“Medic 81, Engine 82, 38-09, respond to a fall on< a road in Molalla, OR>.” Tones go off, and three paramedics, three EMTs, and one firefighter load up on the ambulance and engine and respond to a woman’s house. We didn’t even think twice about walking out in the middle of our dinner preparations. The tones went off. We grabbed our jackets, walked out into the apparatus bay, and left within two minutes of the tones going off. Six minutes later we arrived on scene. I grabbed the med kit, and my partner grabbed the heart monitor. Together we walked into this house, not knowing what we would see.
We walked into a modest-sized house with beautiful hardwood floors. An elderly woman met us at the door. We walked in and saw an elderly man standing on the stairs along the back wall, and at the bottom of the stairs was an elderly woman lying on the floor, blood coming from her right ankle. FF/Paramedic Dallas Oja took charge of the scene. He showed full compassion to the woman as he asked her questions and found out what had happened and assessed her mental status. She was alert and oriented, very quick-witted for being ninety-three years old. She asked Dallas what the damage was, and when he told her that it appeared she had an open fracture, she replied, “Well, that’s going to put a crimp in my style!” We all laughed, and it helped ease the tension in the room.
Dallas and Lt. Mike Berrington cut the woman’s sock off, and we prepared a cardboard splint. Lt. Berrington and FF/EMT Kirkpatrick cut and taped the splint into shape, while someone else moistened an 8×10 gauze pad. Carefully, gently, compassionately, and apologizing all the while, the three paramedics carefully lifted, straightened, wrapped, and splinted the woman’s ankle. I could tell that it hurt their hearts to cause pain to the woman, but as my lieutenant explained, “We weighed the risk and benefit of this particular move, and the benefit far outweighs the risk.” We had the good of the patient in mind. When it came time to move the woman off the floor and onto our gurney, five of the men knelt on the floor next to her, and the spunky woman observed, “It’s been awhile since I’ve had this many good-looking men paying this close of attention to me!” With a one, two, three, we lifted her up, carried her two steps, and laid her down on the gurney, which me and FF Andy Brown had pushed towards them.
On the way to the hospital, Dallas got the woman to tell us stories of her growing up years and all her many adventures she’d had over the course of her ninety-three years of life. The woman refused any narcotic pain meds, so we talked the whole way to the hospital to distract her and help ease her pain by getting her to relax. We delivered her safely to the hospital with the “best orthopedist” as she had requested.
Two and a half hours after we had been toned out, we got back to the station, ate our dinner after warming it up in the microwave, and headed to bed. We knew we needed to sleep while we could. We never knew when the tones would next go off. Sure enough, an hour later, the tones went off, jerking us all out of a sound sleep. This time we were dispatched to a “sixty-three year old woman throwing things in her bedroom, a possible psychotic break.” Once again we rolled out the doors within five minutes of being paged. I heard no complaints of having to get up in the middle of the night, no jokes about crazy people. We all just went and were ready to do our jobs.
We arrived on scene, after the police had cleared the scene and declared it safe for us to enter. We walked into the house and found a woman sitting calmly on the couch. She came right over and shook our hands and asked our names. We were all taken by surprise, since this was not the violent psychotic woman we had been expecting. She was a little disoriented, but she was calm; and she seemed quite thrilled to have the fire department in her house. The police officer stood back and Dallas and I and Kirkpatrick were the only EMS personnel who entered the house, because we did not want to aggravate the situation more. We wanted to make the woman feel safe and not threatened.
In talking with her, we discovered that she didn’t make much sense. She didn’t know her name, but she knew where she was. She kept telling us that “they” had told her to do certain things. We took some vital signs and her blood sugar to rule out anything medically wrong with her. Then Dallas convinced her to let us take her to the hospital to get checked out. Her family that was caring for her, seemed greatly relieved that we were taking her. The granddaughter told me that she didn’t know how much longer she could put up with this. They desperately needed a break. Dallas had compassion on the family, and we took the lady to the ER to get evaluated.
All the way to the hospital, the woman regaled us with stories of her ex-husband and her current husband’s ex-wife. We soon discovered that she had been putting on an act to get out of the house. Even though this was greatly discouraging to us, we continued showing complete care and compassion to her until we got her safely to the hospital and handed her over to the care of the nurses and doctors there. Then we headed back to try to get some more sleep before our next patient, but alas, it was not to be.
We were almost back, when we were toned out for a “voluntary psych hold.” So off we went, where we found three police officers talking to a woman smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk in front of her house. Once again, we showed nothing but complete professional compassion to yet another psych patient. This one had moments of complete lucidity where she would cry about her current state, and then we would lose her again to another personality. Dallas and I exchanged glances many times over our patient as we sat on either side of her, just trying to keep her on the cot, and getting her to talk about what was going on inside her. She sensed our genuine care and so began spilling her life story to us and how she got to where she was the night. We listened to her and tried to give her some support and advice as we could. Then we walked her into the hospital where she was put on suicide watch.
Around two o’clock we arrived back at base and restocked our supplies that had been used, then stumbled to our beds to sleep as much as we could. We chose this life because of the unpredictability. We’re used to giving up meals, sleep, social life, and family time in order that we might show compassion and care to strangers during some of the worst experiences in their lives. The opportunity to show care and compassion and make a difference by getting our patients the definitive care they need is what keeps us going. It’s not for everyone, so if you see someone who works or volunteers in EMS or fire, thank them and their families for giving their time to be available to help the general public.