Nearly a year ago, as I was sharing supper with The Lovely Helen at a beer-and-burger pub on the outskirts of Music City, we started getting all dewy-eyed about our early EMS careers as partners, best friends and late-night revelers. I asked my wife of six years if she remembered her first call. She did: a hanging in 1996 that her preceptor (not me) wouldn’t let her observe because he thought it might upset her. Without thinking, I said something like, “That was nice of him.” Big mistake. Helen gave me one of those “Are you crazy?” looks, then told me how angry she’d been at being excluded.
On our way home I shut up and counted my blessings:
1. I hadn’t been the FTO on that call.
2. We’d just enjoyed an evening together, despite Helen’s claim she doesn’t go out with married men.
3. I had a fresh idea for a column: Ask readers to describe their first calls, then print the best of them.
By the next morning, I’d decided to expand the scope of my survey to include reader feedback on any of the following:
- Your first EMS call.
- What you’d do differently if you could start over in EMS.
- Something you learned during the past six months that made you a better practitioner.
- Your favorite EMS memory.
You responded to my request with lots of provocative comments and entertaining stories. Rather than exclude good material, we decided to make this month’s Life Support a two-pager. Hey, you’ve spent almost three years listening to me; the least I can do is return the favor.
Forty-five minutes into Lindsay Muirhead’s first shift as a paramedic, her 85-year-old patient arrested during transport. Muirhead slammed the head of the stretcher back to start CPR. “The patient converted into a sinus rhythm, and all this brown stuff came out of her mouth,” the Washington, DC, native says. “I think she might have choked on her chew.”
Amanda Armstrong was a new EMT in rural Alabama, assisting on a transfer to a metropolitan hospital. “I started feeling flushed, dizzy and faint,” Armstrong recalls. At the hospital, her crew suggested she might have motion sickness. “Sure enough, that’s what it was. At first I was worried if I’d be able to do this job, but I’ve adapted pretty well.” Now a paramedic and FTO, Amanda tells rookies, “If you can drive me and not make me sick, you can drive anyone.”
A month after New York EMT Sheryl LaDelfa told her cardiac patient, “This is my first official EMS call,” she met him at a party. He confided, “When you said it was your first call, I just knew I was going to die.”
Martin Hernandez did his first call with an EMT-I “who thought he was God’s gift to EMS.” After a transport from McAllen, TX, to San Antonio, the Intermediate informed Hernandez, “You’re driving back home. I’m going to sleep on the stretcher. If I wake up with any movement, it means your driving sucks!” He also announced, “If I tell (the boss) to fire you, he will!” Twenty years later, “God’s gift” approached Hernandez about a job. “I told him to fill out an application like anyone else,” Martin says.
John Spicuzza’s first call as a paramedic—a cardiac arrest with ROSC—was going well until it was time to move the patient to the ambulance.
“First I tripped over my own IV line and pulled it out while we were walking downstairs,” Spicuzza remembers. “Then we outpaced the EMT bagging the patient, causing my tube to come out. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d taped it right. Oh, and the EKG leads came off, too. We had to redo everything at the bottom of the stairs.”
Paula Miller, a Pennsylvania RN and PA, wishes she’d started in EMS earlier. “The guys from the ambulance corps who came to talk to our (high school) health class had a bad reputation,” Miller says. “My mother didn’t want me to join. It took me another six years to volunteer.” Miller also would have preferred more training in emergency-vehicle operation. “I just showed up one night and was told to drive the ambulance. Afterward, it took me about four tries to back it into the garage.”