EMS lessons from the Conrad Murray trial

The paramedics who worked the Michael Jackson call may have done nothing wrong, but they had to endure grilling by attorneys who challenged their skills and questioned their decisions.

When the jury in the Conrad Murray trial announced the guilty verdict, traditional and cyber-media exploded. Some say justice was done, others disagree. Even now, as the world awaits the sentence, all media has and continues to exploit every possible angle to squeeze every drop of juice it can before, like every other "big" story, it becomes yesterday's news.

As an EMS attorney, I have very strong feelings about the trial. Not about the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and not about the dubious character of the late Michael Jackson. Rather, my concern is for the lessons to be learned from two, lesser-known, participants: Richard Senneff and Martin Blaunt.

In case those two names are unfamiliar, allow me to enlighten you: Senneff and Blaunt were the Paramedics who responded and transported Jackson; the Paramedics whose documentation was examined and scrutinized by teams of lawyers before it was projected on a giant screen for the world to see; the Paramedics who appeared in court and testified in front of the entire world. The Paramedics whose testimony, some say, sealed the guilty verdict and convicted Conrad Murray in the death of one of history's biggest and most enigmatic celebrities.

AP Photo/Kevord Djansezian, PoolDr. Conrad Murray looks on during the final stage of Conrad Murray's defense in his involuntary manslaughter trial in the death of singer Michael Jackson at the Los Angeles Superior Court.
AP Photo/Kevord Djansezian, Pool
Dr. Conrad Murray looks on during the final stage of Conrad Murray's defense in his involuntary manslaughter trial in the death of singer Michael Jackson at the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Moments before the 911 call was made, Senneff and Blaunt were just two of millions of EMS providers on duty across the country that day. As Paramedics should be, they were going about their day, at the ready for any emergency situation they may be called to handle. As it is for every other provider in America at this very moment, the next call could be something or nothing; the next patient could be an anonymous member of society with no complaint or, as Senneff put it out over the radio, it could be a "VIP" with no pulse.

In my estimation, Senneff and Blaunt did nothing wrong on the Jackson call, yet, in front of millions of people around the world, they were grilled for hours by attorneys paid to make them look one way or another; to challenge their skills and question their decisions. I think they held up pretty well.

For the rest of EMS, what are the lessons to be taken away from this experience?

You never know, and you always know...
EMS providers love to remind "regular people" that "you never know, from minute to minute what might happen next." That is part of the allure of the job. The reality is, EMS providers always know that the next call could land them on the front page of the local (or national) paper. More importantly, the next call could challenge the provider in ways he or she never dreamed possible and there is no opportunity, in that moment, for second guesses.

While you may never know what is coming next, you always know that whatever it is -- or may be -- demands that you are always playing at the top of your game; that your skills are razor sharp and your commitment unwavering.

While your documentation may tell a story about you, it is not for you...
It's true that your documentation may serve as an invaluable memory stimulator long after a call is over, but that is not its primary purpose.

For patients who are transported, your documentation is a primary tool for continuity of care. For the deceased left at the scene, your documentation principally helps the coroner or other investigators to fill in certain blanks. For patients who decline medical care and/or transport, your documentation serves to support the legitimacy of your decision.

In every event, however, it should be assumed that your documentation will be scrutinized by teams of lawyers and projected on a giant screen for the world to see and for you to justify. What will yours look like?

Clearly Senneff and Blaunt knew this particular run report would make it to the highest levels and it was written accordingly. However, the same should be true of EVERY run report, since you never know when it will end up on TV or in court and you always know it's possible.

Some moments can last a lifetime...
This case is a perfect example of how significant every EMS job is. Long after we are all gone, Senneff and Blaunt will be remembered as the Paramedics who transported the dead Michael Jackson. I see Bradley Cooper and Jamie Foxx playing Senneff and Blaunt in the movie. There will be a movie.

Even more significantly, YOU may be long remembered as the person who kept the Smith family together for another holiday; the one who delivered the Johnson's oldest child -- the 51st President of the United States; the provider with the tear-soaked shoulder after everything turned out alright because you made it so. Or, as it is for at least one living legend, you may be remembered after a long and illustrious career for a single horrible decision.

Most of all...
This case shows us that, when there is no place else to turn, the men and women of EMS are there.

When there is nothing but crumpled steel and broken glass, EMS will be there. When it feels like your next breath could be your last, EMS will be there. When a licensed physician fails at your bedside, EMS will be there to do everything possible to make it better. Fate and circumstance command that we are not always successful, but commitment and tenacity compel that EMS will always be there nonetheless.

When that call comes, will you be ready? Will you be at your best? Or will you be disinterested or distracted? Will you be another substandard provider who does not belong? When that call comes, who will you be? And when the time comes for you to make the call, who will be there for you?

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