Some volunteer EMT's don't mind being woken by a page in the middle of the night. Some can't stand it. No one goes to bed and thinks, "I sure I hope get woken up." But it happens. A lot.
You go to bed and some nights you think, "Uh, I really hope I can just sleep through this night." Some nights you think, "Well, I'd love to get a run tonight, and I feel pretty good, so it'd be alright to get toned out tonight." Until you've been doing it a while and start to get jaded, you feel a little guilty about it even being a question. After all, if you're needed, you're needed. You volunteered. It seems petty to even think about complaining.
|Photo by Brad and Sabrina|
When it happens --
When the pager goes off --
When you're rattled abruptly out of your sleep cycle by the sharp, piercing, rapid-fire beeps, you don't know what's going on. You look at your alarm clock first. The numbers don't register, but you get the sense it's still late. Early. Whichever. Not the time to wake up.
Suddenly your mind half-tunes in the words, already in progress, "Attention Medic Unit, Attention Medic Unit. Respond to 303 E Raymond Street, Apartment B." She speaks in a droning monotone, unnatural pauses forcing her words into rhythm that feels even more awkward as you rise from the dead of sleep. "For a patient with breathing difficulties."
You remember then what the noise is, why it's waking you, what you're supposed to do. You remember you're an EMT. It's your job to help that person.
"This is a Lifeline call."
You rise swiftly.
"Be advised that an officer is en route."
Perhaps you sleep naked and need to pull on your clothes. Perhaps you sleep fully dressed, head to toe. If you're like me, you sleep in the shirt, pants, and socks, but not the rest. You move out to the living room, stopping yourself from turning on the lights because your wife is still asleep.
You slip your feet into your shoes.
You think about tying them, but then you remember that takes too much time.
You pull a hat on.
Grab your watch.
Pat your pockets to make sure you're wearing the pants with your medical tools in them.
Suddenly, you feel slow, and you hurry up and finish. On the way to the station, your mind starting to clear as soon as you back the car out onto the road, you start thinking about how to prepare. Maybe you remind yourself of some of the acronyms and mnemonics. Maybe you think about the last breathing difficulty patient you had. Maybe you remember the last time you went to 303 E Raymond Street, Apartment B.
By the time the second tones go off, two minutes after the first, you're afraid you're running late, even though it's only been two clock minutes since the first tones went off. It's not two minutes. It's when the minute hand is two minutes further along than it was. From 3:26:58 to 3:28:00 is two minutes.
But in the dark of 3:30am, even as you shake your dreams off and focus on the real world, you still worry about it.
A minute later, you're in the ambulance and on the way.
After the run, after the patient has been transported. After the patient has been delivered to the hospital with an open airway, and as good a vital set as possible. After care of the patient has been handed over to the emergency room nursing staff, and the paperwork has been filled out, and the truck has been cleaned up, and your driver has finished off his cigarette, you hop in and ride home, unwinding, along the way. The longer the ride home, the better off you are, the looser the grip of adrenaline on your wakefulness. That's when you can go home, crash, and go to sleep.
But you don't always get a full run. You don't always get to see a patient through. You don't always get that long wind-down. Sometimes. Many times. For stretches, most times. You get a signal 9, a disregard. Woken up and possibly amped, you hear her voice again. Her droning monotone. The awkward rhythm.
"Attention Medic Unit, Attention Medic Unit. Per County. You can. Disregard."
"Medic Unit clear."
And then it's back home. A short ride. You never got to use the adrenaline that was required to wake you up from the depths of your sleep. You never get a chance to wind down and let the adrenaline ease off. As quick as you made it to the station, you're back. And then you're home. Wide awake. It's 3:40 in the morning. You know you're tired. You know you want to sleep.
You know it's going to be a while.
And you think, "Well, at this point, we might as well get another run."