Thursday, March 25, 2010

Busy Night Shift [gory work stories]

I seem to have nothing but busy night shifts lately. Since Christmas I have not worked a night shift where I slept a significant amount of time (more than an hour), which was unusual in the past. Last night was not just busy, but BUSY--the type of shift where we have to carve out time between calls (as in, make people WAIT if it's not life threatening) to eat and pee.
We did one call at the mall, where when we arrived I FORGOT to bring inside (a) my stethescope, (b) my form for paperwork, and (c) THE BED in the ambulance. Of COURSE this was a call requiring ALS so I look like a retard and I smell like one too, in front of ALS.


Fortunately my partner laughed, instead of getting mad at me. [sheepish]. The reason I got thrown so far off course was because I was STARVING and right before that call I had spent $6 on a Triple Os veggie burger so as we are arriving, I'm stuffing my face with veggie burger and Triple O Sauce, WHILE DRIVING CODE 3. I'm a safe driver, I swear! :P Shoving the last three bites in at once made me a few steps behind my partner so I got distracted by trying to keep up. Therefore: Gong Show. Here I am, to save your life, with all my equipment in the car. Could you just walk out there for me? I know you're dying and all, but could you help a girl out?

Later there was a huge car crash in the next town over, which required all their ambulances and a helicopter, so we got pulled over there to fill in the gaps and so that was busy, too. One ambulance in a big town=Ass Wuppin.
Later yet we did a pedestrian struck, 16 years old, barely recognizable as human, but still alive. It is remarkable how much blood one body CAN produce, if you add some blunt force trauma, vomit, rain, guts, dirt. And it is remarkable how much suffering we can endure when we are forced to. And thank heaven for sedation. I don't *think* he will survive, but brain injuries are unpredictable, he's young, stranger things have happened, and he was still alive when we took him to the trauma center after stablization at the emergency department closest to where it happened.

I should also mention that I always change identifying information regarding calls I post about, so that peoples' confidentiality is protected. Sometimes I even change around injuries; like broken arm instead of broken leg. I try not to mention the city so that there is less of a chance of 2+2=that lady down the street type of thing happening. You all know I work in Chilliwack, but we often get called to surrounding towns and I've travelled as far as Whistler and have heard of calls to Kamloops, Keremios, Nanaimo, and other far off destinations being performed by Chilliwack crews. So you know.

And dudes, what is WITH elderly people calling an ambulance in the middle of the night for constipation?! CONSTIPATION. Somehow, it always happens to be 4:30 in the morning when things become unbearable. When everyone else is sleeping.

There is this newspaper clipping from The Province Newspaper that I have seen tacked up on nearly every station's bulletin board which shows a small photo of a paramedic in Vancouver sitting on the rear bumper of the ambulance, with his head in his hands. This photo was taken just after an accident in which a two year old girl was hit by a dump truck and killed, and was reportedly very traumatically injured. Any call with children, massive deformity, intent to harm, or abject suffering tend to significantly impact emergency crews, and come back in dreams for years afterwards. Beneath this photo was a letter to the editor which states something to the effect of, "Gordon Campbell, give these paramedics what they are asking for. They see too much. Their work is too valuable. Pay them more."
This is as political as I'm going to get in this space, because obviously I'm not looking for a platform to soapbox about CUPE 873 and everything. But I gotta tell you, when I see 16 year olds with their brains on the pavement in the dark and in the rain, I know I am underpaid for what I do. Not all paramedics in BC are underpaid, but a great number are. I get $10/hour standby when not on a call, and $23/hour when on a call. I have to arrange child care, put on my uniform, drive to work, be away from my family, be unavailable to work any OTHER job, and be ready to deal with anything from emergency childbirth to people burning alive to suicidal individuals to industrial accidents to hiking up mountains with Search and Rescue to rescue injured hikers to sudden deaths to asthma to heart attacks to car accidents to...

I think I've told you about an ALS paramedic I know whose career ended after 20 years because of one call. He was called to the waterfront where a family had parked their car on a pier while they were fishing. Four kids and two adults were in the vehicle eating lunch when the vehicle rolled off the pier into the water and they all drowned. This ALS guy was the ONLY Paramedic with his level of training on scene, which made him intellectually ultimately responsible for every patient there. He had the same nightmare so often he developed insomnia because he was so anxious about experiencing the dream again: He's alone in the back of an ambulance, someone opens the side door and tosses in a drowned child and says, "You have to save him!" and then slams the door shut again. He tries to get up to assess the patient, but an invisible belt keeps him tied to his seat. The door opens again, and another drowned child is thrown in. Again he can't get up. This repeats itself until the ambulance is stacked to the ceiling with dead bodies, and he wakes up sweating and yelling and crying and he never worked another day after that experience.

Another paramedic I know was driving Code 3 through a red light. He saw the intersection was clear, advanced, and a twenty four year old driver turned left in front of him, and the ambulance slammed into the driver's side of his car, killing him instantly. ICBC and the RCMP investigated and found the driver of the car entirely at fault, and the paramedic entirely not at fault, but BC Ambulance still disciplined him for some driving policy misdemeanor. He quit. Between nightmares about the death of that man as he impacted with his ambulance, and unfounded accusations of unsafe driving by management, he couldn't do it anymore.

Another two paramedics I know attended a vehicle fire that had a man inside, still conscious, trapped and burning to death. They still have dreams.

Another paramedic I know has seen six pedestrians struck by trains. One was dismembered and in pieces on the tracks, and the entire inside of his skull was visible when they picked him up to put in the body bag, because it was empty of brain matter. Just a hole, and some shiny bones.

I have dreams, sometimes. Newborns with flesh eating disease and a drowned 16 month old, and I dream about fire.

Can you pay someone $10 an hour to carry all that around?


Caryn Ouwehand said...

Woah, Lady. That is a crazy heavy load. Way heavier than $10/hour.

Asheya said...

That is crazy. Most of us just don't think about those things, because we don't see them. Payscale values are so messed up. Who makes the most money in our society? Entertainers and athletes, along with people selling products most of us don't need. But what price do we put on our own lives? Would I pay someone more than $10 an hour to save my life? Definitely. Psychologists charge $160 an hour. $160, and they're just trying to save my mental health. Lawyers charge $300. That's what they should be paying you. More, even. You have skills that I and most of the population do not have, and the experience to know how to use them. Your time and knowledge is way more valuable than a lawyer's. If you weren't there to save people's lives, they wouldn't have the opportunity to work on their further mental health or employ a lawyer. Why is government funded wages so screwed up?

Dana said...

It is thoroughly messed up... Our culture is so great at shooting itself in the foot. Bless you for following your heart and passion and your willingness to sacrifice.

Jen said...

Madness I tell you. You articulate it well. I am amazed at the work you do. What kind of support is in place for paramedics? Anything? Clearly there is much PTSD going on and there needs to be a space to deal with that shit so the dreams don't recur and recur and recur. No wonder my Dad was so burned out after 22 years of that. He stayed longer than any medic he ever worked with. I have no idea how he did it. I'm glad you'll be moving on eventually. Your work is clearly undervalued and so potentially damaging to your emotional health.