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, May 20, 2009

Even Simple Calls Can Be Rewarding

We met the most delightful woman tonight.

Her name was Jane, and she was ninety-nine years old. A neighbor had come over to visit, and Jane had stumbled while getting up to answer the doorbell, striking her her on the linoleum floor and raising an enormous lump on her forehead.

I asked if she felt pain anywhere. She said no. I pressed on her ribs, arms, hips, and legs. "Any pain here?" Again she said no.

We rolled her gently onto an immobilization board. The lump on her head, coupled with the age of her bones, made it impossible for us to ignore the possibility of an undetected spinal fracture. Looking up at us from the board, she said, "Three heads. I see three heads." In her own way, she was trying to express surprise that so many people had come to care for her.

Jane lived alone. At such an advanced age, this seemed an impressive achievement all by itself. We'd been called because the neighbor at the door had heard a shout of "Oh, God!" followed by a crash. She'd called Jane's daughter, who had rushed right over. Now, as we lifted Jane onto the stretcher, the daughter snapped a photo of the head wound on her cell phone. "I want to show it to her later," she told us, "when she tries to tell me that she wasn't really hurt too badly."

Smart woman.

We were just about to wheel Jane to the ambulance when the daughter mentioned something about diabetes. On a hunch, we checked Jane's blood sugar, and found it to be 39, roughly half of what it should have been. This amazed us. For a ninety-nine-year-old woman to hold lucid conversations was remarkable by itself, but for her to speak coherently with a blood sugar that would have left most people unconscious was simply amazing.

Rather than torturing her with an IV, we fed her some oral glucose paste and took her to the hospital. Her blood sugar gradually returned to normal. Later, as we brought another patient into the same emergency department, the daughter told us with a smile that her mother wouldn't even have to be admitted. The head injury was superficial, and she would get to go home.

Nobody goes into EMS hoping to care for old ladies who have fallen. There's nothing challenging or prestigious about those kinds of calls.

Sometimes, though, these can be the most rewarding calls of all. While the situation amounted only to a minor emergency, the family truly needed our assistance, and we gave it to them. The family was grateful, and we left the hospital feeling as if we'd genuinely made a difference.


Blogger Norma said...

Nice story, and nice that you were able to find out how she was doing later on.

8:55 AM  
OpenID ericjay said...

This story reminded me of my days working for a private ambulance service that did a lot of non-emergent transport runs. One of our regular patients needed an ambulance several times each week for the trip between her nursing home and the dialysis center.

She was incredibly sweet and friendly, and after riding (and chatting) with us 6 times per week, she came to know most of our staff by name. At some point, we became something like an extended family to her... she would ask about EMTs she hadn't seen in a while, keep up with the important events in our lives, and was just an overall pleasure to know.

Those trips didn't even feel like being at work. It was more like giving a ride to my grandmother.

As you pointed out, these aren't the types of runs that EMTs and Paramedics get into the business for, but it always made our day to hear the dispatcher assign us that particular transport.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Beverly said...

Great story and many more happy years to Jane!

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you were a blessing to this family. Very lovely.

On a related note, I still remember when an on-call nurse (from a nurse direct phone line, I believe) was a blessing for me. I was sick, couldn't breathe very well due to congestion and was feeling really bad, and alone on top of that (lived alone).

I called because I worried I had taken too much of the cough medicine or something like that. I received advice and I hung up. A couple of hours later the nurse called me back to check on me.

She assured me all seemed alright but I would not be able to sleep due to the extra dosage. OH she was right!

Still, she made me feel good that she was concerned and took the time to reach out to me. She was a blessing to me, for sure.


8:20 PM  
Blogger TS said...

Thanks, all of you, for your comments.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous MichiganEMT said...

I am a type one diabetic and my blood sugar dropped to 25 once while attending to a patient in the back of the rig. I felt fine; I wasn't even sweating. But after arriving at the ER, I started to shake. Checking my bgl, I was stunned to see it at 25. I take good care of myself and still shake my head over this one.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I have had some of the best conversations and heard some of the most interesting stories from patients just like this lady.

12:40 PM  

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