Walking into a dark ambulance bay on the night shift to do a pre-shift unit check, I hear noise coming from inside the ambulance. I open the rear doors to the patient compartment and am shocked to hear voices emanating from multiple pieces of equipment. The loudest voice comes from the suction unit positioned near the curbside door.
“Who are you? And why are you upset?” I ask.
The suction unit replies, “My name is Sammy Suction, and I’m really lonely because I’ve been on four critical calls in the last eight hours and not once was I taken into the scene with Mary Monitor, Oscar O2 Bag and Andy T. Airway Kit!
“I’m tired of being left alone in the unit while unconscious and airway-compromised patients are struggling on scene, far away from the ambulance,” Sammy adds.
“Why do you think they leave you behind?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he replies. “I think it’s because the crews don’t think they need me except when they (or their patients) are in real trouble. It’s most upsetting to me when they rush into the unit with a patient who has a copious amount of blood, mucus or vomit in their airway and act like it’s my fault. ‘SUCTION! SUCTION!’ they yell. ‘Where the hell is SUCTION?’”
“Then, after being without me for 15 minutes, they expect me to work miracles in seconds and save their professional a##es! Well, I’m sick of it. I’ve seen too many patients struggling to breathe and choking on blood, vomit and secretions because of their failure to bring me along initially.”
“Did you tell the crew your concerns?” I ask.
“I did. But they told me I sucked and should just sit in the corner and shut up or they’d unplug me to silence me!”
“What about you?” I say to Mary Monitor. “Why are you upset?”
“I’m upset because we responded to an 80-year-old man with chest pain on the fifth floor of a homeless shelter, and the crew left me behind and made the poor man walk down five flights of stairs and over to the unit before monitoring him. I wasn’t just lonely—I was shocked at the way they neglected the poor old man!”
Steve T. Stretcher chimes in, “As if that’s not bad enough, wait until you hear this. They also left me in the unit and made the poor gentleman climb into the back of the rig and plop down on me. He was already struggling to breathe and the climb made his breathing worse. He also complained that it worsened his chest pain. It’s no wonder! They over-stressed his heart, sent him into tachycardia and exacerbated his condition!
“And, that’s not all,” Steve adds. “It was raining hard all day and the crew left me outside at the bottom of the front steps, in the cold rain, on three separate occasions. At two locations they claimed there was no room inside the cramped hallways of the homes and walked the patients down the steps and placed them onto my wet sheets.
“It bothered me because I didn’t want the patients to think it was my fault for getting them wet and making them cold and uncomfortable during their ride to the hospital. Then, to make matters worse, when we got to the ED, the staff moved them onto a clean, dry gurney and covered them with warm blankets. It made me, and our agency, look bad.
“I kept quiet all day until, at the third call, the crew tried to walk a morbidly obese congestive heart failure patient down a set of rickety old, decayed wooden steps. That’s when I shouted to them, ‘Hey, why don’t you go get Sandy Stair Chair? She’s got a narrower stance than me and moves around like a figure skater in tight places. Her tracks and braking capabilities will allow you to simply glide this big guy down those awful stairs.’”
“So, did they listen to you?” I ask.
“No. The senior paramedic said they were in a hurry and didn’t want to ‘waste time’ going back to the rig. Ironically, that same paramedic twisted suddenly when the patient stumbled on a broken step and grabbed hold of him at an awkward angle. He had to leave the shift early to get his aching back checked out.”
As I exit the patient compartment, I hear other voices coming from the left rear exterior compartment door. I open it and see Harry & Hank Helmet and Ike & Tina Turnout Gear sitting all alone in the dark compartment.
“You guys lonely too?” I ask.
“Yep; it’s the same old story. The crews get tunnel vision at accident and fire scenes, leave us behind and only come back for us when a supervisor shows up or the person in charge tells them they can’t get close to the incident without proper gear. They rush back to the rig, throw us on—often not wearing us properly—and then throw us back into the compartment after the incident—while we’re still all sweaty and dirty. When the next crew puts us on, they complain that we stink and are uncomfortable. When will the crews learn proper etiquette and respect us for what we are—their protectors?”
Listen to the “voices” of your equipment and make sure you use the right equipment at the right time. And take good care of your equipment. The life it saves may be your own or the life of someone very near and dear to you.