If you have read my posts before or follow the blog itself, you may have noticed a recurring theme within my chosen lexicon – macabre. Most of what I write is spookish prose with a dark underbelly. This is not done out of desire nor design. It simply is the narrative within me. A narrative birthed from a chosen career in death. Or perhaps more appropriately, the attempted cessation of death. When undertaking such an endeavour you come to learn a few things. One of those things is the potency and finality that death exudes. You learn of its callous nature and non-discriminatory practices. The other thing bestowed upon you is that you lose your fear of death. Fear is replaced by a harboring resentment towards the cloaked taker of life. In these lessons, it is difficult to be anything but macabre…
And on that note, I have a story for you. A story that I hope is juxtaposed in such a way as to bring a slight smile to your faces. I hope this because admittedly, I am smiling right now…
This is indeed a story from the ambulance. It takes place in the middle of a muggy summer’s night in August some years ago. My partner and I had settled into the shift nicely with the procurement of bad coffee’s and Saran-wrapped sandwiches from the corner store. We’d been on a couple of trips already but nothing life-threatening nor emergent. Which wasn’t a bad thing considering we had a third person riding with us tonight. Typically, an ambulance is staffed by only two paramedics, but tonight we were ‘volun-told’ that we were going to have a foreign healthcare practitioner on-board. He was a doctor from the Philippines. A nice enough fella, but his English was lacking. It was tough to communicate or comprehend where his head was at with respect to treatment modalities.
As the night progressed our ears became more entuned to our foreign medic’s unique English stylings. The night got better and better when we realized his bedside manner was anything but acceptable to North American standards. He was saying everything to patients that we had wanted to say for years now! He told the young woman in her twenties that calling an ambulance because of pink-eye was, “stupid.” He even looked into the eyes of a drunk guy that was in the back of our ambulance after having been involved in a tussle at a local bar and said, “Why you yelling? It not nice. Shut-up. Asshole.” And you know what? The guy DID shut-up! This night was anything but ordinary, but it was great.
As the hours of our shift passed, we trio of life-savers roamed from call to call partaking in the hilarity of our Filipino friend’s most honest approach to the less desirable sect of our patient clientele. He told the overweight lady that she was just “fat,” and that’s why her knees hurt. He explained to the drug seeking regular that he was “wasting our time” and that he didn’t need an “ambulance,” but that he instead needed a job… so that he could “buy” more drugs! He was basically voicing every medic’s internal monologue with no fear of the politically correct constraints of dealing with the public. My stomach was sore from laughing by mid-way through our shift.
As we sat at a station in between calls, we three confabulated on the comedic tone of this night, and our Filipino friend, Marc, just smiled and seemingly enjoyed our reactions to his ways. I was in the midst of a belly-laugh when the tones went off and we were dispatched yet again.
The call was for an elderly male whom resided in a senior’s living home. Or as I refer to them: Geriatric storage facilities. He was said to have fallen out of bed and was bleeding “badly.”
We arrived on scene and began hauling the needed gear with us, along with the stretcher. A small-framed nurse greeted us at the front sliding doors and walked us towards the room where the elderly man was said to be.
We walked by a nurse’s stationary counter and were met with gawking gazes of the aw-struck. Our weighted footfalls slapped against the newly waxed floor and bounced down the corridor that we were navigating. The nurse whom had been leading us came to a stop, and said, “in there, he in there.” She was a polite woman from whom English also appeared to be a second language. She used her hand as if to usher us into the room. We obliged.
Marc, the Filipino third of our trio made entry first and then I in-behind him. We were met with the sight of an old man lain face down on the cold floor of his room, and an unsightly amount of blood around him and on his bed. It looked like he had been stabbed, there was so much blood. We worked quickly in assessing this man and his injuries. He most certainly was not stabbed, nor actively bleeding from any obvious injury site. It was hard to ascertain anything from this elderly man on the floor because not only was he hard of hearing, but he also had dementia.
As we began to piece together what had happened, it became evermore clear that yes, he did indeed need to go to the hospital, but not for a life-threatening injury – more-so a precarious one… It turned out that while he was sleeping in his bed, he had unwittingly rolled too far to one side and fallen from his bed to the awaiting floor below. And in doing that, the urinary catheter that had once been in-place within his urethra, had ripped from his penis, and caused what I am sure was a frightfully painful wake-up. You see, when a catheter is in-place, it is inflated by a small balloon so as to mitigate any unwanted dislodging of said catheter… freefalling from one’s bed is a good way to render that balloon useless.
Marc was still attempting to lead the call while Ryan readied the stretcher for transport and I positioned myself into place for extrication of the man on the floor. Marc began to speak with the old man and explain to him what was going to happen. Now, this is where I want you to take a moment and attempt to paint this for your mind’s eye: We have Marc, a Filipino who arrived in Canada some weeks prior to this event, and whose English was less than fluent. And we have an old man who needed hearing aids to hear but was not wearing them, all with the backdrop of dementia… and they were trying to talk to one another… picture that. Picture it just for a moment. And when you’re done laughing, keep reading. What happened next was to this day one of the most surreal and outrageously funny moments of my life. They began speaking…
“Sir, you hurt. We take you to hospital.”
“Sir, you hurt, okay. We take you to hospital for doctor.”
“What?? I’m not a doctor!”
“No, sir, you hurt, we take you to a doctor!”
“Who’s a doctor?”
“We take you to one.”
“Sir, you hurt yourself. You hurt your penis!”
“I don’t want your penis!”
“No, no, sir, your penis is ow!”
“Not now. No ow!”
“Why do you have my penis!?”
“What? Sir, listen, you hurt your penis!” This went on for longer than I should have allowed but hear me out, this was awesome! I was damn near doubled over. And then as if it couldn’t get any more outrageous, Marc reached onto the bed, and grasped the blood soaked urinary catheter in a gloved hand, and held it outstretched in the air like Arthur held Excalibur and said, “Sir, this, this come out your penis! It rip from cock!” Ho-ly shit! I was able to keep my composure until I heard the inevitable, a snicker of uncontained laughter from Ryan. But Ryan was not in the room, he was standing in the doorway behind a gaggle of aw-struck nurses that had appeared at some time during the exchange. As we continued to snicker yet work, the old man locked a steadfast gaze onto Marc and shot forth a hail of obscenities:
“Fuck your cock! You, penis dark man! FUCK YOU! FUCK!”
This continued in the ambulance. This continued in the bay of the emergency entrance to the hospital. This continued while in triage, and it continued when handing over care to an unsuspecting group of ER nurses and residents.
“Fuck you, penis dark man! You ripped my dick!”
When all was said and done, the old man was fine and well looked after, and Marc learned a truly valuable lesson: never use medical terminology to a hard of hearing demented person whose penis had just been traumatized.
Marc flew back to the Philippines at the end of that month. Hope he’s doing well…