Unknown medical alarms can be a wide variety of things, most are accidental activations, some are lift assists, but very few are actually seriously ill. Tonight I'm working with my former preceptor and favourite partner, Matt. We respond to such an alarm, eventually needing to wake up the poor building superintendent at 3am. She opens the door for us in a housecoat and slippers, then disappears quickly to return to her bed.
"Hello? Paramedics!" I yell as I knock on the door. Hearing a faint noise inside, I open the door carefully and peer into the darkened apartment. Again, "Hello? Paramedics!" This time we hear her more clearly, a terrified and weak voice comes back, "Help me, help me!" It's Matt's turn to run the call, but I find her first as we wander through her apartment.
Rounding the bedroom door and flicking on the light, I see the poor woman, clad in only a t-shirt, who has fallen out of bed into a very tight space. Her knees are bent with her feet wedged against the dresser, and in her Parkinson's-weakened struggle to free herself, she has only managed to complicate the problem, as her head is now stuck underneath the wooden slat of her bed frame. "Help me! I'm so scared!" I kneel beside her as Matt steps over us and begin to assess her. ABCs normal, no head or neck trauma. Just an unfortunate fall, made worse by her futile struggles.
She is crying now, "I'm so scared, I was all alone and nobody was coming." I see my Grandmother in her, and my heart breaks for this lonely old woman who is so terrified. I cradle her head in my gloved hands as Matt lifts up the bed, and slid her out as much as I can. Together, we straighten her legs and finish moving her from beneath her wooden prison. I kneel on the floor behind her, letting her sink into me as she cries. "Thank you, thank you! I was so scared!". Matt moves into a more thorough assessment as I simply hold her and let her calm down slowly.
I'm not trying to be cheesy, but I truly feel honoured to be in this position. A scared elderly woman manages to hit her medical alarm button while lying trapped on the floor. Strangers, we are let into her apartment in the middle of the night and are welcomed, thanked and so appreciated. Not for our medical skills, not for our knowledge or many years spent studying, but as Matt reminded me often as a student, for our 'soft skills'. I forget sometimes that our job is comfort and support as much as it is medical. The reward in this difficult job is truly the people we help, how crucial that is to remember when we feel unappreciated and forgotten.