Ironic Justice at the Airport
Most of my coworkers dislike responding to Logan International Airport. I suppose that's because so many 911 calls originate from there. The vast majority of those calls turn out to be non-emergencies, so I guess that adds to their sense of frustration. When you respond to the same place often enough, you begin to resent it.
But I've always enjoyed handling calls at the airport. For one thing, the conditions are ideal. The terminal is heated in the winter, air conditioned in the summer, and you never get rained or snowed on. Plus, there are plenty of elevators, so you never have to carry your patient up or down stairs. It certainly beats treating a patient in a cramped, third-floor North End apartment.
Recently, instead of sending us to the main entrances of the terminal, the dispatchers have been sending us to a gate that permits direct access to the taxiways. This saves a lot of time, because we don't have to go through the TSA checkpoint, and we don't have walk all the way out to the very last gate, which is where the patient always seems to be. Instead, we drive directly to the side of the plane. As a kid, my dad used to bring me to the airport to watch planes taking off and landing, and even now I find them fascinating. Driving along the taxiways, with 747s and Airbuses criss-crossing in front of us, makes for a pretty surreal experience.
I think of this now, because we just returned from an airport call. Categorized as an "unconscious," we were suspicious about its legitimacy from the start. "Twenty-one-year-old female, passed out," was how the 911 operator had described it. It sounded like someone had ordered one too many drinks while in flight.
And that's exactly what it turned out to be. We went to the gate, and drove along the taxiway to a 44-passenger commuter aircraft, where we found our patient, who was too inebriated even to stand up. The Massachusetts Port Authority firefighters had done their best to get some useful information out of her, but she'd refused to cooperate. They'd checked her blood sugar, which was normal, and they'd even tried to get one of her parents to come and claim her, but she'd refused to provide any telephone numbers.
I picked her up from one end, and an EMT picked her up from the other. We placed her on the stretcher and fastened the seat belts. "What are you doing?" she demanded. "I want to go home!"
"We tried to make that happen," a firefighter told her. "And you wouldn't work with us. Now it's too late. You're going to the hospital."
It was a fitting ending, I thought as we wheeled her to the ambulance. A night never seems to pass without somebody giving us a hard time. We elicit complaints about taking people to the hospital, not taking people to the hospital, taking people to the wrong hospital, sticking them with needles that hurt too much, taking too long to respond, giving them medicine they feel they can do without, and everything else imaginable. Sometimes it feels as if we can never please anyone.
This time, though, the patient who'd made things difficult for the firefighters and was giving us a hard time had succeeded only in hurting only herself. If she'd cooperated, she'd be on her way home right now. Instead, she gets to spend the next several hours trying to sleep in a busy, loud emergency department.
Because she refused to answer a few simple questions.