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Confessions of the sympathetic puker

A paramedic wasn’t able to kick his nobody pukes alone habit until he had to transport his partner to the hospital


Stack of cardboard emesis basins.

Photo Wikipedia contributor

By Justin Schorr

In the formative years, on an ambulance, a young EMT learns their limits. Limits of endurance, stress, gore and violence. On an ambulance you not only have to deal with the situation, but the person involved. Treating their injuries is the easy part. A young EMT doesn‘t know what to say when a patient asks “Why? Why did he beat me?” Or “Why didn‘t that car see me?”

It takes time to build up the wall we use to make you feel better. It‘s an emotional wall that makes us seem unfazed by your ordeal, that we are above you, protecting you, our outer shell impervious to your … no, please, no please don‘t, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON‘T…


For the first five years of my career on the ambulance I was a sympathetic puker. Yes, I was able to handle hangings, decapitations and most other forms of injury and illness (except dislocated fingers…I mean…eeeewwww) unless you had to pull up your Buuuuick and tell me about your friend Raaaalph.

Vomit would send me into sweats, shaking fingers couldn‘t hold the pen I was using to document our encounter and I would have to very discretely grab a basin, just like the one I gave you just moments ago, and retreat into the side door step well and heave ho.

It was a disgusting habit for sure, not unnoticed by my partners at the time. Especially when they had to clean up my basin and yours once we reached the hospital.

It was a long while until I was able to kick the sympathetic puker habit and it didn‘t start to fade away until I had to transport my partner, Beemer.

Beemer (not his real name, but what we called him) was my mentor, partner and friend. One afternoon we exerted ourselves a good bit on a brush fire and returned to quarters. I found Beemer cool skinned, ashen in color and complaining of chest pain. I panicked. I had yet to even be accepted to paramedic school and our rural system didn‘t have another paramedic available to treat Beemer. He was the only medic in a 30 mile radius. It was going to have to be me and I was ready for the challenge.

Ready up until the point he grabbed a basin and started to puke. And like the radio operator in the motion picture “Red October” featuring Sean Connery mentions, “Not that lightweight stuff either, I‘m talking industrial strength puke!”

It was a nightmare. My friend was sick, but my urge to barf was uncontainable.

I did the only thing I could do: Grabbed a basin, puked my guts out and helped my friend.

There are tales told that I looked worse than he did when we arrived at the hospital. This was mainly because he had the cool head to walk me through everything he needed done to help him while I simply followed directions and let my lunch fly.

A few days after that call I remember handing a basin to an elderly woman who needed it and grabbing one myself out of habit. It wasn‘t until I put it back, unused, that I realized my sympathetic puking was gone.

Strange habits seem to pass that way I‘ve found. They‘re an integral part of your life until an event comes along and changes you. What was normal before seems unreal, and thank goodness since I now have little ones who were barfing champions growing up. I was saved the embarrassment of having to explain to a sick three-year-old why she has to wait until her daddy is done throwing up before she can again. Talk about awkward.

I found out recently that Beemer retired from the fire service happy and healthy. His outgoing personality, professionalism and friendship will be missed both by me and his service. Good luck in Retirement Beemer! 810 10-7!

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