Ambulance confessions: The crazy things we hear
Chatting along with patients and bystanders leads to some uncomfortable and memorable conversations
By Will Wyatt
It could be said with reasonable certainty that I don't watch much TV unless it involves a hockey puck. However, there used to be a show on one of the premium cable channels called "Taxi Cab Confessions." The premise of the show involved people getting into a cab and telling the driver all their problems.
The same type of scenario plays out everyday in the EMS world. In most of the places I work, a family member or friend is allowed to accompany the patient to the hospital.
Now with a patient with critical injuries or a terminal medical condition, this trip can be very difficult. They may be taking a ride knowing full well the loved one in the back may not come home from the hospital or even make it there. Obviously this is not an area to be made light of.
However, bearing in mind the majority of most EMS responses are nowhere close to remotely resembling an emergency, some can be somewhat humorous.
I don't engage people in conversation, but will chat along just to make them feel better. I will even let children put on what ever radio station they listen to.
One that immediately comes to mind found me on the way to the hospital with a woman in the back who suffered from violent migraine headaches. As I recall, this poor woman was in extreme pain.
Her husband was up front with me. On the way to the hospital, he began to talk about how much he dearly loved his wife. He went on an on about how lucky he is to be married to the greatest woman in the world.
At some point he mentioned that he hoped the doctors could help her with her headaches. "She has had them ever since she had a brain injury." I guess I glanced over at him, so he was delighted to explain the brain injury.
He told me this poor woman had been beaten in the head with a ball peen hammer, which had actually penetrated her skull into the brain. At that point, a red light began blinking in my head and I heard a voice.
I looked at the MDT and I could see a face. Kind of like when the Lion on "The Lion King" looks into the water and sees another lion. The face was saying "Will, don't go there!" But I had to. Like an insect going to a bug zapper, I couldn't help it.
I asked the question: "Did they catch the guy?" He casually explained to me that it had been HE who had beaten the lady with the hammer. After jail, they got back together. I was in awe. I realized two things simultaneously:
A: Love is more powerful than nuclear energy, and
B: I am sitting next to a person who beat somebody's brains out of their head.
One sunny morning
Another occasion found me being called to a school one sunny morning. A teacher had passed out. When we arrived, the young female teacher was up and denying anything was wrong.
Her blood pressure and sugar were fine. Most importantly, she wanted to return to the classroom and did not want to go for medical evaluation.
However, the school administrators were adamant she be taken to the hospital by ambulance. She finally agreed.
We loaded her up and, with another young teacher accompanying us, we headed out for the hospital. The passenger up front was with me of course. As we pulled out, the teacher up front with me looked through the window into the patient care area. I assumed she was concerned for her friend, so I, being the voice of compassion, assured her friend was fine.
She responded by telling me that she knew that, but wanted to ask, "Does that bed on wheels ever roll out the back? It won't get loose, will it?"
Seriously?! You really want me to answer that? I said something like "every now and then one will roll out, but we tie them to the medic unit with rope now." I really wanted to say that I had one roll out the other day on the freeway and it took me three exits to catch up to it. People trust the impressionable minds of their children to this woman for nine months a year …
An annoying passenger can be "The Navigator." The Navigator knows the best route to the hospital, shortcuts, the quickest traffic free route — and you as the driver are not taking it.
"If you go down this freeway to this exit, cut through this convenience store parking lot, make a right on the dirt road it puts you out at the ER entrance. "
The easy fix to this would be telling this person to be quiet in so many words. However, this usually results in the dispatcher calling you on the radio and telling you to call the chief. Never good.
However, I can offer two tried and true remedies to deal with the navigators of the world. The first is to tactfully explain to Magellan that the ambulance carries hazardous materials in the form of oxygen, and we are prohibited from crossing any railroad lines and we have to choose our routes carefully.
I worked this angle on a woman once who was suddenly in total awe. "Wow," she said her eye wide in wonderment. "You really have to know a lot to do this job." You have no idea.
The second is probably the best and never fails. It has over a one hundred percent efficiency rating.
Calmly tell your new friend that Federal Law prohibits the driver of an ambulance from talking while operating the vehicle. If we are going to talk, we need to pull over but we really need to get to the hospital. Works every time.
About the author
Will Wyatt, originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for about 30 years. Will is a captain at a fire department near Houston. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments including full-time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Will holds a master firefighter certification with the Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification and an associate degree from Houston Community College. Will is author of the book, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here and follow him on Twitter. Contact Will at Will.Wyatt@firerescue1.com.