In the beginning I had no awareness of EMS and had never been in an ambulance—at least consciously. The one time I had been, I was 16 years old with the stupidity inherent in that age. Apparently, I was pining for a far-away Macedonian maiden when I made the brilliant decision to ease my suffering with a bottle of rotgut vodka. I awoke in a wheelchair in New York’s Saint Vincent Hospital with an IV in my arm, my mom next to me, and a priest sitting across the hall. Heck of a way for a Jewish boy to come to.
Oh wait, there was another time. I was 14 and my mom was coming into the main entrance to our building at 340 W. 28th St. A guy grabbed her purse and slashed her throat. She managed to put pressure on the gash with her hand and somehow made it upstairs to our apartment on the 13th floor. The insistent ringing of the doorbell awakened me. I called whatever the equivalent of 9-1-1 was at the time (I think I actually had to look it up in the phonebook). I was worried she would pass out and not be able to maintain pressure on the cut so I rang neighbors’ doorbells for help. In classic 1970s New York City style, nobody would come out of their dead-bolted multiple-locked doors to help.
“Sorry, but we can’t. You know how it is.” Somehow we managed to get down the elevator to the ground floor where EMS met us and took us to tiny French Hospital on 29th Street (now long gone). Clearly there was no trauma-center concept at the time.
But I digress. It was 1983 and I was a graduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington and had no real awareness of EMS. I took a scuba trip with several friends to dive the amazing wrecks off Isle Royal in Lake Superior. One of my friends, Jim Ziegler, was in charge of training at Bloomington Hospital Ambulance Service. We were chatting away late into the night en route to the Upper Peninsula in my 1967 faded aqua Chevy Biscayne four door with one bad cylinder when he said to me something like, “You know Guy, as a scuba instructor if you’re going to be taking folks diving in remote areas like this, you should get some more medical training.” He told me about his upcoming EMT class—two evenings a week for the next semester—and I was in.
So what was the first thing I did after enrolling? Well, of course, I made a beeline to the nearest medical supply store to purchase my leather EMT holster with the shears and tweezers—yes, tweezers, a mandatory lifesaving tool that must be in the pouch of every self-respecting EMT—hemostat and penlight. I bought the obligatory Rappaport stethoscope with the two hoses since two hoses are clearly better than one, even though they banged together in the back of the rig and made it difficult to get a blood pressure. But looking cool was critical.
During our first class they gave us a tour of an ambulance. To me it was magical—looked like a spaceship inside, with lighted gauges and switches and gizmos and gadgets—ready to fly through the night mysteriously saving lives. Then I paged through the textbook with the cool pictures of blood and guts and eviscerations and burns and various sundry, gory wounds, and I knew this was for me. And, apparently, since I am writing this 30 years later and still jockeying an ambulance, I guess it was. Boy, if I could only have preserved that 27-year-old physique.
Anyway, four months later I graduated from my EMT class, sat for the state exam, and was certified as an Emergency Medical Technician-Ambulance in the Great State of Indiana. Got hired by a small service in town and worked every weekend until I finished graduate school, mostly schlepping grandma from nursing home to x-ray and back. What glory! But every once in a while there was the emergency backup run to the 9-1-1 service, and that kept hope of glory springing eternal.
But the best part? My shiny blue zip-up polyester EMT tunic with my beautiful orange-and-blue Indiana Certified Emergency Medical Technician Certified Ambulance sewn on the left sleeve, my grey cargo pants, my Vasque boots, and my brown leather holster with the shears and tweezers and clamp and penlight. Bring it on, baby!