Sunday, March 28, 2010

Drunk or sick, do you really have to?

Case One:

Its late in the evening, even past midnight maybe, and my pager goes off. “Campus safety requesting EMS transport to the hospital from stair well in Any Dorm.” While this might be interesting, it probably means that I have again acquired a drunk. Its policy that if campus safety encounters a drunk student who vomits, its automatically an EMS transport so that the patient’s airway will be protected, even if it would be shorter to transport by campus safety.

After clambering to the top of the staircase, we find one very drunk kid, a distressed friend, a few campus safety officers, and a pool of vomit. I quickly start an assessment as I send a fellow crew member down for the stair chair. Looks like the guy nearly got to his room on the fourth floor before alcohol won, no trauma and he wasn’t passed out yet so I at least had an airway.

With a bit of struggling with the rather limp patient, we get him into the stair chair, where he promptly vomits again. Judging by the volume of vomit everywhere, that probably was the last of his stomach. We got lucky though, he missed the chair. Four flights later, we have him transferred to the stretcher and he begins to perk up just enough to half answer our questions and start swearing us out. All the short way to the hospital.

Case Two:

Evening again, (seeing the theme of night shifts yet?), and we get a call at the Local Apartment Complex for a sick person. Okay, cool, not unheard of in our district as we all hop in the ambulance. I read through the dispatch report. Patient age: 27. Oooookay, that one is a bit odd. Not in College Town anymore and my demographic is predominately much older.

We get to the apartment door, knock, and give the customary “Fire Department, did someone call 911?” to be greeted in under five seconds with the door opening, young man walking out and nearly sitting on the cot without us taking off the bag.

“S*** man! I’ve been throwing up and I need to go to the hospital NOW!”

My quick scan of the patient lets me know he is not faking it, pale, sweaty, and generally looks sick. I promptly get the guy strapped into the stretcher and we get back towards the ambulance with history questions bouncing around as we go. My guess is food poisoning or stomach virus with how suddenly it sounds like it hit.

In the back of the ambulance, I let our newest recruit take the vitals as he needs the practice and while this patient is sick, he isn’t urgent yet. The recruit tries once, not rolling up the sweat shirt sleeve the patient is wearing. Our patient is doing his best not to vomit and failing, half screaming as he does vomit. The recruit misses and tries again, sleeve up, as I call in the patient to the hospital. He misses again.

“F***! I just want to go to the hospital!”

My older partner turns to him promptly and in a surprisingly calm manner responds. “Hey man, we are working as fast as we can. I am sorry we can’t give you anything but we are going to get you to the hospital.”


I have always wondered why when someone is sick, the need to swear comes up. Drunk I can almost excuse because the patient may not be in full control of themselves, but the sick? You called us, we are trying to help you.

In both cases, swearing continued to the E.R., which promptly ended up with a swift reprimand from the nurses, which works. Now, this may be in part because I am female and don’t get overly demanding of my patients, but then again, our food poisoning patient didn’t even listen to my older, male partner. Patient seem to respond better to the nurses in the E.R. than to those of us in the ambulance. The lack of respect for those working on an ambulance is rather sad, as we are the ones coming to take care of you. I may not be a medic, a nurse, or a doctor, but I am the one getting you to the care you need. A thank you would be nice once in a while but in the mean time, I’ll take solace in the fact that I know I did the best that I can for you.


  1. I understand that you can't refuse patients, but it's a shame that you have to put up with such nasty, rude, hostile people as you help them get the medical care they asked for. Sometimes I despair.

    Thank you for doing the good job you do. I hope people like this won't influence your kindness and drive to help others. We need you, and believe me, if I'm ever the one who calls for an ambulance, I'll be nothing but grateful and as polite as I'm able.

  2. Dear EMT GFP,
    My comment may not make you feel totally better about this, so let me say first, thanks for doing the right thing, all the way across.

    People in general want other to know how they feel. You are going to see people who feel bad, and many will try to communicate the extent of how bad they feel--including swearing.

    If they feel helpless, they will not remember a salient fact, and you will feel helpless. If they are angry, they will try to make you feel angry. Most of the time it's not a conscious choice. And the decline in manners of course makes it worse. And of course if they are unconscious, you don't have that problem . . . so it's also a sign of people making sure they stay in control of their options.

    Don't get me wrong. It's bad behavior, unmannerly behavior. I do feel for you.

    This happens in your personal life, too, although maybe not with swearing.

    So maybe, I don't know, you could say, 'I know you are sick and frustrated, please give us a chance to help you' and it might help place it for you if not for them. Or, I know you feel helpless, but you can help us."

    Not in EMT--just advice, free,
    and you know what that means. (!)

    I so respect you for the work you do.
    Ann T.

  3. Thank you both very much for the comments!

    Ann, I had never thought about it as a way of them wanting you to understand them before. Perhaps it is because I am personally pretty strong and quiet when it comes to being sick or in pain and while I would love help from people, I don't want them to help if they don't want to. I don't like people trying to tell me what is best at times.

    But I can see how they could be searching for some way, any way, to he heard and get their point across. Now I could go down into a digression about how in today's world its all "Me, me, me!" and how I notice all too often people not caring about others, but I will avoid that for now.

    (And I have been known on many an occasion to swear when perhaps I should not have, but its rarely at people)

    I guess what gets me is that they asked for this help (at least in the second case) and I know that in some places that help like this can be very hard to get, and yet they are swearing at us. Thats what gets me, they asked for help and then treat the help poorly.

    Many thank you's for your comments and help in shedding some insight as to what may be going on in the minds of those on the other side of the stretcher!