other people's emergencies: random thoughts of an urban paramedic

For more than twenty years I've worked as a paramedic for the city of Boston, Massachusetts. The opinions expressed in this diary are mine alone, and do not represent the views of Boston EMS. Names, dates, locations, and physical characteristics have been changed to ensure patient confidentiality.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

No Sale

Someone tried to use us for propaganda just now.

We were standing outside Quincy Market, enjoying the first warm, sunny day of the year, and relishing the fact that two hours had passed without a single call coming our way. I'd parked the ambulance in front of a McDonald's. Every so often, someone would ask us for directions to the Aquarium or to Boston Garden, and that was about the only work we were doing.

A young man came out of the McDonald's. He appeared to be of college age. With his long hair, bell bottom jeans, and sandals, he looked as if he'd stepped right out of the 1960s.

"Are you here for a heart attack?" he asked in a British-sounding accent.

"No," my partner told him. "Why? Did you call to report one?"

"I just figured that you might have come here for a heart attack victim, because so many Americans are obese," he said. "And McDonald's is the reason for that obesity." He pointed to a logo on his t-shirt, which seemed to be an advertisement for a movie of some kind. "I work with these folks," he said. "We're trying to spread the word about McDonald's, and about the American public and their unhealthy ways."

I looked closely at the logo on his shirt. I didn't quite catch the name of the movie, but it looked a lot like Supersize Me. I wanted to tell him that someone had already made a movie exposing the connection between McDonald's and obesity, but I didn't. It had been a pleasant day so far, and there was no point in ruining it with an argument.

What this man didn't know was that I'd eaten in that very same McDonald's just fifteen minutes earlier. I do this four or five times a week. And yet, incredibly, I'm not obese. I'm not even heavy. I've never had a problem with high cholesterol, and I've never had a heart attack. McDonald's cheeseburgers may not be the most nutritious food in the world, but by running long distances every day, walking and biking regularly, and paying attention to the number of calories I consume, I've managed to remain healthy in spite of my frequent McDonald's excursions.

Could it be that unhealthy choices have caused Americans to become obese, rather than McDonald's? Perhaps if people exercised more, and took responsibility for the amount and types of food they ate, then they wouldn't gain weight--even if they occasionally ate fast food.

Not according to our friend. This guy had his own Gospel to spread. McDonald's is deadly. Fast food will destroy the world.

"Sorry to disappoint you," my partner said, "but we've had no heart attacks here today. Say, where are you from, anyway?"


"Really? What part?"


"Are you here for long?"

"Yeah. For a couple of years, at least."

"Well, enjoy your stay."

"Thanks. You should check out our movie some time. When you watch it, you'll see for yourself how McDonald's is killing America with obesity." Confident that he'd helped us to see the light, he turned and strutted away.

I didn't tell him that I plan to eat there again tomorrow.


Anonymous Beverly, RN said...

I couldn't live without McDonald's coffee, way the hell better than Starbucks or DD's.
I also love their Southwest salads and occasionally their sausage biscuits with egg and cheese.
I don't love people who come up to me in public and start to lecture me about the "evils" of whatever it is I'm enjoying. These people have way, way too much time on their hands.
I love your blog. Hope you get to use your skill set again soon.

7:09 AM  
Blogger TS said...

Thanks, Beverly. I feel the same way about zealots. I think that was at the heart of this post. Deep down, I suppose it annoyed me that this guy would try to dictate what I and other Americans should eat, without knowing anything about me.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McDonalds does have some healthy options for those who want them and can be part of an overall healthy diet, in moderation.

I imagine it must be hard for you and your co-workers to deal with meals, as you are always on the go. Do most ems people depend on fast-food?

11:48 AM  
Blogger Health Advocate said...

great post.. keep on sharing.. ask a nurse

12:21 PM  
Blogger TS said...


Most do, yes. We don't always go to McDonald's, of course. We try to mix it up--Chinese, Thai, Italian, pizza, subs. Some bring meals from home. Cooking between calls really isn't feasible, because we're just too busy. The city used to give meal breaks to one crew at a time, but no more. These days, if a call comes in, you have to take it, even if you've just made or bought dinner.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Joy said...

Your post made me smile, all the info your propagandist didn't know! :) It was a looooong day for me- I mange volunteer tutors (for an elementary school reading tutoring program) and I was fielding calls and getting my program ready for tomorrow because I have a 2 hour meeting tomorrow morning. PLUS I have a lesson plan that has to be ready by 1 PM AND some examples of lessons for the summer program. FUN times. LoL

I eat breakfast there several times a week. It's costly as well as not the healthiest, I know. But it (bacon egg biscuit) isn't the worst, as you say. Somehow, it gets me going in the morning! And I need that!

9:42 PM  
Blogger Dani B. said...

Was this yesterday because I saw your truck by quincy market and I thought I saw you inside but it looked like you were tending to a patient so I didn't interfere.

11:01 PM  
Blogger brendan said...

Hippies suck.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's ridiculous to claim that McDonalds is responsible for obesity. I am a very overweight guy, cholesteral through the roof, high body fat %, etc. I am actually amazed that I haven't had a heart attack yet! (Although from reading your blog, if I ever have one, I know I'll be in good hands if P1 responds!)

My point:
I eat at McDonalds several times each week (I love the Chicken Selects, and they have the best fries)
I also drink tons of soda and eat high-sugar, processed, high fat foods.
I don't excercise, beyond occasionally walking to a destination.
And yet, I don't blame anyone but myself. I have conciously chose to live an unhealthy lifestyle. To me, eating how I want to and living how I want to, is worth the risk. I know I could sue McDonalds as some other fool did, and also sue Coca-Cola, Hersheys, Friendlys, local pizza joint, etc., claiming their foods made me obese. But I can take accountablity for myself, and not act as though McDonalds is a health food and I've been duped and need a movie to tell me.
And, for what it's worth, I have a full time job with health benefits and pay taxes, so if I do have a heart attack, etc, I won't send my bill to the taxpayers, like the MassHealth or "free care pool" crowd.

12:09 AM  
Blogger TS said...


I'm glad you liked it. Keep up the good work.

12:09 AM  
Blogger TS said...


It was yesterday. Since this post didn't require confidentiality, I could post it in real time. We didn't have a patient. Just my partner and I, eating cheesburgers and people-watching.

12:11 AM  
Blogger TS said...


Sounds like a pretty solid argument to me. As you could tell from my post, I feel as if people should take more responsibility for their actions. So in that regard, I give you a lot of credit.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Hapi said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

6:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, personal responsibility is quickly eroding. More people are looking for anything to blame but themselves on many issues. My opinion of course...

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I prefer Burger King actually. Wendy's too, but it's all the same. I work my butt off all day, I work out, run a lot.

Basically, I want to say to this guy, stop harshing my buzz. I think he'd get that message.

10:37 PM  

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