Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Hard Way

The Hard Way

Workers in the emergency field are often portrayed as heroes, virtuous lovers of humanity, ready to face any and all treacherous circumstances in order to assist their fellowman. While they generally are some of the best people you'll ever meet, they are not without their failings.

They frequently see humanity at its worst. Whether they are trying to resuscitate a drug addict or delivering another welfare baby, the constant exposure to man's inhumanity to man would tend to cause even the most compassionate of individuals to become jaded to the constant crises. This has the effect of creating certain embarrassing situations, not always funny, but the sort of situations that make you take a hard look at your actions, instilling a look-before-you-leap instinct in many of us.

I am not immune to such circumstances. One such occasion that leaps to mind is a patient I had who was involved in a shooting. We responded to the St. Bernard Housing project. The police had arrived on scene ahead of us and had our patient sitting on the steps outside the apartment. His jeans were soaked with blood and I could see that he had sustained a gunshot wound to his lower abdomen. But he seemed stable enough and was sitting right next to where the ambulance was parked. I lowered my stretcher for him and instructed him to have a seat. When he stood up, he promptly fell to his knees in what appeared to be a "pay-attention-to-me" conniption fit. After a stern admonishment on my part, he got up again, only to fall one more time. I had had enough of his shenanigans and picked him up bodily and "assisted" him onto my stretcher, offering further stern "admonitions" in my frustration.

Fully annoyed, I placed the stretcher into the ambulance and continued assessing his condition. In doing so, I proceeded to cut off his trousers, shoes and socks. Imagine my humiliation when I discovered the reason for his reluctance to stand up: he had been shot about a half dozen times in his feet! I felt horrible that I had been so mean when he truly was unable to stand. Mortified, I was glad that it was my turn to drive while my partner rode with him in the back of the unit.

The embarrassment of that experience paled in comparison a few months later, when I responded to a call in the Garden District. We were sent to the scene of a possible suicide. Upon arrival, a police officer met us outside the house and explained that it looked like a double suicide.

Wow, I thought to myself. I've never been on a double suicide before. The scene was upstairs in the bedroom of the apartment. On the bed was a young couple, both obviously dead. We were to find out later it was by some kind of poison they had injected. In the room also was a uniformed police officer and a man who I thought was a homicide detective.

Now here I come, Mr. Attitude, bounding up the steps. I gathered my most I'm-in-charge-here voice.

"So, what do we have here? A little Romeo and Juliet action, eh? Cool!" I announced cavalierly as I strode into the room.

As I glanced at the officer, I thought I saw a somewhat panicked look in his face as the words left my mouth. Shit! What have I done? I worried. I looked back and forth between the two men, hoping I was wrong in what I suddenly knew to be true.

The officer confirmed my fears. "This is the girl's father," he said.

I began to pray for a freak earthquake to come open up the floor and swallow me up. To make matters worse, I had to actually talk to the man to obtain information about the two patients; one being his own daughter growing cold and stiff some five feet in front of him, and her dead boyfriend, over whom this whole thing was about, judging from the three-page suicide note he held in his hands. As I tried to get the patients' information from him, my crass word kept ringing in my head and I could not meet his eyes as I spoke with him. I could not be finished with the call fast enough, and stayed downstairs while I completed my paperwork. After an eternity or two, I managed to finish and left the scene. As I left I couldn't help but wonder if the father hadn't heard me and my asinine comments, or if it was just another drop in the tsunami of emotion he must have been feeling and had the composure to realize that my words were said carelessly, not viciously. Either way, his ability to keep himself together under the circumstances keeps him in my mind as one of the most admirable people I've ever met.

So we're not all as perfect as people would like us to be. We're certainly not as perfect as we'd like ourselves to be. Like you, we EMT's may have good motives, but make errors in expressing them. I suppose the key is learning from our mistakes. It's a shame we almost always have to learn the hard way.

1 comment:

Delfina said...

Thanks for writing this.