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EMS 'Double Dare': Top 5 fluid fails

"Stand clear" takes on a whole new meaning

As I ponder what to present at an upcoming EMS convention, I'm thinking of an incident at a 2011 conference that left me embarrassed and, uh, effervescent.

I was sitting close to the front row of an 8 AM class, waiting for the instructor to synchronize hardware and software. I was wearing half a suit (yes, the lower half) - a compromise between EMS casual and Wall Street proper that was appropriate for the afternoon's strategy sessions.

I didn't notice the two attendees sitting behind me until one of them opened a bottle of what's called tonic in Boston, pop in upstate New York, and soda everywhere else.

Those folks in Albany and Buffalo know their beverages; pop is what it did, all over the place, but mostly in my direction. I was drenched with a sticky, red fluid that, for once, didn't make me expedite departure to the local branch of Surgeons 'R' Us. I declared a wardrobe emergency, and moved to the rear of the auditorium to stabilize the spread of Red Dye #40 - not so easy when the insult is to the back of your front. After the session, I proceeded sideways to the closest men's room for definitive care.

Getting slimed is part of life in EMS. Usually, the mechanism of mess is one of 27 body fluids humans keep on tap. My tales of exposure are no better than yours, but I do have a few job-related, splash-and-turn stories that don’t involve patients. Here are my top five, in ascending order of inconvenience:

Mud-clinging: I became a medic more than 20 years after the debut of Emergency!, but still had visions of Gage and DeSoto responding heroically as I arrived at an attempted suicide on a stormy, summer day. I grabbed the LifePak with all the intensity I could muster, exited the ambulance, missed a step that wasn't there, and found myself face down in a mud puddle. Not exactly a Johnny-and-Roy moment. My value to the rescue team was clarified by my partner, who asked if we needed another monitor.

Punch out: Sometimes I work on a riverboat (hey, EMS is where you find it). We have a choice of self-serve beverages with our meals. One evening I selected fruit punch, which is what I got, through a faulty nozzle, all over my previously white shirt. An even bigger indignity was the frilly replacement garment a dinner-show stagehand lent me. I'm not sure if I looked more like Roy Rogers or Dale Evans.

Paying at the pump: Medics need cars to get to work, and cars need gasoline to get medics to work. Fair enough, but it seems the tank runs dry whenever I run late. On one such occurrence, I stopped at the local gaseteria for fast food and a fill-up. I had the hose in one hand and an egg sandwich in the other when I must have become overwhelmed by my options, and sprayed 87 octane from knees to boots. I remember thinking mostly about static electricity until I changed clothes.

Unsteady spaghetti: Dashboards are essential parts of motor vehicles. They hold gas gauges, radios, and speedometers. They even have room on top for half-eaten take-out, but you won't find that in the users manual. I discovered why during a mid-90s day shift in Brooklyn. I had ordered spaghetti with marinara from a pizza joint, just to be different, then hastily placed the aluminum container over the glove compartment when we got a call. My partner, an excellent driver when he wasn't fantasizing about NASCAR, decided to test our ambulance's 0-60 capabilities with a sudden start that rivaled an aircraft carrier catapult. The remnants of my lunch were jettisoned to my lap with just enough splatter to mark me as a victim of poor platter planning.

Rolling in the river: You might have heard about the flood we had in Nashville in May 2010. I was on duty as the Cumberland River assimilated neighboring homes and businesses. I had hoped to stay dry, but a cardiac call kept me at the dock - or where it used to be - until well past the last opportunity for an uncomplicated exit. I found a rowboat that got me to a parking lot where non-amphibious vehicles had gathered to die. I didn't realize it at the time, but the river-turned-lake I waded through contained a mixture of fossil fuels, trash, and sewage. I don't think it was my best look.

I wish I could say those untidy encounters built character, but all they did was add to our Gross National Laundry, and provide amusement for certain unsympathetic partners who are not nice people. I'll visit them soon - with six-packs of weapons-grade seltzer.

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