What do I know? I’m just a paramedic
Dealing with customers is a challenge, to say the least
By Justin Schorr, EMS1 Contributor
I get yelled at while at work. It happens more than I’d like, but sometimes I just can’t seem to get things right.
I’ve either shown up late, been rude or didn’t complete the tasks I was assigned to do. And sometimes I get yelled at for doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. You may be thinking that I’ve got an overbearing boss or supervisor who just doesn’t get it. But it isn’t my boss who yells at me, it’s my customers.
Randal, the noted philosopher and video clerk in the movie Clerks, once said, “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the (expletive) customers.” His associate casually asks, “Which ones?”
“All of them.”
If you’re fortunate enough to work in a position that doesn’t require you to directly interact with the end user of your work, congratulations, you’ve hit the jackpot. Dealing with customers is a challenge, especially when they expect something other than what you provide or question the manner in which you provide it.
As a paramedic, you’d think it would be all hugs and kisses since we respond to life-or-death emergencies and handle them with our education, training, equipment, and experience, all integrated with the entire healthcare system. Still, we get yelled at.
“What took you so long?!” a mother shouts through clenched lips, barely keeping the lit cigarette in her mouth. “My daughter is having an asthma attack and it takes you 4 minutes to get here? And where’s the ambulance, I called for an ambulance, why did you bring the fire truck?”
It is a challenge, nay a skill, to be able to assess an 18-month-old’s breathing while the mother is screaming. Our usual instructions for her to quit smoking and the baby will improve over time are met with a tirade of expletives about her rights to live her life the way she wants. I get yelled at for doing my job because she doesn’t want to hear what my job actually is.
“This man’s bag fell onto my wife’s arm and made a red mark, I want a report taken!” is a far more common 911 call at a major airport than you want to believe. The plane is held at the gate until paramedics arrive in less than 6 minutes to address this ‘life-or-death emergency.’
As I walk into the jet bridge near the aircraft, I can hear yelling between 3 men. Turns out one of them is a police officer trying to calm the other two. One is complaining that he was bumped and a bag fell and he apologized. The other is irate that his wife has been ‘injured’ and demands action from the police.
“There you are, thanks for taking your sweet time. My wife’s arm is red and I demand you take a report immediately.” I glance behind me, wondering if someone who actually does that is nearby. When I ask the man and his wife, who has yet to chime in on the discussion, to exit the plane, he erupts into an expletive-laced outburst that results in his forcible removal from the plane at the request of the flight deck.
He was eventually detained by police for half an hour as a safety precaution, all the while screaming about how we’re all going to be fired, that we are incompetent, and that he will see to it that our careers are destroyed.
About 50 feet away, his wife and I can still hear him, but she consents to an assessment of the ‘arm injury’ that started this all. Nothing is wrong, even remotely. “Why didn’t you mention that you were OK? All of this could have been avoided,” I ask, rolling her shirt's sleeve back down and placing my hand over hers.
“You’re not a doctor, I should have the ambulance take me in to get checked out. It’s OK, you’ll get paid, that man on the plane will pay.”
When I tried to explain that the man on the plane was not detained, questioned or otherwise held, nor will he in any way be responsible for her decisions, her voice rose, and I decided it best to walk her back towards the husband, who had apparently run out of things to say and was simply grinding his teeth and murmuring about his rights.
As we walked, I offered an arm under her elbow in case she needed to steady herself. “Get your damned hands off of me. You can’t touch me,” she said, clearly disgusted with my presence.
Folks call 911 when they don’t know what else to do. Emergency or not, we’ll come running as fast as we can.
A young child having an asthma attack needs an Advanced Life Support assessment, possible treatment, and an evaluation of conditions to eliminate future events. That child, in particular, needed a home free of constant cigarette smoke to get healthy, but mom won’t listen to me—I’m just a paramedic.
A sore arm that used to be red can be uncomfortable, but likely does not require an ambulance to the hospital just “to get checked out.” Paramedics can make a fair assessment and diagnosis to advise you on the most appropriate manner of seeking additional care if needed.
What we don’t want to do is get yelled at for doing what we’ve been trained to do. Customers and their family berate paramedics all day long simply because of their misunderstanding of our capabilities, responsibilities, and mission.
That said, would this job be great without the customers? This job wouldn’t exist without the customers. Ultimately, I’d rather they yell at me than the alternative: Not be able to yell, or talk, or breathe.