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EMS Grammar Lesson


 I’m not an English prude. In college, I actually took more Spanish literature classes than English. Also, I’m from the South, and we’re allowed to butcher the Queen’s English. In fact, the famed poet Robert Frost once wrote, “You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.” I take great solace in his quote.

That said, there’s been a steady degradation in communications skills in the U.S. Text messaging (LOL) and similar pursuits have reduced English to incomprehensible gibberish. Such language, however, has no role in the house of medicine.

In the modern health-care environment, a patient will see multiple health-care providers—often in different settings. These health-care providers must clearly and accurately communicate with other health-care providers. This is the fundamental basis of medical records. But EMS seems to be drifting away from the accepted decorum and formality of patient documentation. Please bear with me while I complain.

Every word deserves at least one vowel. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please add a vowel to each word. Once, back in Texas, I kept getting EMS run reports from a particular EMS provider who would often have two or three words in a row without a vowel. On day, in a fit of frustration, I scribbled on a post-it note, “Does EMT XYZ have dyslexia?” Interestingly, they took my note seriously. The EMT was evaluated and indeed had dyslexia. They thought I was a hero. I was just frustrated.

Further, there are things we learned in grammar school that still apply in the 21st century. Here are some examples:

There, Their & They’re
“There,” “their” and “they’re” are different words and are not interchangeable. “Their” is a possessive pronoun and always describes a noun. For example, “Their house fell on the wicked witch.” “There” is an adverb describing location. For example, “There are too many nursing students in the emergency department (ED) today.” Finally, “they’re” is a contraction of the words they and are. For example, “They’re going to hurt themselves with those explosive vests.”

Your & You’re
Believe it or not, “your” and “you’re” are different words. “Your” is a possessive pronoun that describes a noun. For example, “Your EMS paycheck is too small for the work you do.” “You’re” is a contraction of the words “you” and “are.” For example, “You’re going to get fired if you don’t shower this week.”

Affect & Effect
There’s a difference between “affect” and “effect.” “Affect” is a verb. For example, “Your ability to write will affect your ability to hold a job.” “Effect” is a noun. For example, “The effect of your inability to write will be homelessness and divorce.”

Were & We’re
“Were” and “we’re” are different words. “Were” is the past tense of the verb to be. For example, “Those were the days my friend; I wish they’d never end.” “We’re” is a contraction of the words “we” and “are.” For example, “We’re going to be fired if we don’t start using more vowels.”

Double Negatives
Each sentence only needs one negative word (avoid double negatives). For example, “He does not take care of his only tooth” is preferred over “He ain’t got no teeth but that one—and he don’t take care of it.”

Lay & Lie
Lay and lie are different words. “Lay” is a transitive verb that means to place something. It’s something you do to something else. For example, “Lay that emesis basin down, or I will run away.” The past tense of lay is laid (not “layed”). For example, “She laid down the law, and his partying days are now over.” “Lie” is an intransitive verb (i.e., it doesn’t take an object) that means to recline or be placed. For example, “Lie down, or I’ll shoot.” Now, this is where it becomes confusing. The past tense of “lie” is also “lay.” I won’t even give an example of that.

OK, I’ll admit that this month’s column is weird. But as I’ve written before, the EMS run report is especially important to us in the ED. Please choose your words correctly and use them appropriately.

This, of course, reminds me of a story from my EMS days. My partner and I were making a nursing home call. We picked up this frail and cachectic elderly woman who was clearly in the throes of death. My partner looked at me and, with all sincerity, said, “You know Bryan, at times like this, I believe in ambrosia.”

I looked at him, pondered his words and said, “Phil, what about this makes you want to talk about an orange and coconut salad?”

Phil said, “I’m not talking about a salad, you idiot. I’m talking about, you know, mercy killing. I’m talking about ambrosia!”

I said, “You mean euthanasia.”

He shrugged and said, “Whatever.”

I drew a long sigh and headed for the ambulance. As an aside, I do like ambrosia.


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