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Boston EMT describes being bit, scratched by patient

He suffered multiple wounds from an intoxicated woman; this is the second time in five years that he’s been assaulted on the job


BOSTON, Mass. — EMT Tony O'Brien, a 15-year veteran of Boston EMS, recalls the moment he was bitten and scratched on his face and neck after an intoxicated female patient attacked him and his partner Sean Feeney on December 10.

"We were dispatched for a priority three illness at a hotel," O'Brien said. "The staff told us the adult female was in the 8th floor hallway."

The patient, slumped against the wall, had an unknown level of consciousness.

Bite through O'Brien's exam glove into the back of left hand; between his wrist and thumb. (Tony O'Brien)
Bite through O'Brien's exam glove into the back of left hand; between his wrist and thumb. (Tony O'Brien)

"I shook her shoulder and heard her mumble so I knew she was breathing," he said.

To better assess the patient's airway and level of consciousness, O'Brien moved her long hair away from her face and noticed she was tapping a message on her phone.

"I asked her to put down the phone and that is when she exploded; going into a rage, screaming, shouting, and scratching at us," he said.

O'Brien and Feeney immediately called for additional EMS and law enforcement. "We were able to move the patient into a prone position and began to apply the mechanical restraints we are allowed to use," he said. "As I reached for the patient's left wrist, my left hand got to close to her face and she bit me."

O'Brien also suffered scratches to his neck. (Tony O'Brien)

Backup arrives

Another Boston EMS unit, ambulance 8, arrived quickly and assisted O'Brien and Feeney as they finished restraining the patient.

"We had her rolling down the hall on the cot as the police arrived."

The ambulance 8 crew continued caring for the patient/assailant so O'Brien could initiate care for his wound.

At the hospital O'Brien was met by a supervisor, shift commander, and police officers.

"I received routine wound care at the hospital for the scratches to my face and neck, as well as irrigation and cleaning of the hand bite."

Charges of assault and battery are being filed against the assailant.

"At Boston EMS we are absolutely supported and encouraged by management to press charges."

Not his first assault

"About five years ago I was assaulted by a patient," O'Brien said. The previous assailant, also an intoxicated female, was sentenced to community service and probation, and asked by the judge to apologize to O'Brien, who was present in the court room.

The convicted assailant's apology of, ‘If I did that, then I am sorry’ made the judge "go crazy and he doubled the sentence," O’Brien said.

O'Brien received routine wound care at the hospital for the bite and scratches. (Tony O'Brien)

Violence against EMS: A national problem

O'Brien, a member of Boston EMS for almost 15 years, is also the treasurer of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association’s EMS division.

"Assault is common place for Boston EMS," he said.

But it reaches far outside the city as well. O'Brien attended the recent International Association of EMS Chiefs conference, where he participated in a round table discussion about violence against EMS personnel.

“We discussed the need for national data on violence against EMS providers," he said.

The types of patients that turn on EMS, becoming assailants, "runs the gamut from intoxicated individuals to victims of assault that now want to get the best of somebody else," he said.

O'Brien, with a sore hand, returned to work the day after the injury. 

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