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A radio and a reason: Are you sure you are dying?

Little white lies, lying by omission and honesty as the best policy – the things we say as EMS providers


I never would have believed that I was capable of saying some of the things I had to say until I wore a uniform.

The things we see and the things we say in response to EMS calls are not by any sane person’s definition normal. Give an ordinary, mild-mannered individual a radio and a reason and it is only a matter of time before the transformation occurs. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it, some of the time.

Things I've actually said out loud (some so often the response is automatic):

What off-the-wall things have you found yourself saying as an EMS provider? (Photo/Homeland Security and Emergency Services)
What off-the-wall things have you found yourself saying as an EMS provider? (Photo/Homeland Security and Emergency Services)
  • "Is that thing loaded?," (dispatched for an emotional male only to find an intoxicated, suicidal male with a gun to his head).
  • "Make it snappy!," (my new partner needed a little nudge getting to the truck for the fourteenth time in 12 hours).
  • "One more run won't kill us," (my follow-up response to my new partner who was dragging when he made it to the truck).
  • "Where are your shoes?," (the first question I asked an intoxicated 20-year old third-floor dweller who called 911 for a ride to detox and stated he could not walk).
  • "Does he look like he has an IV?," (a standard response to the triage nurse whose first question to every EMS crew is … ).
  • "Because he looks dead," (a regrettable response to a citizen who found a body in the woods who asked me how I knew the weeks-old corpse was dead).
  • "I don't know, I've never seen anything quite like this," (sometimes honesty is the best policy).
  • "Because you are drunk and stoned, that's why," (to the mother of four just after I called youth services at nine in the morning).
  • "Where are your clothes?," (to a middle-aged man in a disabled vehicle in the breakdown lane of Rt. 95 North, at rush hour).
  • "No, you cannot have sex on the stretcher!," (even an intoxicated homeless couple found sleeping by the side of the road – he in her clothes and she in his – need to be told no now and then).
  • "Are you sure you are dying?," (to the nice little old lady who calls 911 three times a week – for years – when she explains to you that this time, she really is dying).
  • "If you can't walk, how did you get to the third floor?," (why do the biggest people live on the third floor?).
  • "They took our pain meds away from us," (little white lies are OK when explaining to drug seekers why you cannot give them morphine for their aches and pains).
  • "All I need is just one hour of sleep, is that too much to ask?," (the ambulance gods famously ignore the desperate pleading from their minions).
  • “It’s a boy,” (broadcast over the air seconds after documenting the official time of delivery).
  • “We are doing everything we can,” (lying by omission is still lying, but sometimes you just cannot tell the truth).
  • “If you try to follow the ambulance, you will die in a horrific crash,” (a panicking family member who simply could not drive their sibling the mile to the ER for the tiny laceration informs his brother he will be “right behind us”).
  • “This is going to hurt,” (“little pinch” my eye, sometimes honesty is the best policy!).
  • “Use the lights and sirens,” (every now and then, a command decision needs to be made during a personal bathroom emergency).
  • “Fill in the box, there’s people hanging from the windows,” (you stumble upon the strangest things while rolling past a hi-rise returning to quarters at five in the morning).
  • “When was the last time you saw her moving or breathing?,” (people simply cannot believe what they see until an official confirms their worst fears. It stinks being the official).
  • “I’m very sorry for your loss,” (clichés are often the most appropriate words available).
  • “Expedite the police!,” (usually spoken into a radio mic when things have turned for the worse).
  • “Piss isn’t that bad,” (there is no true victor in the battle of the bodily fluids; but some are far worse than others).
  • “Rescue 1, out of service for decon,” (a hot shower is worth four hours sleep during a 24-hour tour!).

It doesn’t take long for even the most mild-mannered person to learn how to communicate effectively during a crisis. After a while, it just comes naturally.

What off-the-wall things have you found yourself saying as an EMS provider?

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