Sunday, November 30, 2008

Because I am a Paramedic...

... I do things that may seem out of the ordinary to regular folks. Heck, even to those close to me who are also in EMS I seem to do some things that appear to be a little strange, if they pay close attention.

My expressions of love and appreciation may seem redundant or sometimes even excessive. Maybe it's a function of looking back on all of those close to me I've lost; those who may not have known just how much I loved and appreciated and needed them, combined with 15 years of seeing unexpected tragedies befall people in a split second - things that change their loved ones' lives forever. I made my best friend cry a couple of weeks ago, sending her a card with some heartfelt sentiments written inside. Is that stuff already understood between us? Sure it is. Did I still feel the need to express it all, yet again? You bet. No matter how dumb of an argument we may have, I will always, always tell Dan I love him at the end of it. I will always want to be kissed hello. Goodbye. Goodnight. For no reason at all. If I get T-boned turning on the divided highway going to work, or make an unfortunate turn on my bike in front of an 18-wheeler, or next time I jump out of a plane that parachute maybe doesn't work - I will die knowing those I loved knew it, every day.

I look at strangers with an extra vigilant eye. Watch people out of the corner of my eye. Let those walking behind me know that I know they're there. I pay attention to that little tug deep in my gut that some people set off; it's never been wrong. I stand sideways at the ATM and lock eyes with anyone who comes too close as if to say: I can identify you in a lineup. If you are under arrest and I am treating you, my nameplate comes off of my uniform and goes into my pocket.

I seem critical of others; too critical at times. Like many others in public safety and healthcare, I have zero tolerance for bullshit. Don't tell me you've only had 2 drinks. That you don't know how you wrecked; that you certainly weren't on your phone or trying to pick up that lit cigarette you dropped. That you haven't taken any mind-altering substances, or that you do expect me to provide them for you.

I believe that really bad things disproportionately happen to good people who don't deserve it. I have seen horrible twists of fate you wouldn't believe. A man drives down a highway and an 18-wheeler in front of him loses a wheel. The wheel strikes his vehicle, taking off half of the roof and half of his head with it. What happens if he takes a different road that day or leaves the house 5 minutes late? He lives. I hope he told his wife he loved her that morning.

I have little patience for the rest of those who have actually caused and played a large part in their injury, illness, and eventual demise. You didn't wear a seatbelt and now your jaw is busted in half, and now I have to cut off your $300 cashmere sweater to examine you, and you're pissed. I don't care. It's hard to feel bad for you when you could have walked away from this little fender-bender had you been smart enough to use the safety device provided for you in that $50,000 car. You drink and drive? I hope you die a painful death, but I'm realistic enough to know that you won't die or even get hurt; you will, however, probably hurt, maim or kill someone else. Drunks and babies: They bounce.

I have an overwhelming need to maintain a larger-than-normal personal space bubble when out amongst the public. Peoples' self-importance annoys me. One day you're cutting me off with your car or shopping cart because what you have to do and where you have to be obviously supercedes the needs of everyone else. The next day maybe you're trampling an innocent guy who makes less in a month than you made last week, so you can get a Garmin for $100.

You may, at this point, be counting your blessings that you live far, far away from my area and you'll never see me darken your doorway in your hour of need. However, know this: If you truly are in need, I'm in it with you 110%. I'll hunch over you on the floor and shield you from your enraged sugar-daddy who's trying to attack us. Then 6 months later I'll take 3 days off of work and stare him down court, and testify against him, even if you won't. I'll hold your Grandma's hand, and wipe her tears, and keep her warm and comfortable while I'm taking care of her. I'll even stop on the way out the door and raise the stretcher up just high enough for Grandpa to give her a kiss before he trusts us -total strangers - to take care of the woman who's been the center of his universe for 60 years. I'll medicate you onto Cloud 9 if you are really and truly in pain, even if it would be easier for me to turf you on my partner and avoid the paperwork and med replacement. I'll stand up to your kids and grandkids when they talk to you like you're a toddler or talk about you like you're not sitting right there. I'll listen, and honestly be interested, in your stories of growing up during the Great Depression, or how you flew a bomber in WWII. I'll make your sick or injured kid laugh at my expense and let you sit in the back of the ambulance with them. If you ask me how bad it is, I will tell you the truth. Good or bad.

However. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, well, that never happens. But fool me twice, you're dead to me.

Other strange stuff I do, because I am a Paramedic:

  • Never turn my back to traffic. At home. At work. In the mall parking lot. Never.
  • Hand washing: Before I use the bathroom. After I use the bathroom. Once more on the way out the door probably, too. Especially if the bathroom I used is in a hospital. Before cooking. After. After sneezing, even if it's a 20-sneeze extravaganza. After coughing into my hand. Or after shaking your cough-sullied hand. No offense.
  • If I'm knocking on your door and I don't know you, I'm standing off to the side. Just in case.
  • When I enter a place, be it a house, or an aparment building, or a grocery store or a log cabin - I familiarize myself with the exits. It's become automatic after all these years to automatically start mapping the quickest, easiest exit out of a place, usually keeping in mind we'll probably be carrying someone.
  • I will tell you how much I love you or appreciate you, and how much you mean to me. Ad nauseum. Probably most every time I talk to you this will happen. Get used to it.
  • I will put off mundane things that need to be done in favor of fulfilling things that I want to do, because life is short. This means that sometimes my house or yard will suffer, however my dogs and I will be happy walking around the lake or napping together on a rainy afternoon. I've seen many people on their deathbeds; not one of them has said, "Damn. I wish I could live one more day so I could vacuum those carpets just once more."
  • You will never see me put my fingers or my pen in my mouth. You will also very rarely see me get sick, despite people coughing and puking and hacking in my face daily. Handwashing, my friends. Handwashing.
  • I check out your veins. All the time. I can't help it.
  • I try to guess your medical history when I'm standing in line with you at the store, based on what I can see. I'm surprisingly accurate.
  • We bet on blood alcohol levels, blood sugars, discharge diagnoses, addictive predilections, and mental health quirks of patients. We're surprisingly accurate.
  • We do notice what kind of underwear you're wearing, or the lack thereof. If you're wearing a banana-hammock and you think we are snickering with the nurses at your expense, we probably are. (Sorry).
  • I wear my seatbelt all the time. Even driving across parking lots. 
  • I appear to like dogs more than people, in general. It's mostly true, and people have earned a great deal of that second-rate treatment.
  • When on amusement park rides, I calculate just what trauma may befall me and everyone else should the ride fail. It's distracting.

So next time you see someone impervious to the common cold or flu, with hands red and raw from overwashing, standing sideways at the ATM, locking eyes on everyone within 4 feet of them and maintaining that sacred bubble of personal space, looking for the quickest route out of the area ... wave hi from a safe distance to your friendly neighborhood Paramedic.

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