Book Excerpt: ‘A Paramedic’s Tales’
21-year paramedic Graeme Taylor shares witty, uncensored insights into the life of a first responder
In “A Paramedic’s Tales,” Graeme Taylor provides an uncensored look at the life of a first responder from his 21-year career as a paramedic. His stories are gritty and uncensored, but told with wit, charm and compassion, and the humanity of coworkers, patients, strangers – and even people who have previously threatened to kill him – shines through. Taylor writes that as a paramedic, to stop from crying, you have to keep laughing, and “A Paramedic’s Tales” will have readers doing the same.
By Graeme Taylor
The trick to keeping a cool head and a calm stomach in this paramedic business is to keep a professional distance from the patients’ pain. You can do your job as long as you remember that you are treating the injury, not suffering from it. Lose that distance and you are in trouble. You also need to learn how to put difficult memories in a mental closet and close the door. But even knowing all this, over the years some situations did get to me.
The first time it happened to me was back in Edmonton when I was an operating room attendant. I had been asked to hold an elderly man while a surgeon did a spinal tap. The doctor inserted the huge needle slowly into the patient’s lumbar spine. Then he withdrew it. He had missed. He swore under his breath and reinserted it. He missed again. He tried again. And again. Each time the patient groaned with pain.
Suddenly I felt nauseated. My knees started to buckle. “Sorry,” I said, gasping. “I’m going to faint.”
A nurse shoved a stool under me and caught me as I fell.
At that point the doctor lost it. “Who is this incompetent idiot?” he shouted. “Get him out of here. I never want to see him again!”
The nurse helped me to step outside the OR. As she turned to go back in, she grimaced and said, “That doctor is terrible!” Fortunately, he wasn’t typical.
When I first started working as an emergency medical attendant, I held the older paramedics in awe. Some of them had three or four bars on their jackets, signifying fifteen or twenty years of service. They must have seen everything! So I decided to ask them whether they had ever had a call that made them sick. I’ll never forget some of their stories.
The Injured Brakeman
The train had jolted backwards without warning, pinning the brakeman between two freight cars. The ambulance crew expected the worst and were surprised to find the man standing up, leaning against a boxcar and having a smoke. Dwayne asked him how he was doing.
“Not much pain. But I think I’ve hurt my knee.” There was a small patch of blood on his pants below his left knee.
Dwayne said, “If you don’t mind, I’ll slice open your pant leg so I can have a good look.”
“No problem, go ahead.”
The paramedic cut away the fabric, expecting to see a minor wound. Underneath, most of the knee joint was missing. Dwayne was so surprised he threw up.
Over the Top
Brad wasn’t feeling well. He had partied hard the night before, awoken late with a splitting headache and missed breakfast. Now the shift was starting with a Code 3 for a vehicle that had gone off a mountain road and rolled down a cliff.
It was a difficult descent to the wrecked car. As they drew close, they could see that its frame was badly bent: the back seat had been folded forward and the front seats pushed toward the dash. The driver was dead, impaled on his steering wheel. Beside him was the body of a woman. She was headless, decapitated by the windshield.
To this day Brad cannot completely explain why he’d vomited. “I’ve seen lots of trauma, but this was the only time it really got to me. Maybe because I was hungover.”
He was standing next to the car, retching with loud, painful heaves, when suddenly he heard a small squeak. His nausea disappeared and he yelled to his partner, “Tom, call for the Jaws! Someone’s still alive in there!”
The firemen cut the car apart and found a six-year-old girl lying hidden on the floor underneath the folded back seat. Although she was unconscious and had broken ribs and fractured legs, she eventually made a full recovery.
If Brad hadn’t thrown up, the girl would not have been roused from her coma and made a noise. In all likelihood no one would have known she was trapped until it was too late.
They say God works in mysterious ways.
About the author
Graeme Taylor spent 21 years working as a paramedic in British Columbia, Canada. After retiring from the British Columbia Ambulance Service, he completed a PhD. He is also the author of “Evolution’s Edge: The Coming Collapse and Transformation of Our World” (New Society, 2008). Dr. Taylor currently lives and works in Brisbane, Australia.
Reprinted with permission from “A Paramedic’s Tales: Hilarious, Horrible and Heartwarming True Stories”
© 2020 Graeme Taylor
Read next: Book Excerpt: ‘Life and Death Matters’: In this book, two veteran paramedics explore the characteristics needed to succeed in time critical emergencies in prehospital medicine