I hate being wrong. I'm a perfectionist all the way and the idea of making mistakes is something I don't like at all. But who likes making mistakes?
Mistakes in EMS could range from a documentation error on a trip sheet such as "5mg of atropine was given" instead of ".5mg of atropine was given" to actually giving the wrong drug and everything in between. How often does the phrase, "if it's not documented, it didn't happen" also creep into our EMS lives? Documenting two IV attempts versus three IV attempts won't kill anyone, but it still looks bad in the long run. If you're willing to lie about something like that, then what else would you be willing to lie about?
As a brand new medic, I was quite eager to please. I had the respect of the nurses and doctors at the local hospital and life was grand. One particular shift I had been getting my rear handed to me on a silver platter. It seemed like the calls were never going to stop. By 3 o'clock that morning, I was easily on call 12, if not more. An abdominal pain call came in and it was very textbook. As I tried to establish an IV, I just couldn't get it. In a furious attempt to get access to give my patient pain medication for the long trip to the hospital, I went over the allotted number of attempts before I had to contact command by one.
I was by myself in the back of the ambulance. My patient was in too much pain from whatever was going on in her belly to care. No one would ever know I went over. "It's not that big of a deal," I thought to myself. I went ahead, doling out the command authorized dose of fentanyl and we dropped the patient off at the hospital. I still hadn't said anything, but I told myself that I would've gotten permission anyway. It wasn't like I overdosed her on pain killers or anything.
I went back into the patient's room to retrieve my clipboard when I noticed the doctor, one of the command physicians in fact, looking over the patient. An ugly bruise was forming on the back of her hand and it was quite obvious that I had made more than three attempts.
I was sick. If I didn't own up now what would the consequences be? As the doctor left the room, I stepped in beside him, keeping pace.
“Dr. A?” I barely squeaked out. All he did was nod.
"I went for four sticks instead of three," I trailed off, trying not to make excuses. "I know I was supposed to call for permission after the third one, especially since I'm on probation and everything. But I was so intent on getting that line that I just kept going."
"You know you could've been suspended for something like that," he responded. "If you're willing to lie about an IV, what else would you lie about?"
I was the same medic who would get angry with my patients when they lied and said they only had one beer or one Xanax or one whatever and you'd find out later that was a bold-faced lie. I was the same medic who would get angry with my coworkers when they'd tell me the truck was stocked, just to find out that I couldn't even run a paper cut with the supplies I had.
In the end, I had to spend an extra 90 days on probation. I learned the hard way that being forthcoming and truthful about my mistake could've made the whole situation easier. Dr. A stated in the meeting I had to have with him, the EMS coordinator and my boss that if I would've just come forward immediately, it wouldn't have been a big deal. Since I tried to hide it, I had to deal with the consequences. It was hard to have to call in to perform the simplest ALS procedure while watching those who got out of class and start precepting at the same time as I did playing on their own.
It's not worth it. The trouble you can find yourself in if you lie about or try to hide your mistakes is drastically worse than the penance you may have to pay when you confess to them.
Be safe, my friends.
Shao Trommashere is a paramedic who has worked for close to a decade in EMS and in the fire service. She completed paramedic class in 2007 after working as an EMT since 2002 in the Northeast corner of the United States. She also has a blog called Looking Through A Pair of Pink Handled Trauma Shears.