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White Shirt and No Pants


The company was growing. Two unlikely partners had gotten together, and they had purchased the old, mom-and-pop ambulance service in town, which had two hoopty trucks and a garage in the back of a house on Middle Avenue.

One day, Joe, one of the partners, excitedly called me to tell me they had gotten the 9-1-1 contract for the city, which had about 57,000 residents. I couldn't believe it. How the heck did they get the contract with these two jalopies, a rundown shack of a garage, no ALS equipment and no staff? Well, I guess Joe was very persuasive.

But, somehow we did it. We stuck a dispatcher in the "day room," built a couple of bunk beds, got two used, cantankerous MRL monitors, took good care of patients and never missed a call -- even if it meant Herb had to stay up all night rebuilding the transmission on Medic 83 himself, which he did, I think more than once -- and even if it meant we went for days on end without seeing our homes or families. It was the best of times. It was, well, a crazy time.

Joe took me out to lunch one day and offered me the position of training director. I was young and cocky, and na ve and excited. Training director, wow. It was apparently up to me to make up what it was I was supposed to be directing and training. It also was apparently up to me to figure out how I was going to make folks do the training I was supposed to be directing -- with no budget, no schedule, and no specific authority to enforce anything. But I got to wear a white shirt and have a gold nameplate. I even got to wear gold caducei on my lapels. (These were known to Joe as "medusas," as in "Haskell, where your medusas at?" a question he asked one day when I forgot to put them on). But best of all, my salary went up from $6 an hour to $7!

My dreams of power started to unravel rather quickly. I put certification information forms in everyone's mailbox, asking them to submit copies of all their current certifications. I think two came back completed. The rest, well, I either never got back or got back with some earthy sayings directed at my parentage.

But, the clearest expression of the power of my newly bestowed authority came the first day I arrived to give a shift change report in my glowing new white shirt and resplendent gold insignia. As I was giving the report, I was approached from behind and my trousers were promptly pulled to my ankles. I must admit I earned a degree of fame by continuing my report unperturbed, but the message came across loud and clear.

Having learned the lesson that the trappings of authority without real authority are worse than meaningless, I ignominiously withdrew back into my blue shirt. I think the medusas are still in a drawer somewhere.


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