That morning started off about as generic as any morning could. By generic, I mean that it was relatively calm within the streets of the city. My partner and I had been on shift for several hours, and we had managed to navigate the winding roads of the inner city unscathed and free from any long offload delays within the hospital hallways. A rare feat within this blue collar concrete maze of a town. I remember we pulled up to one of our favorite and most efficient coffee spots, and procured some caffeinated gold. The only thing that could keep you going till the end of your shift on days like today. Days where all you find yourself doing is driving around the city from one sector to the next, just waiting to hear those inevitable words from dispatch: “Alpha one-four, Alpha one-four, you’re getting’ a trip”.
To my surprise, we had enough time with our beverages to drain them near empty before that inevitability came across the radio. I took a quick glance at my watch to see what time it was, I knew it was late into the shift, and that this call was certain to burden us with overtime. That’s always the way; on relatively easy days, you’re guaranteed overtime. Never fails. And this call would be no different. It would indeed doom us to overtime.
I will however preface this story by saying that I am not writing about it because it is traumatic in nature. Not for me anyway. I decided to write this for all those people who are curious about what goes on when we are on scene, or within the confines of the back of the ambulance. An inside look, so-to-speak.
As I look out my window now, I see the sun cascading down, and its light breaking through the alleyways and glinting off the glass of the high-rises. It reminds me of that day – the day that me, my uniform pants, shirt and boots became saturated by another man’s sad life. That’s what we were going to; a sad man, and his sad life. I didn’t know just how sad until I walked through the door to his apartment. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. The call address was in a known part of town, and what I mean by that is; it was in a shit part of town. A rundown sector of the inner-city that was home to drugs, sex-trafficking, and everything else that your imagination can come up with, plus a little extra. Funny how every city has one isn’t it? The gloriousness of a bustling downtown, and the shadowy area no one goes to unless they have to. And I had too…
There’s another unwritten but well know rule within EMS: If you have a shitty call in an apartment building, it’s guaranteed to be several floors up, and in the dwelling furthest from the elevator – this call was no exception. When the cantankerous elevator doors pried open, the first thing I felt was relief ‘phew, survived another one’, of course followed by, ‘what – the – fuck – is that – smell?’. Hallmarks of entering any sketchy apartment building while on shift.
We pushed on towards the residence that had requested us. Down one hallway, then a left, another hallway, and another slight left, the furthest apartment from the elevator. After a couple of futile and unanswered knocks, we announced loudly, “It’s the Paramedic’s! Do you need help? Can you come open the door?” which was met with continued silence. It was at that point that I tried the door knob – it was unlocked – joy…
We pushed the door open while simultaneously announcing our presence once more. The floor was linoleum (I think), covered in what appeared to be years of everything. I swear, there was even a cockroach wearing a red bandana that scurried in front of us whilst muttering, “fucking 5-0 is here, scatter!”. To be fair, I may have only imagined that last part… Needless to say, this was not a welcoming environment. It was a small and cramped space so, the smells hung heavy in the air. Whatever they were, pleasant was not one of them.
We kept announcing our presence as we shuffled forward into the unknown. As I reached the end of the entryway, I noticed I was approaching what appeared to be a living room. It was just as baron and unkempt as the entryway. One stark difference though, a man – there was a man just off to the left of centre in the living room, on the floor. He was lain atop of what can only be described as a diseased mattress. Scattered around him was the shrapnel of alcoholism. Empty vodka bottles and crushed cans of cheap label beer. The man was awake but not responding to our verbal cues. An Asian man with skin more akin to that of an aging banana. This had to be our guy, the banana man. Other than him, there was nothing in that place. Nothing except empties, smashed glass, and take out containers that littered the baron wasteland of that apartment. This was not a place where I would like to hang my hat, let alone place my feet. But I had no choice.
After a quick scene survey, I realized that all around the mattress was remnants of an alcoholic: dried puke beneath fresh puke, bottles stacking atop of bottles. A virtual glass graveyard. I got as close as I could to the banana man, and began my assessment. It was in doing that, that another startling revelation came to light – two bottles of liquid drain cleaner lain beside the man’s head. A bluish discharge could be seen oozing from one of the caps, and upon taking inventory of the banana man, blue crust mixed with saliva, could be seen at the corners of his mouth. I asked him if he had been drinking the Drain-O, to which he unabashedly nodded, ‘yes’. It was at that point and after a quick set of vital signs that we realized that we needed to load, and go. We needed to get this guy to the hospital, and quickly.
Ordinarily, the thought of simply picking a person up off of the floor, and placing them onto our stretcher is of little to mild concern. This guy however was a little more complicated. You see, the puke that I mentioned earlier? Yeah, well, it was not an overnight thing, it was a days, weeks, or months kind of thing. There was nothing safe to grab on this guy, not to mention the diseased mattress on which he lay. This was not going to be your standard scoop and run. We decided on a technique called: the burrito wrap. The Burrito wrap is where you take one of your stretcher blankets, and shimmy it underneath the patient, then wrap them like an oversized human burrito – perfect for the ‘gross’ ones. So, as we began to attempt this, I placed my hands on the banana man’s left shoulder and hip, and began to rock him gently towards me, so as to allow for my partner to place the blanket underneath the back of the man. Now, as I mentioned, this man had been drinking, puking, pissing, and shitting for God knows how long before we got there, so when I rocked him towards me, not only was there an increase to the potency surrounding the apartment, but you could actually hear him pull away from the depravity beneath him. Think, pulling apart a grilled cheese sandwich, only with sound….
We eventually managed to package the patient and begin our exfiltration of the apartment. We snaked our with our stretcher all the way back to the elevator. The one we thought we had left waiting for us. Turns out, there was now a drunk and dishevelled gentleman whom had taken up residency within it. He also refused verbal cues to move or shimmy out of the way. Now remember, I said we had to get this guy to the hospital quickly so, we really didn’t have time for this. My partner and I each grabbed a piece of the sleeping man, and dragged/slid him out of the elevator and into the hallway. It was only as the doors began to close that the sleeping beauty mustered up enough distain for both my partner and I’s decision to move him, that he bellowed out, “FUCK YOU!”
Oh, important note, yes, yes the elevator had elevator music. Despite the fact that it could detach from its cable and plummet without mercy to the unforgiving ground below at any moment, it still had music. It was Celine Dion. Fucking Celine Dion… I fucking hate-Celine Dion…
Now in the back of the ambulance after starting an I.V., and telling my partner that he was good to start driving, I found myself sat uncomfortably beside the patient. I continued to monitor and radio ahead to the hospital with what was coming in. It did not take long though, before I noticed the banana man pulling at his oxygen tubing that was attached to the mask overtop of his face. I pleaded with him to leave it in place while explaining that he needed oxygen, but he cared little for what I had to say. Feeling slightly dismayed now, I said aloud, “So, you’re really just gonna take that off eh? Even after what I just-“, and before I could finish my sentence, with one fluid motion, the banana man pulled the mask off just enough to be an inch or two in front of his face, and then began violently expelling his stomach contents. I do not just mean the booze and take-out, I mean literally, his stomach contents, his lining! The Drain-O was beginning to wreak havoc inside of him. It was like a demonic fountain. A fucking geyser of frothy, pink, vodka coated stomach lining, exploding from his mouth, and spraying through the sides of the mask that hovered just about his face. Like an uncontrolled hydrant, he sprayed everywhere. I mean, everywhere…
So, if you want to know what it is like to be in the back of an ambulance with a sick person? It’s like this: one minute, you are in a clean uniform, caring for a person in front of you. The next, you are grabbing the yellow railing affixed to the ceiling, used to maintain balance within a moving ambulance, only instead of using them for balance, you find yourself performing a stunt ripped right from the Matrix, with cirque du soleil styled acrobatics, just to avoid being puked on – only, it does not work. Pieces of this man’s insides now held residency on my shoulder, chest, belt buckle and crotch. Slithering down my left leg, and resting atop of my boots. I could feel the damp of the sick begin to saturate my arm sleeve and pant leg. I was almost afraid to move.
One thing I laugh about now, but did not at the time, was the look of unrivaled horror that was my partners face, upon opening the back doors of the ambulance. His mouth took the shape of an “O” as his jaw lowered like a drawbridge. For a brief moment, none of us moved, we just shared a lingering look with one another, even the banana man looked at me… The best part was that I did not have a uniform with me, a spare one I mean. At the station? Sure. But not on me, and there was no way that I was going to hop into the front of that truck, drenched in this man’s poor life choices. So, after handing over care and finishing paper work, I found myself wearing borrowed and one size too small nursing scrub pants, work boots, and a scrub top, also a size too small. I looked like a fat nurse who got lost on the way to commando school – very out of place.
So, there ya have it. That’s what a typical slow day in EMS can get ya – covered head to toe in vodka enriched stomach lining…
Oh, as for the grilled cheese reference? You’re welcome….