Pickup or Delivery?

Late one night I was backing up the ambulance at one of our fine local hospitals. Parked near the emergency department entrance was a dark minivan with tinted windows. I wouldn’t have even noticed it — but then a man emerged from a set of doors wheeling a cot. Even in the dim light, it was unmistakable that he was removing a body.

As we unloaded our patient, he was fetching a customer.

OK, they weren’t coming out the same doors we were going in, but it was pretty darn close. If this surprised me, imagine how you’d feel if you were on our stretcher and looked over to see the undertaker picking someone up. Not very encouraging.

Considering how busy these places are, it always surprises me how shabby emergency department entrances can be. Rather than projecting a professional impression, many look more like a place where the hospital brings out its trash. It would go a long way to have them clean and well-lit — and you’re receiving so many patients, why not have someone stationed to meet the ambulance and begin the intake process?

If nothing else, let’s move the mortician access to someplace a little more discrete. I think we all have enough reminders that our last ride is on the way.

Where Does it Hurt?

After more than four weeks of waiting for the results, I finally heard that I passed my EMT test. So if you’re going to be stricken ill or have an accident, feel free to do it in front of me because I may be able to help — just try to get sick on the first floor of your house so it’s easier to get you in the ambulance, OK? Better yet, why not do it out in the driveway?

I’m trained to give CPR, control bleeding, insert on airway in your throat or nose, splint broken bones, assess your medical history, administer oxygen, strap you to a backboard, deliver a baby, and much more. I can’t give you an IV; that’s a more advanced certification.

If you call 911, depending on where you live you may get a paramedic responding — which is the gold standard of emergency medical care — but the rank and file of people riding in the ambulance are EMT-Bs, which I am, or EMT-Is who can give some more advanced treatment.

While a lot of people who do this stuff are volunteers, many work for paid services. They could probably get jobs that bring in more money and have better hours, work where they aren’t going to be in incredibly stressful situations dealing with things that most folks will never see. Now that I’ve been through the training and ridden on the ambulance I have tremendous respect for these people.

Take my word for it, the EMTs who come to help you at 3am have great skill and experience, and though on the front line of providing care, they are truly unsung heroes. Like a kid who just got his license, I may have passed the test but there is still much to learn.