Saturday, July 16, 2016

Family Christmas

The tree is glittering with a hundred lights, the presents have been unwrapped and the kids sprawl around the room playing with their new treasures. Comforting, familiar smells waft out of the busy kitchen as preparations for the mid-afternoon luncheon are nearing their conclusion. Grandma sits quietly in an armchair, dutifully collected from her nursing home as with any major holiday. She observes the busy scene before her, lost in thoughts and memories and wishing she were more a part of their everyday life. Nevertheless, she has resolved to enjoy the companionship today before being dropped back off at her sterile, impersonal little room.

She sits and waits patiently, not wanting to be a bother even as her stomach starts to grumble. It has been many hours since her 7 am breakfast, and her normal 11 am lunchtime has long ago come and gone. As she watches and waits, her head starts to drop and her eyes begin to close. "Don't wake Grandma!" her grand-kids are admonished as they get loud in their holiday excitement, but the correction is unnecessary as she doesn't even flinch when a new remote controlled car is driven into her foot. She slumbers peacefully on.

The turkey is done and carved, sending its wonderful aroma through the house as the family begins to collect around the table. The gravy is thick and rich, the vegetables perfectly tender and the wine is poured as Mom sends a cousin over to wake up Grandma. "Auntie! Auntie! Grandma won't wake up!"

The picturesque Christmas scene is rudely interrupted by two cold, hungry paramedics trooping in the front door, knocking the wreath askew with our bags. I take in the scene, the wonderful yet untouched food, the seemingly sleeping little old lady tucked away in the corner, the wide-eyed children and worried adults. We run through our physical assessment as our questions begin, but nobody seems to know the answers. "What medical conditions does she have?" Blank stares. "What medications does she take?" Blank stares. "How long has she been 'asleep'?". Nothing.

Her blood sugar comes back at 1.7 mmol/L, understandingly so. It is close to 3 pm and apparently Grandma is a very hungry diabetic, confirmed by the medication list a relative has found in her purse. My partner starts an IV and we give her dextrose, waiting for responsiveness to return. She slowly, very slowly, starts to come back to consciousness, but is now showing a pronounced facial droop. Christmas dinner has now been thoroughly ruined and we leave the family's guilty tears and angry accusations behind as we package up semi-conscious Grandma and disappear into the cold, gray day.

Monday, June 20, 2016

House Party

The house party is still in full swing when we pull up in front of the obvious student house, run down with a couch on the front porch. Kids swig beer bottles on the balcony, music pumps through every window and door until you can feel your soul vibrating with the beat and the cracked concrete steps provide a weirdly tilted approach to the house. We were not the first ambulance to be called to this party tonight, and would not be the last before the over-stretched cops managed to shut it down.

The party pulses on around us as we make our way to the stairs, although they do turn the music down a smidgen at my request. We are led upstairs by a clean cut, surprisingly sober collegiate guy who shouts at us over the music, "I found her on the floor and couldn't wake her up so I called!" We wind past couples making out in the hallway, interrupting their pleasure as our bags knock against their bodies.

She is curled into the fetal position on the floor of a tiny bedroom, young and obviously fresh out of high school. This is her first educational experience at her new university and it appears she is failing miserably. She is completely unconscious, a sternal rub barely elicts a groan, and is in no shape to be left alone. Fortunately for us; upstairs in this tiny, tiny house, she is very petite, and Matt and our student for the night easily pick her up. Carrying the bags and her flower-embroidered little purse, I attempt to part the crowd as we leave with our patient. The crowd flows back together as we pass and the music gets louder as we step onto the porch. We leave as though we were never there, the party continues, and the next patient-to-be keeps chugging, bringing themselves closer to the inevitable moment in which we will return to carry them out, the circle of life during frosh week.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thinking of Summer

It had been a sweltering hot day that turned into an equally hot and sticky night, with not even a breeze to provide relief. One of those days where the uniform seems to made out of merino wool and undershirts get soaked through before you leave the base.

"Code 4, difficulty breathing to Local Cheap-Ass Trailer Park" comes in the middle of our coffee run, my partner is one of those crazy people who would still be drinking coffee if the entire city was on fire. The trailer park is full of helpful people who wave us in opposite direction at every intersection, it's not hard to figure out the the general layout is circular, but thanks guys! We pull off the main road into a rutted laneway, followed close behind by the fire department.

A robust woman stands in front of a tiny trailer, waving her arms and pointing frantically inside. I wonder where our patient is? I climb the tiny metal stairs into the trailer, my eyes adjusting to the darkness inside despite the late summer sun shining in the windows. I can hear a terrible sounding wheeze/rattle combo from my right, and I turn to see an equally robust man half-reclining on a tiny bed - on an elevated platform. How on earth did he even get up there? This is going to be a tough extrication, the man is large enough that he would have to turn sideways to get through the doorways, there is no chance any sort of stair chair would fit, and he can't lay even remotely flat for the tarp.

As I assess him, as my partner is too large to fit into the space, it is quickly clear that he needs oxygen, medication and the hospital before his asthmatic/COPD lungs give out completely. The problem is, there is absolutely no space to work and it is so hot and humid you can practically see the moisture in the air. Being in this tiny trailer is not helping his lungs any, we gotta get him out. That, however, is the real problem here.

With the smallest firefighter (who still dwarfs me) pressed in far too close for the temperatures, we get his legs swung around and help him slide off the platform onto the stool he uses to climb out of the weird tiny loft. As soon as his feet hit the floor, his legs buckle and we take all of his weight as we side-step our way to the little hanging ladder and fresh air. There is no way he can climb down himself, and no room to get any equipment or any help in, so fire dude and I exchange glances. "You good?" "Yup, you?" "Let's do this." Together we lift him into a fore and aft position and carry him down the ladder, my hamstrings and quads burning with every step and reminding me how much more I need to appreciate my giant leg muscles. Thankfully at the bottom there is plenty of help, and we are happy to pass off the weight while we stand in the shade and drip half our body weight in sweat.

The air conditioning in the truck has worked wonders on the way to the hospital, and we arrive with nary a wheeze in sight. As we help him into his hospital bed, he muses, "Next time it's this hot, maybe I'll stay home in the air conditioning." We agree that may be a good plan, and clear the hospital with visions of ice cream dancing in our heads. 'Tis not to be though, as hot summer nights are not the quietest of shifts and we get nailed for another SOB call halfway to DQ.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Jungle Cat

It has been a ridiculously busy evening, and we're already stacked 2-deep in the hallway of the hospital, waiting interminably for a bed, any bed. A crew has patched that they are coming in with a violent patient and is requesting the security meet them in the garage with restraints, they are accompanied by PD. As with any call that sounds interesting, bored medics start emerging from the woodwork to "help" the incoming crew. My patient is right near the door so as my partner joins the crowd in the garage, I have a great view to watch.

They arrive lights and sirens, and uniforms pour out of the back like a clown car, each one more sweaty and disheveled than the last. They've all definitely been in a fight, and we crane our necks to see what big, burly dude they're bringing in. When they pull out the stretcher we look at them in disbelief. A 19 year old, maybe 90-lb little blond girl lies sleeping on the bed, handcuffed, rip-hobbled and seatbelted in tight. Really? This seems like a bit of overkill. "Just wait" the one medic says wearily as he pulls the stretcher into the hallway. 

As if on cue, she starts to writhe and the medics, their student, several fire fighters and police officers assume their positions, it's obvious they've done this before and have a routine down. Security steps forward with restraints as the charge nurse comes around the corner to investigate the commotion. 

The tiny body on the bed starts to thrash, and each of her limbs, her head and her torso are held a little more firmly. Despite the manpower, I swear she begins to LEVITATE off the bed, her torso bending at an unnatural angle as she opens her eyes and begins to growl. She has become a wild animal, there is nothing human about her actions or the sound she is producing. An unearthly, wild snarl comes from her lips as she writhes and thrashes, nearly escaping the desperate clutches that hold her down. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the sound intensifies, everybody within earshot gets the urge to start throwing holy water or grab a wooden stake. And then just as suddenly, she relaxes. The rabid jungle cat is gone, and the sweet teenager has returned. As quickly as possible, the restraints are secured and she is moved into one a room, the door closing as the sound begins again.  We never found out what drugs she had taken, just as we all never forgot that bone chilling sound. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

True Save

Our 6 am shift is off to a good start, it's a beautiful, clear summer morning and we successfully managed to get coffee before heading to our downtown base. I have not worked with my partner before, but he seems like a pleasant enough older guy, obviously counting down the days until retirement. Dispatch calls our truck number; "Code 4 at the gym, unconscious male." The address is right around the block from us, so we swing around and arrive within seconds. "Update: CPR in progress." We see a lone police cruiser parked haphazardly on the sidewalk and load up the stretcher with all of our bags before heading in. An idiot of a security guard leads us straight to the escalator, and I look at him, then at our fully loaded stretcher, "Do you have an elevator?" "Oh, yah, I guess we do. But he's right up there, can't you just balance it on the steps?" Fire arrives to hear this and we collectively shake our heads. My partner and I grab our bags and head up the escalator while a couple  of fire fighters volunteer to bring the stretcher up the elusive elevator.

We are ushered into a small workout room where a spin class was taking place, and see a relatively fit-looking man in his 60s lying on the floor with a police officer doing impeccable CPR, an untouched AED is sitting at his feet. "Keep going, officer, you're doing a great job!" I set down the equipment I'm carrying, avoiding the pool of blood under his head, and we get to work - although it is quickly obvious that my partner should be thinking about retiring sooner rather than later, he is incredibly slow and flustered with everything he is doing - and he's an Advanced Care Paramedic. I cut his shirt off, slap the pads on, set up the ventilation gear and take over CPR while my partner fumbles with the monitor, finally succeeding. The man is in textbook v-fib, a rhythm where the heart muscle quivers like a handful of worms, a lot of action but not coordinated enough to pump any blood. The first shock is delivered and a firefighter continues compressions while I gather patient information.

The spin class instructor tells me that he is in class 3-4 times a week and has never shown any difficulty, that he has always seemed quite fit for his age. Today, he simply stopped peddling and fell sideways off the bike, striking his head hard on the one next to him. That explains the blood, at least. I turn back to the patient just in time to see his hands come up, "Stop CPR!". As I reach for his pulse, I glance at the monitor and see that he is now in a relatively normal looking rhythm. Awesome! Now our priority changes, we no longer want to stay on scene and work him, we want to get him to the hospital quickly, and hopefully still alive. I ask dispatch to give the nearest hospital, which luckily happens to be the cardiac hospital, a heads up, since we are only 3-4 minutes down the road and they tend to want a bit of notice when getting critical patients.

We get him packaged quickly, needing to restrain his arms as he starts to flail around widely. He is still alive and fighting a few minutes later when we unload him at the hospital, his vital signs amazing for somebody who was just dead. We find out later that he walked out of the hospital, neurologically intact, several weeks later. The spin instructor who began CPR started the Chain of Survival, the police officer who took over continued it, although using, not just grabbing, the AED would have been a great idea. He was extremely lucky that we were pretty much driving by the gym when he collapsed, and that the cardiac hospital was super close. All in all, a true save.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

False Hope

It was 5 am, still dark but with the sky just the beginning to lighten in the east. We're headed to a base for the first time all night, exhausted and spent after call after call, hoping to get a half hour to nap before we head home. Those weak hopes are dashed just before the base comes into view, "Code 4 to a VSA". I'm not sure if my groan is audible or not, but I swing the truck around and hit the lights. Somebody has woken up to find a family member dead, and it's our job to see if they are really dead or just nearly dead.

Fire is already on scene when we arrive, I have a good friend who works out of that station but its not his rotation. I like seeing him on calls because I know him, I trust him and he knows his stuff. We walk into the stereotypical Grandma and Grandpa's apartment, wall-to-wall thick beige carpet, pastel walls, ceramic plates and shiny silver spoons in a display cabinet. It could be my Grandparent's.

She is sitting in a well-used recliner, reading glasses on, paperback novel splayed out on the carpet beside her feet. She would look like she was napping if she was any colour other than bluish-gray. The Captain is with her husband and son in the kitchen, already explaining that she has passed away and there is nothing left to do. We approach her with our bags and my heart sinks as I begin my assessment. There is no question that the woman is dead, but she has not been dead long enough to allow for a field pronouncement. No rigor mortis, no mottling from where the blood has collected due to gravity. She is in fact, still warm. My partner and I exchange glances, we know she is dead and is most likely not coming back, but there is no other option, our protocol dictates that we must work her, we must attempt resuscitation simply because she is not quite dead enough. Damn. The family is already grieving.

We slide her out of her recliner and I begin CPR as my partner starts to assemble airway equipment and dictate tasks to the surprised fire department. I hear the captain in the kitchen rapidly change his tune as he hears what we are doing. He tries to explain the sudden flurry of movement without giving them false hope, but it is next to impossible.  We run through the steps of our resuscitation smoothly and quickly. There is no adrenaline rush, no sense of urgency, and it feels almost like a practice code from school. Check off the steps, but the outcome is already known, confirmed once we reach the point where we can call the physician and finally let the poor woman rest.

My partner goes to talk to the family as I clean up the living room. She is exposed from the waist up, so I tidy up her torn pajamas, smooth down her rumpled hair and cover her up with an afghan from the couch. She still looks like she is sleeping, lying on the carpet with a blanket she probably made herself, just now with a tube sticking out of her mouth and an IV in her arm. In my exhaustion, I am struck by the emotion of the situation. The family's despair, the hopeful 911 call, the firefighters storming in to save the day only to let them down, then our arrival and a burst of false hope, followed by the realization that she was indeed gone. As I hear the heartbroken sobs of her devoted husband of decades, I busy myself with gathering the assorted pieces of equipment scattered around, not trusting myself to make eye contact with anybody until I have composed myself.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dragon Medic

When I get ready for work, I am precise and methodical about my uniform, my route and my general routine. I find that this helps me put on my 'armour'. My armour is a psychological layer of protection that is tough and leathery, I envision it as a cross between dragon scales and medieval chain mail. It gives me the ability to remain polite and professional when a drunk, drugged out guy is screaming curses and insults, it allows me to remain expressionless when he then begins to detail exactly what he'd do to me if he caught me on the street. It enables me to put aside emotion when I work on a sick little child whose parents don't care enough about them to call for help before they stop breathing even while my whole being cries out to take that precious baby home. My armour is my way of remaining sane and compassionate amidst the sea of agony, abuse and apathy that I deal with every day.

When I am tired, sick or stressed, however, my armour weakens. This is when I am most bothered by calls, when I have to be very careful about my mental health. This weekend has been one such time. I am sick, functioning only on high doses of cold medications, exhausted and have had some extremely busy shifts. I had 2 patients crash hard and fast on me, including an adorable little kid, and pronounced another. Add in the needy flu patients, the stressed out nurses and the fact that my sinuses are ready to burst and you get one exhausted medic. Time to take a few days to myself and recharge!