnel to the emergency room; a walk of perhaps 200 yards. Being called to a hospital to take a patient to the hospital is a common occurrence, sadly. A lady dressed in scrubs looked up from a report when we arrived.

"Christ, how many are they going to send!" she said.

Not off to a great start.

We wheeled the stretcher past the waiting room and reception area, toward the treatment rooms in the back. The lady in scrubs followed.

"Would the entire fire department show up for a real emergency?" she asked, no attempt to disguise the contempt in her voice. We kept wheeling.

Going downhill.

Sitting on the doctor's examination table was a thirty-year-old woman, thirty weeks into her third pregnancy in no obvious distress.

"Hello," I said. She smiled nervously. Four firefighters from Engine 10, Steve and myself filled the small space.

"They sent the Army," said the person who met us at the door, chuckling. "This is how they spend your tax dollars in Providence."

I fired off a warning glance to scrub lady, who completely ignored me.

"How are you feeling," I asked the patient. Before she could answer scrub lady chimed in.

"She's going to the ER."

"Why," I asked.

"Because they're waiting for her."

I closed my eyes for just a moment, and counted to myself,

Hippopotamus one, hippopotamus two, hippopotamus three…


One of the firefighters recited her vital signs; all normal. I have to give them credit for acting like professionals. Sadly, this is business as usual. People who should know better than to abuse the 911 system are concerned only with their bottom line and liability. "Turfing the Gomers" is a term I first heard in the book House of God, all about a first year intern in a New York City hospital and his disillusionment with the health care system. It was written in the late seventies, I think. Things have gone downhill since then.

What is your name?" I asked the patient. No Gomer here, just a patient.

"Maria Hernandez," interjected the lady in scrubs.

Hippopotamus four, hippopotamus five, hippopotamus six…

"I'm talking to the patient," I said.

"How are you feeling?" I asked the patient. She was a nice lady, embarrassed by all the attention. She wanted to go home.

"She may be dehydrated, the doctor wants her seen at the emergency room," again, the scrub lady.

Hippopotamus seven, hippopotamus eight, hippopotamus nine…

The scrub lady was starting to get to me.

Hippo Ten waited. I hoped he stayed in his pen.

"I feel okay, just a little weak," said Maria.

For the patient's sake, I decided to transport her to the ER, by wheeling her down the corridor. Steve helped Maria onto our stretcher and got rolling. I stayed behind for a minute.

"What is your name?" I asked Scrub Lady, holding my pen to the report she had handed me a moment ago, and where is the doctor who requested transport?

"Why?" she asked, a little curious.

"Because I'm filing a report to the Department of Health explaining this office's continuing disregard for the sanctity of the 911 system, insurance fraud, and your squandering of taxpayer dollars for reporting a false 911 call. It's a criminal offense. Ill be back after we wheel your patient to the ER."

I turned and walked away. Hippo Ten went back to bed; we walked the patient to the ER.

The staff at the office are well aware that this debacle will cost the patient, or the patient's insurance company about five hundred dollars. It is easier to call 911 than to wait for transport, or a private ambulance company, or, heaven forbid, put the patient in a wheelchair and bring her themselves.

My report will get squashed somewhere, probably before I even write it, but the look on Scrub Lady's face was priceless. And as for unscheduled medical care? There is a time and a place for such a thing, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the 911 system.

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