As a paramedic, especially one ailing from trauma, it becomes easy to get lost in the weighted depth of calls and bad outcomes. But being a paramedic is not all doom and gloom. I’d say it’s 90% mundane, followed by 10% insanity! For me, that 10% really stuck. Both as an army medic, and paramedic alike.
I’ve talked a lot about the bad ones… the hard calls. I’ve mused miserably on death and all its variances. But I don’t think I’ve spoken much about life. That is to say, I’ve never talked about the time I delivered a baby for a guy that had a stuffed nose… Stick around, this one get’s wild!
I can’t recall the exact month, but the time of year comes to mind just fine—it was fucking cold! The city had just been pelted by a wallop of hard blowing snow. The kind that comes in sideways and smacks against clenching eyelids. The wind slithered through all outerwear, no matter how skillful the layering that went into ones chosen wardrobe, let alone work attire.
Frank and I, along with our student, had just procured heated respite in the form of hot coffee. We were seated in the rig, idling outside of the station. None of us wanted to exit the vehicle and make our way inside. Just the thought of that brief jaunt from truck to station door was too grueling a task, that it alone caused a shiver to reverberate along my bones.
Frank looked over at me, his head sinking into his shoulders for warmth. He didn’t say anything, but he inquired through a look as to whether or not I was going to get out and guide he and the ambulance back into the bay of the station. I didn’t say anything either, but with a simple blink, I told him; “fuck that!”
However, through prolonged visual colloquy, we came to the realization, that we had a student in the back. A monikered, Trunk Monkey. Crooked smiles came to each of our faces.
“Hey… Kurt…” I leaned over my shoulder and called into the back. A nervous tessitura replied.
“Wanna get out and spot us in?” I asked sternly. Asked… more like… strongly implied what it was that he was about to do.
“Oh… uh… yeah. Yes! I got this!” Kurt sprang from the back seat and leapt out the side door of the rattling ambulance. In the brief time it took him to open the door and close it again, a frightful chill snuck into the rig! God, it was cold…
Poor Kurt stood shivering and dutiful, gesticulating as he used his hands to guide Frank into the ambulance bay. We left the backup beeper on, so it now wailed off the concrete walls and echoed bullishly throughout the bay. The poor kid couldn’t even cover his ears—he was tasked with backing us up—meaning his hands were busy…
Kurt was a good kid. Nervous and twitchy, but a good kid. Smart and motivated. Both Frank and I knew that he was going to pass practicum and ultimately, medic school. But that didn’t stop us from having a little fun at his expense while he was with us. Like I said—poor Kurt.
I think we had time to dismount and gleefully bound toward the crew quarters, but before getting a chance to head inside where it was warm and cozy, the overhead tones went off, and with it, our beepers clattered into existence. We were getting a call.
We grunted in disbelief and begrudgingly made our way back to our respective seats in the ambulance. As Frank toggled the switch to open the bay doors, I glared at the centre console, carefully ingesting the call notes that beamed off the screen.
“Jesus fucking Christmas…” An angry testimonial hopped from my tongue.
“What? What is it? A bad one?” Frank asked as his face fell into an intense consternation.
“Oh yeah… a bad one alright—we’re going to a 45-year-old male with a… get this… FUCKING STUFFED UP NOSE! A GOD DAMN COLD! SOME ASS HAT WITH A MAN-COLD HAS DECIDED, DESPITE IT BEING SIBERIAN COLD OUT, THAT HE NEEDS A FUCKING AMBULANCE, BECAUSE HIS BUCKLEYS TASTES AWFUL BUT DOESN’T FUCKING WORK!!!” I lamented with a crescendo of incredulity and annoyance.
“Hey, Kurt…” Frank said.
“See what Matt just did…”
“Yeah… well… don’t do that on your final exam!” Kurt nodded his head and actually began to write that down as a note of study. I started to chuckle to myself.
Sometimes it’s hard not to let emotion show. And at that stage of my career, I was already in the freefall of burnout, so the typical stoicism that I was known for was beginning to slip away from me.
“A cold… can you believe this guy?” I asked Frank.
“Yeah… 9-1-1 for a cold… I could never contemplate doing such a thing. And I’m a guy… we get bad colds!” Frank pontificated. I nodded in exaggerated agreement.
We made our way to a high-rise apartment complex. The call severity came in at the lowest possible dispatch, so we pondered on whether or not to even bring any gear inside. But experience and protocol demanded that we do. So, we did. Minimal gear, but gear nonetheless.
We braved the cold as we hobbled from truck to entryway of the building. Each of us bounding like turtles, our heads’ half in our jackets. We made contact with the patient via the intercom and instead of conversing with us through the PA system, we were just buzzed into the building. It was a relatively nice place. The interior was modern and bright. But most of all, it was warm. I unzipped my coat a little and freed myself in preparation of being inside for a while.
I really didn’t know what I was going to say to this patient of ours. I suppose it was a good thing that the student was supposed to take the lead. I was feeling less than concerned for this grown man who had called an emergency ambulance for the sniffles.
We made it to the top floor and found the apartment we had been dispatched to. I knocked on the door and growled aloud that the paramedics were here. The door swung open and standing there in front of us was a man in his forties, pale and sickly looking. I assumed this to be our patient. But, before any words were exchanged, he turned around and walked with haste deeper into his apartment. I called out to him, but he seemingly ignored me. I let free a defeated sigh and stepped into the hallway of the apartment. There was light coming from what I presumed to be the living area of the domicile. We made our way toward it.
“Hello… sir… what can we do for ya?” Frank called out. His tone was one that others would interpret as friendly. I knew it to be vexation. First; the guy had the nerve to call an ambulance for a simple cold. Second; the temerity to walk away from us without saying a god damn thing. I expected to round the corner of the hallway and see an adult toddler, pathetically sprawled atop of some couch, surrounded by a litter of discarded tissues, sobbing into his favorite fleece blankie—that was not to be the case.
We came to the end of the entryway and now stood in an open concept living-room. It was neatly decorated and well looked after. There was even a hint of vanilla and lavender in the air. There was a couch… and a person on it… but it wasn’t the stuffy nosed beckoner of 9-1-1. Observed on an expensive, black leather four-seater, was a woman with sweated brow and an obvious trepidity about her. The man we had thought to be our patient was kneeling beside her, holding her hand.
“Hey… what’s going on here?” I asked. My words dripping with inquisitive sincerity. The man finally opened his mouth and began to speak. He orated as though he had an army of clothes pins clamped to his nose.
“Id’s my wife… she’s pregnand!”
“I’m sorry… did you say, your wife, and, pregnant?” I clapped back.
“Yes! She’s in’d labour!!” He replied through congested desperation.
“Wait… I thought we were here for you?! Some guy with a head-cold…”
“Thad’s me! I called, but then’d my wife went in’do labour!” The trio of me, Frank and a nervous Kurt gawked at one another in disbelief and thick obfuscation.
“Okay… wait… so… you called, 9-1-1, because you have a cold… a man cold, and then your wife went into labour?”
“Yes! She sneezed and then’d her water broke!”
“Her water broke?!” Frank chirped with ascending inflection.
“Yes, in’d the kitchen. She’z having-uh baby—please, help.” As Mr. Sniffles was finishing his sentence, his wife moaned loudly in discomfort.
“Ma’am, is this your first pregnancy? How far along are you?” I asked. She informed me that she was near full term and that the delivery was supposed to be next week. This was indeed her first baby. She was slumped into the couch. I looked at Kurt, his Asian complexion had transformed into a pasty white and his eyes were as round as toonies.
Frank and I decided that it was go time. I, along with Kurt, raced back out into the hallway, down the elevator and outside in full sprint to retrieve the stretcher and bring it all the way back up stairs. By the time we had made it back to the apartment, Frank greeted me with the words; “I’m pretty sure we are gonna deliver a baby tonight—let’s just try not to do it in the elevator, yeah?”
“Agreed. Let’s go!”
We got her on the stretcher and out to the elevator doors. There was a ‘bing,’ and they opened. On the inside was a male in his twenties, holding a pizza box, a case of beer and boasting an intoxicated gait. We all shared in a brief visual inspection of each other before Frank informed him kindly that we needed the elevator, our patient was having a baby!
“A baby?” He asked.
“Yes… right now… can we get the elevator, please?”
“Far out! That’sss great newsssz. Congratsz, lady… and whichever dude isss the dad. It’sss prolly not that guy though…” The man said, pointing at Kurt. Kurt, at that moment looked as though he had gambled on a 7-11 hotdog after a night of drinking and was on the losing end of said wager. One bad fart away from a full stroke. It’s like I said before… poor Kurt!
The drunken man got off the elevator and we hastily commandeered it. As the doors were closing, he gifted us a thumbs up, causing him to drop his pizza on the floor. Just before the doors closed with finality, I heard a desperate whisper; “Oh no! My zaa…!”
Now on the bottom floor, we raced toward the ambulance. The woman’s discomfort was becoming increasingly urgent and our sickly Mr. Sniffles was desperately attempting to coach his wife.
“Juzt breathe, hondey. Juzt breathe…” In his defense, he really was trying.
Kurt opened the back doors of the ambulance and I readied to load. I was at the foot end of the stretcher and once the top of it was secured and ready for load, I lifted and waited for Frank to collapse the legs and wheels. And that’s when I saw it… it was mean. It was angry. It was damn near snarling at me… the woman’s vagina had transformed into the flaming Eye of Sauron—she was crowning.
“Frank… Fraaaank! She’s crowning… we got a baby head!” I vociferated. My eyes were now as wide and round as… well… Kurt’s!
“Yep. This is happening. We’re doing this!” Frank said.
We got her into the back of the ambulance and each took up position around the stretcher. That night we delivered a beautiful, (well, kind of gross at the time, but you know what I mean,) baby girl! The mother held onto the baby. Kurt held onto his crumbling composure. Frank smiled at a job well done. I felt a smile on my face, too. I noticed that the father was smiling while occasionally wiping droplets away from his reddened nose. I think he felt me looking at him, because he looked right at me and smiled a snotty smile.
“Thank you! Thank you so very much! This is jusd great!” He exclaimed. Followed by a cough.
“No problem. Hey… congratulations! You got yourself a baby. And a cold… but mostly, a baby!”
“It’s like a… baby cold!” Kurt said, attempting to sound composed and reassured of self.
“Yeah… Kurt… it’s like a baby cold…” I said with terse stoicism. I found what he had said to be pretty funny. But I wouldn’t tell him that until later. Much later. Like, months later. When he finally graduated and became a fully licensed paramedic!
90% mundane and 10% holy shit. One minute, you’re going to a guy with a cold. The next, you’re commandeering elevators, watching pizzas become soiled by hallway floors and then catching babies! And it really is the 10% that sticks…
That was a helluva night. And Frank was right—a job well done.
See ya on the next one. Because trust me, there’s always a next one!