It's a slow shift, and we're sitting in our ambulance watching "The Sentinel" on Bronson's mini-DVD player, when we get a "respiratory distress" call to an apartment building in Bensonhurst. Bronson moves the DVD player to allow us to read the computer screen behind it. "A 55-year-old female with a history of stomach problems," he says.
I toss a piece of popcorn into my mouth and move the DVD player back. "The Sentinel" is a scary old 1970s movie that I adore. "Look," I tell Bronson, pointing to the decor of my childhood. "No computers. No cell phones. And look how young Christopher Walken is."
The dispatcher radios, "The job is coming over as a diff breather now, I'll get you ALS." She means the call type has changed to something more serious, and that we're now going to back up paramedics.
I buckle up and put the DVD player in my lap to watch what I can before we arrive. I love Christopher Walken.
We get there to find that the building is well-kept and the apartment is clean but gaudy, with smoky mirrors and black upholstery with gold trim. Sitting on the couch is a 400-pound woman in no distress whatsoever, talking in Russian to her 30-something son. She's speaking full sentences, not wheezing or gasping for breath. I check her lungs. I move her gold bracelets aside to check her pulse. I note a stench of feces.
Bronson asks the son, "Why did you call?"
He's handsome but, like his mother, wears too much gold jewelry. "Two weeks ago, my mother had a colostomy bag put in. It's not working. The doctor said to bring her to the emergency room."
We know the doctor meant they should call one of the non-emergency transport ambulances that routinely ferry patients to and from ERs. "Why didn't you call one of the ambulance companies listed in the phone book?" I ask.
The son is cocky. "We knew 911 would come faster."
Bronson says, "How long you been in the country?"
"About two years."
He congratulates the guy. "And you already know how to milk the system!"
I say, "Sir, your mother has no difficulty breathing."
The son says, "You come faster if I say she does."
I seethe. You're nothing like Christopher Walken, I think.
Bronson sighs and cancels the paramedics. "What hospital does she go to?"
"Insurance?" I ask.
He fishes between preferred-customer credit cards for his mother's Medicaid card. "Another Russian on assistance," I sigh and fill out my paperwork.
At Maimo, a couple of ambulances are ahead of us, and the ER is packed, as usual. The woman starts complaining.
The son is indignant. "I can't believe how crowded it is! We'll be here all night!"
Bronson says, "You call 911 for a false emergency, this is what you get."
"Take us to another hospital," he orders.
Bronson can't contain his anger. "What do you think we are? Car service?" He mutters, "You want a cab, call your buddy Boris." Some people would call it a culturally insensitive remark, but Bronson's convinced such comments, if well-timed, have their place in the world.
The son glowers at Bronson.
Bronson points a finger at him. "You shouldn't have called 911."
It's a standoff: stocky Russian against stick-figure Bronson with a big mouth. I have to put my money on the Russian, and am about to take bets from the nurses when a sympathetic one grabs our paperwork, clicks her pen, and says, "Here, let me sign you off. You look about ready to explode."
Ms. Klopsis is an emergency medical technician on an ambulance in Brooklyn. This column details her observations and experiences. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients.
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