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.