I've blogged on several occasions about my work as a volunteer EMT. I tweet about it, too. I've even written a few flash fiction pieces inspired by my experiences. One thing I've not done is given you all an inside look at what it is I actually do. Tonight, I'm only working a partial shift. I'm covering for another EMT who is celebrating his wedding anniversary. This seems the perfect opportunity for me to blog and tweet a shift. Nothing confidential, nothing lurid, nothing controversial. Just a peak at what it's like serving as a volunteer EMT in rural Indiana.
Keep checking back for updates as the evening goes along!
5:45pm - Truck check. Before we put the amublance in service the EMT needs to give it a once-over. Most of our volunteers work day jobs and so the ambulance is rarely in during the day. We usually put our unit in service at about 6pm. The last thing we want is to get a call at 6:10pm, get out to the scene of an accident and then realize we're out of back boards or oxygen.
So that's how I started my shift tonight. After work I went home, changed, ate a rudely quick supper with my wife, and then ran back into town to check the truck. I went through each compartment to make sure the supplies were there. I checked each oxygen tank to make sure it was appropriately full. I checked each medicine to make sure it hadn't expired. I performed some general clean-up to make sure that the back of the truck was tidy and professional-looking. It's amazing how much of an impact that can have on patient confidence -- and patient confidence is the key ingredient for patient comfort.
Tonight, most everything was in order. I straightened a few things out, replaced a few nasal cannulas, and that was about all it took. The truck was ready!
Since we're a volunteer unit, most of the time we respond from home. That means that we have to be in communication with our team members. It's a little goofy, but I'm a certified EMT but I'm not cleared to drive the ambulance. I'm actually covering for the drive tonight. That means that the guy who was going to be EMT is shifting over to driving for the first few hours of the night, and I'm EMT. That means that he's in charge later, but for right now I'm running point. I called him, confirmed he was ready, and then called the hospital to put us in service.
Since about 6pm, our basic life support unit has been in service, available for calls. An hour in, we haven't had any yet. The county's been quiet as a whole so far. You never know from one moment to the next. The rest of the shift is all about waiting.
7:45pm - We were dual-tone dispatched with a paramedic unit to respond to another nearby town. Most of the volunteer county units are out of service tonight, which means that the units that are in respond across a much larger area than usual. The county units like ours provide only basic life support, and so in cases of chest pain or other potentially time-critical highly precarious conditions, a paramedic unit is also dispatched at the same time. They can provide advanced life support. (What BLS and ALS each entail varies from state to state in the US.)
I had missed a voicemail from the guy I was covering for. He was back and available, but we went ahead and ran as a three-person crew. I stayed as EMT since I was on point still. No sense creating confusion.
As it was, the paramedic unit made it to the scene before we did and they maintained care and transport of the patient. Sometimes they will do that. Other time they will ask for the patient to be transported in our truck and they will have a medic ride along. Tonight, they were in a position to keep the patient and so they did.
We call that a Signal 9 run -- a "disregard."
We stuck around to help the paramedics if they needed, but there was also a rescue squad on scene. I held a door open. Another crew member assisted with lifting and moving the cot. Our third crew member just stood by in case he was needed.
Then, we went back in service and returned to the station. Since I was EMT, it was then my job to call dispatch to get the times for the run. Just like you have to fill otu paperwork when you're a patient at a doctor's office, we have to fill out a whole lot of paperwork to take care of you. Or even, in this case, to state that we didn't take care of you because someone else did.
At this point, since the guy I was covering for is back early, I guess that's the end of my shift.
No life-saving for me tonight. But that's part of being a volunteer. Sometimes it is very much about saving lives. Other times it's about not being too proud to stand by and hold a door or grab onto another guy as he carries a cot down stairs, so he doesn't lose his balance.
It's great when you play a key role in getting someone the help they need to save their life.
It's just as great, though, when you make yourself available to help however you are needed.
Here's the men and women who are out there saving lives right now.
And here's to the other men and women who are holding doors open for them and schlepping their equipment around.