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.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

You Know Your Patient is Dead When...

At shift change tonight, we found ourselves talking about dead bodies. I'm not sure what prompted this discussion, exactly, but as you can imagine, it's not a particularly unusual subject in an ambulance station.

Mostly, the conversation revolved around the locations where people had been found dead. Finally, an EMT from the evening shift told the most amusing story of all.

"We were called to this bar one time," he said. "The patient was supposed to be unconscious. As we walked in, we saw this guy on the floor. We asked what had happened, and everybody just kind of shrugged.

"As we roll the guy over, we find that he's totally stiff. He's been dead for hours, or maybe even days. So again we start asking around, trying to see if anybody knows what happened to him. Finally somebody tells us that he'd been sitting there all day, on a stool at the bar. At some point he'd passed away, but he was perfectly balanced, and he remained upright, so nobody even noticed."

"Who called the ambulance?" another EMT asked.

"He stayed there for such a long time that someone finally decided he was asleep. This other guy taps him on the arm, and the guy tips over. He falls on the floor, with his arms sticking up in the air, totally dead, like a dead pet in a cartoon, or something.

"We couldn't believe it. It was totally Weekend at Bernie's."


Blogger fiznat said...

A friend of mine at work tells a similar story, where they responded for the "presumption." They found a crying family in the front room of the house, who pointed towards the kitchen. The crew went into the kitchen and saw someone standing at the sink, but no body on the floor or anywhere. They went back and forth between the insistent family and the kitchen several times before they realized that the person standing at the sink was the one who had died. The woman's arms and knees had hooked into the cabinetry just right so she remained standing there, slightly leaned over the sink. No wonder she wasn't helpful in pointing out where the body was when they had asked before!

10:33 AM  
Blogger Last Angry Man said...

One of my co-workers once found a guy deceased in his SRO room, sitting peacefully, with headphones on, and a warm beer clutched in his hand. He looked just like he was sitting and enjoying the music.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Beverly said...

There are definitely worse ways to go

5:04 PM  
Blogger Last Angry Man said...

Kinda morbid, but...

At the same shelter, the first floor dining hall was also where new arrivals would sleep on cots, until they were cleared to move up to a berthing floor.

Well, one of them expired on his cot, in the middle of the night. So what did the place do? Section off that cot with yellow caution tape, and then conduct breakfast, while waiting for the Coroner.

Surreal. A hundred people all eating breakfast, while there was a lone cot off in one corner, with a sheet over the deceased. Just surreal.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Cold and stiff in a warm environment ... that about sums this one up!

10:07 PM  

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