Being covered head to toe in blood and vomit to covering a simple scrape for a child with a band aid. Welcome to the life of a volunteer EMT. Some people may never understand how someone can dedicate an average of 40+ hours per week to a volunteer service. The rewarding feeling you get from helping someone in need and ensuring they are properly cared for is enough for most of us. Not every call is serious, not every call is easy, and some days you don’t even go on any calls at all! You never know what you’re going to get, that is for sure. There are a lot of different types of emergency calls you can get paged out to at any hour of the day or night. You might receive a trauma call, a real or completely innocent medical emergency call, the dreaded “repeat offender” call, or you could be asked to do a simple stand-by for an event.
Trauma emergency calls are the ones that get most volunteers hearts racing as they respond. My very first call as an EMT, myself and 3 other volunteers responded to a one vehicle roll over. Volunteering in a small town you almost always know the unfortunate victims of the accidents you respond to. This one was just that. Imperial EMS unit 99A responds on scene to find a small mocha brown Isuzu SUV laying on its top. Glass, the contents of the back-hatch area, and debris from the vehicle could be seen from what seemed like a mile away. Everyone knew the vehicle in my unit; everyone knew who could potentially be driving this vehicle.
There she lay in the grass covered in mud, globs of blood, and dripping in foul smelling sweat. Her left upper arm was distorted to resemble a crazy flexible bending straw you see kids use at birthday parties. You couldn’t see any of the features of her face anymore, the windshield kept those. The unequal rise and fall of her chest sent the feeling of urgency for transport through everyone’s mind immediately. She was packaged up carefully like all our training had taught and she was transported as fast as the governed ambulance would allow to the local hospital. Fortunately, our small-town ambulance crew and hospital staff were competent enough to keep her stable for the flight crew to take her off to a bigger facility. She lives to tell the story of her accident today with just a few scars to prove it true. Trauma calls are some of the most nerve racking and adrenaline filled experiences I have ever had in my life. Knowing I was a part of the reason this mother of three is still around is truly rewarding. Stories like this make the time worth giving.
Then, there are the “repeat offenders” as we like to call them that make you wonder why you ever decided to volunteer your day. “This is what it felt like the last time I died, you guys have to help me!” frequent flyer number one screamed. You could hear these words repeat in your head from the last 2 calls you responded to for her this week alone. Well honey, the 6 empty red bull XL cans and empty handle of McCormick’s vodka is a real tell all sign of why you are “dying” again.
When you look around her dim lit dollhouse sized space you can see the wrappers from candy bars and travel sized Frito Lay chip bags she has eaten the last month, they’re scattered all over like her whole floor is the trashcan. The ungroomed, horribly mannered puppy is peeing in the corner of the living room. She called the ambulance for herself for cardiac issues. Every time you arrive on scene to have her punch, scratch, and spit in your face for trying to help and secure her to the ambulance stretcher. You called us lady, YOU. This kind of call happens just as often as the ones that actually do need help and saving. Smile, talk to this grown drunken woman like a small child, and take her back to the hospital for the 3rd time this week… that’s all you can do. Self-induced medical “emergencies” at 3 am on a weeknight before you have to go to your actual paying job. Killer. This is just a part of the gig. You can dedicate 3 hours a night at least 2 nights a month to keeping up with training and new medical protocols, just to haul a loony off to the loony bin.
The next type of call, the real medical emergencies, sometimes those calls can send the EMT into cardiac arrest themselves! “The patient is unresponsive and not breathing” is a statement you hate hearing over the pager at any point. A million things run through your head. Are they still alive? Is anyone administering CPR? Until you are on scene and in front of the patient you never truly know what to expect. You can arrive and find the patient DOA (dead on arrival). Like the welfare check called in by the daughter of the 39-year-old female, she was found literally melting over the space heater she had fallen on when the heart attack stopped her heart and took her life 2 days prior. That’s a smell you will never forget.
Other medical emergencies you can find the “unresponsive patient” sitting there just perfectly fine wondering what all the fret is about. You train and train for those type of calls but they will never become a norm. Just know when a crew has that statement come across the pager we are hauling our butts to the ambulance as fast as we can and coming for you with the red and blues flashing and sirens blaring. We might rush in your home to simply wake you from a deep sleep your wife couldn’t wake you from, that happened. Poor old man was in the deepest sleep of his life perhaps, he woke to a house full of EMTs preparing to start resuscitation measures on him. Sorry man, your wife thought you were dead. Glad to see you are okay. Load up all your equipment and plod right back out to the ambulance; no transport necessary at this time. That doesn’t always happen though.
Another type of medical emergency call you might find yourself a part of is the patient that actually needs resuscitated. A middle-aged man who suffered a MI (heart attack) while outside working on the yard on a piping hot summer day was very lucky a vehicle passing by called it in. The driver just happened to be at the right place at the right time to watch him hit the ground and not get back up. EMS arrived on scene in time to start administering CPR, open and maintain his airway, and get transport to the hospital initiated to save his life. No brain damage or serious repercussions to follow. When your crew does resuscitate someone successfully, you feel like a true hero.
Another type of call you can find an EMT apart of is a simple stand-by for a local event. Some Friday nights in the fall you could be found dedicating a few hours of your time to being on stand-by for the local high school football teams home game. You never know when one of those crazy teens is going to get knocked in the head just right and wind up needing transport to the ER. Honestly, in all my high school football game standby time I never actually had an incident occur that involved transport. Half the ice pack and ace bandage wrap supplies might get used during the night, but who really wants to see a kid get seriously hurt anyways? A gnarly grass burn needing cleaned and bandaged or a simple sprained wrist needing wrapped and iced. Being a ‘grade A’ first aid specialist is really all the stand-by events might entail. Just make sure to bring your school spirit along with you and enjoy the game!
No matter how big or small the call may be or how disgusting the scene or situation. First responders are there to help and dedicate whatever time necessary to ensure whoever they are there to help is okay. You could leave a scene feeling like a superhero or just with another funny or crazily awkward story to tell. In the end, all the hours and time dedicated to volunteering for an EMS service is most definitely worth it. Just ask some of the people who are still here today because of them!