EMS Revisited: Round Table

A new column was launched in the Sept/Oct 1978 issue of EMS Magazine titled EMT Round Table, which gave readers the opportunity to expound informally on just about any subject (EMS related, of course) dear to their heart. The only qualification for participation was an active involvement in EMS and a desire to share opinions and/or experiences with colleagues. James Chick, an EMT supervisor for Foothill Ambulance Service, Inc., in Citrus Heights, CA, started off the series with his reflections on partners in EMS.

Ever wish your partner was a clone of yourself? It probably wouldn't work, though, because you would soon tire of your own unconscious habits and mannerisms, when experienced from this point of view. So, it's best to adapt to your partner's ways and develop a good working relationship.

After six years in the emergency services, first in firefighting, and now in EMS, I have had many partners. When I first began in the ambulance service, I worked with a different partner each day. At that time, EMS was just beginning and some of the "old-timers" were still around, the last of the "grab them and run" group. We were called attendants and stewards at that time, rather than technicians. Well, eventually the old-timers were replaced by younger, more highly trained EMTs, many of them Vietnam War veteran corpsmen and medics.

As the number of EMT courses increased, so did the number of young EMTs in the emergency medical services, some as young as 18 years of age. A new problem arose: immaturity. Suring a tense or highly emotional situation, the lack of experience and authority of an EMT fresh out of high school became painfully evident. So, each call was a new experience and contending with your partner's emotions at a scene was just something extra to handle during the call.

One of my partners would become extremely distraught whenever the call involved a beating or shooting of a female victim. On the other hand, another partner could talk to a violent psychiatric patient and have him calmed down and exchanging jokes by the time we arrived at the hospital. Many of my partners have been smokers who lit up another cigarette as soon as the last one went out (particularly en route to a call); some were heavy coffee drinkers who couldn't function without a cup in their hands at all times. My habit is chewing gum. I feel the three packs minimum that I chew during a work shift helps absorb some of my nervous energy during calls.

Then there are the partners who utilize the job and glory to obtain dates. And let's not forget the EMT who is sure he's the next best thing to a doctor and makes sure everyone is aware of it.

Female partners were an experience (from their side also, I'm sure). It seems all drunk male patients want to take advantage of the female EMT. And of course, everyone would jump to help her lift the gurney--no one stopped to think that she wouldn't have been hired if she couldn't lift it.

I've had partners who were blunt and cold to patients and their families, partners who couldn't read a map while en route to a call, and others who became preoccupied with the events at the accident scene rather than attending to the victim's needs. Some of my partners wouldn't do anything that got their hands or uniform dirty, or wouldn't handle a patient who was less than clean.

Sometimes a call would become chaos because each EMT was used to doing things in a different manner--the simple task of making up a gurney would become a circus show, with one EMT flipping the sheet one way, while his partner did the opposite.

Between calls is also interesting. Some partners eat continually, while others sleep so much that you wonder if they aren't in a coma. Personal hygiene can be a problem, especially if you have an "Odd Couple" working together. Mutt and Jeff teams are popular and, for some reason, seem to work well together. Some partnerships work smoothly, while others seem to be in a state of constant friction.

The best advice I can give is, before you knock someone else's habits, take a good look at your own. It takes a little time to adjust, but usually in time it all works out and calls are run professionally for the benefit of the patients.