This post is part of Not Your Average Week, a TNGG Theme Week.
It’s 3 a.m. on a December night and I’ve finally taken off my boots. And then the tones go off over the loudspeaker.
A single car has run into the divider. There’s glass and debris all over. The engine is off and there is a lone driver still in her seat. I grab my bags and approach.
The driver clearly has a broken arm. I get a pair of scissors to cut off her jacket, but she hesitates. “Can you not cut it? It’s my father’s. He recently passed away.”
What puts me in a position to come across these situations? I’m a paramedic. I work in Ontario, Canada as a Primary Care Paramedic (PCP), meaning I provide Basic Life Support and work with a limited set of drugs. It’s been two years now and enjoy my job with all its highs and lows. And believe me, these are some of the biggest mountain valleys.
As a PCP, we can get calls where it’s a matter of seconds before a patient crashes—but most are rather uneventful. Panicky parents, panicky patients. I’m a veritable white cloud. Not exactly your average nine-to-five office job.
The structure of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is different in the United States. Canada has dedicated medics rather than having firemen who may double as paramedics. Any paramedic employed in Ontario has the designation of “Paramedic,” versus the American model where only EMT-Ps can be called a “Paramedic.”
What our systems have in common is the need for proper training and certification. Not just anyone can become a medic. In Ontario, I needed to pass a lovely six-hour exam that certified me as an Advanced Emergency Medical Care Assistant (A-EMCA). To be able to write this exam, you need to prove that you graduated from an approved school for pre-hospital care. Once you can provide these pieces of information, you can apply for a job which is, in itself, a process.
A “normal” day starts off with getting to the base half an hour early. The staff checks the truck and makes sure equipment is stocked, working, and the vehicle is clean. I then call to clock in for the day or night. Then, the waiting begins. Luckily (or unluckily) my base is quiet—far from the glamorous medical shows you see on TV. In fact, usually a night will start off with a patient that simply needs to be transferred from a hospital to a nursing home.
The worst call I’ve had was an elderly man who fell down the stairs and climbed back into bed. His family tried to wake him up later on for breakfast, but he wasn’t responding. When we got there, his limbs were stiff, but he was still alive. He was completely unresponsive, and yet his eyes were open. We got him out of bed and into a stair chair, transferred him into the ambulance. We rushed to the hospital where he was immediately admitted.
It turns out he had a massive subdural hematoma and had died. Could it have been prevented, you ask? Maybe. Maybe not. His age group is unfortunately susceptible to brain haemorrhages of this nature, and the medications he was taking (blood thinners) increased the risk. Regardless, that didn’t make us feel any better.
It sucks having to work for 12 hours straight (sometimes six days in a row), or to miss hanging out with your friends because of the job’s odd hours. Getting sleep is tough during the day with all of the street-side activity. It also sucks when you know what your job entails, but people still call you a mere “ambulance driver.”
It really sucks when you lose the patient, or even worse, when you could have done something different to stop it.
But when you get that one call, where you get the patient back from the brink of death; when you deliver a baby to a mom who’s had a difficult pregnancy; when you get a patient on the operating table just in the nick of time to save his life, those are the days you realize you made a difference in the world and you remember what the job is all about.
Read more theme week posts.
Photos by Tiger Schmittendorf and Image_d.