Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ramp Rants - Welfare Queens, Drag Queens & TaySean

Ramp Rants - Welfare Queens, Drag Queens and TaySean

Many moons ago, when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I was in paramedic school. It was fascinating learning how to treat the cavemen after the saber-toothed tiger attacks, or how to extricate a neanderthal from the horns of a triceratops. It was always exciting to see the pterodactyls swoop skyward when they were startled by our lights and sirens.

One particular day during my paramedic precepting, I was assigned to work with Lisa, one of the crusty old-time paramedics who still managed to make it seem like she cared about people. I was also partnered with Gretchen, another paramedic student who I did all my precepting with. She would ride with me and we would both get the required hours on the ambulance for class. Lisa’s task was to educate us on paramedic work with hands-on experience.

In those days, the St. Bernard housing project was a thriving mini-metropolis, sparkling with drugs, murders and welfare babies. On this particular day, our little team got a call in the St. Bernard for a female with “abdominal pain.” Dispatch didn’t tell us she was pregnant; they didn’t need to. It is automatically understood that any female in the projects between the ages of twelve and fifty is pregnant. It is one of the rules of EMS.

We arrived at the address and hauled our cookies up, up, up to the third floor of the tiny, twisting stairway where the apartment was. Sitting on the floor was our patient, a female of 18 years and about the same girth and weight of a grand piano. She was hollering as labor pains struck several times. Around the patient were several family members. The sister held her hand, the mother stood across the room drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette, encouraging her, specifically saying “Girl, you bettah have dat baby quick so you can get yo’ welfare check! I needs some o’ dat too!” The grandmother sat on the couch watching her soap operas. A male flitted about down the hallway, ducking in and out of one of the rooms like a nervous butterfly.

The patient felt like she needed to push, a sign of an imminent delivery. Upon inspection of her nether regions, after hauling the fat rolls away from her crotch, we could see the amniotic sac protruding from her cavernous vagina. None of us had seen a pregnancy where the sac was protruding out. We were worried that it may have involved placenta previa, the placenta blocking the cervical opening, which would necessitate a cesarean section. I got on the radio to medical control. “Doc, I have an 18 year old female, prima gravida, full term. Contractions are about a minute apart and the amniotic sac is presenting, still intact. I’d like to go ahead and deliver here.”

“Negative,” the doctor countered. “Get her to the hospital ASAP.”

“Doc, we’d really like to deliver here. We’re on the third floor of the projects and it’s going to be tough getting her out.”

“Do not deliver that baby in the field. Get her to the hospital immediately!” he reaffirmed.

Lisa, Gretchen and I quickly went over the logistics in our head of moving the patient’s ponderous bulk down the stairs. We would have to carry her, since walking her would likely hasten the impending birth. Lisa and Gretchen each grabbed a shoulder; I carried her by the knees. Halfway down the steps, another contraction came and she shrieked with the pain of it. It made me acutely aware that I, standing between her legs, was in the direct line of fire should she choose to launch her bundle of joy at that moment.

We finally made it downstairs and got her onto the stretcher. It was Gretchen’s turn to ride with the patient and Lisa in the back. I didn’t even get into the back of the truck to assess vital signs or start an IV; it was time to leave. I hopped into the driver’s seat as the male that had been flitting about alighted in the passenger seat. He wore regular clothes, but his eyebrows were carefully plucked and he had the remnants of fingernail polish still on, apparently from his last night out in drag. “Are you family to her?” I asked. It was not uncommon for complete strangers to jump into the ambulance as if they were kinfolk so they could get a ride into town.

“I’m her brother, Mister,” he said with a lisp so heavy that I thought it would have been more likely to assign him the relationship of sister, if you know what I mean.

“Okay,” I said as I pulled away. One block down the street, Lisa hollered from the back, “Sean, pull over!” Aw, crap.

I was glad I had the good sense to put a fresh pair of gloves on before I got out of the truck and came around to the back. The moment I opened the back doors to the ambulance, there was a massive explosion and a baby came skittering down the stretcher directly at me. I caught it, football-style, just before it shot out the back of the vehicle like some sort of James Bond weapon. Up until then, I had no idea that an umbilical cord is long enough to stretch from the gurney out the door. I now know that it is.

The baby was a healthy boy. I clamped and cut the cord, Gretchen assessed it while Lisa tended to the female. After a few minutes, we were ready to go again.

Back in the front, the brother was beginning to have a nellie fit over the goings-on in the back, with a similar intensity as if he had broken a high heel or he suddenly discovered that his purse didn’t match his miniskirt. “Oh, mister! What’s going on? Is she all right? Oh, my nerves is bad; I cain’t take this!” he exclaimed, fanning himself like Aunt Pittypat in Gone With the Wind.

I didn’t want him to have a full-blown conniption in the front of the ambulance as I drove. I reassured him that everything was all right. “Look, your sister’s fine and the baby’s fine. Just relax. It’s a boy. You can name him after me if you want,” I said jokingly, hoping to lighten him up a bit. Even though he was light in his loafers enough.

“Really mister? What’s your name?” he asked.

“I’m Sean.”

He turned to the little doorway to the back of the ambulance. “Shaniqua!” he screeched at his sister. “The paramedic say we can name the baby after him! His name be Sean; we can call the baby TaySean!”

“Ooh, I likes dat!” she answered back.

I sat in my seat unable to speak. I carefully reviewed the conversation in my head. “I’m Sean” were my exact words; I was sure of it. ‘TAY Sean? Where the HELL did that come from?’ I wondered, flabbergasted.

I flashed the queen next to me an inquisitive look, one that I hoped would convey the proper amount of ‘What the fuck?’ He just shrugged his shoulders and said “well, you know...”

At the hospital, Gretchen and Lisa brought the female and baby inside. I stayed and cleaned up the back of the truck. Amniotic fluid, blood and baby-birthing gunk had gotten everywhere from the mighty eruption resulting in the birth of little TaySean. As I wiped everything down and threw away half our equipment that had been soiled, I pictured TaySean growing up in the St. Bernard projects. He would ask his mother where he got his name. As she cashed her welfare check at the liquor store, she would explain about the circumstances of his birth, the trip down the stairs, the Richter scale reading on his delivery, and why his uncle is dressed like that. And she would mention me, Sean, the paramedic who offered his name. Later in life, I was sure I would have TaySean in my ambulance again, when he got shot from some drug deal gone bad or something.

There are some things you do in EMS that you’re proud of. There are some things you do you’re not proud of. The idea of my namesake growing up in the St. Bernard with his gigantic mother, welfare-money-hungry grandmother, drag queen uncle and my name made me cringe. Between pride and humiliation, where does TaySean fall in?