Administration and Leadership, Cardiac & Resuscitation, Patient Care, Training

EMS Watches as Officers Are Tased

Issue 6 and Volume 36.

With officers supporting him under each arm, the nervous looking male was led hesitantly down the hallway toward the small, drab room at the end. One wall had a small, square window that a few witnesses stood behind. They had gathered early—each trying to position themselves for a good view.

Their nervous laughter and tasteless jokes bounced off the narrow hallway until the captive soul rounded the corner and was within earshot. Each, now-silent spectator took one step back against the wall, allowing a spacious disconnect between them and the man walking his final mile.

Once positioned, the officer asked the condemned man if he was ready. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. After a quick nod, the officer wasted no time shouting, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” … ZAP!

Every police officer has experienced the sensation of having their neurons massively scrambled at least once. Many have to if they want to carry this non-lethal, self-defense, self-wetting device as part of their belted arsenal. This day was no different for the cadets. Despite these rookie plebes being told they’d suffer no permanent impact on their physiological well-being, how could they not help but wonder why EMS—at least at our local police academy—was on standby for their electrifying initiation?

What shocks me is how many medics and firefighters also volunteer to be tased. Many of these highly ionized individuals have told me they wanted to be able to appreciate what it felt like to be tased so they could understand the combative patient’s point of view.


“What’s the big deal?” they’d ask. “All the Taser does is send a lot of confusing information to the nervous system.”

Hmm … sounds to me like their nervous systems are already morbidly confused with that kind of logic. I can appreciate gunshot wounds without actual lead enhancement. A few competitive souls have even crowed to me about being tased and stunned more than 10 times. I fell off a roof once and tore my diaphragm, but you don’t see me bragging about it. If you’re going to go that far, why not add some pepper spray to spice up the event?

I never wanted, nor ever will want, to be a part of this elite Taser fraternity. I’ve seen enough belligerent patients complete a circuit of 50,000 volts to satisfy my curiosity. Granted, we’re talking about 0.3 joules per Taser jolt in training as compared with the highly amped defibrillators we use in the field. But then again, our EMS joules are used on people who are either already dead or highly medicated.

Besides incapacitating one’s neuromuscular system for five seconds (recommended dose), I’ve noticed a side effect worth mentioning—profound pain. Either that or the recipient of these tethered, needle-like barbs suddenly develops a severe case of potty-mouth Tourette’s syndrome.

With pain being the ultimate means of power-structured compliance, you’d think one zap from these electrodes would be enough to encourage complete, uncompromising obedience by anyone wired to its source. Yet I once ran a call on a cantankerous patient who continually screamed out, “Is that the best you got?!” each time he was electrically charged. Talk about short-term memory lapse.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate the need for, and use of, Tasers, but I’ve also been on scenes where a Taser appeared to have overruled common sense. Let’s not forego good communications skills for a quick fix that incorporates a technology that could aggravate our efforts for a peaceful resolution and restraint-free transport.

One can’t but help appreciate how fragile the electrochemical wiring network our nervous system is once you’ve seen it short-circuited by these nitrogen-propelled probes. One minute your brain is sitting there minding its own business, maintaining a precise homeostatic regulatory and coordinating system. It’s assimilating billions of data bits, creating a zillion responses to that same data. (And I’m only talking about when you’re standing in line at McDonald’s contemplating if you should get the Happy Meal instead of the chicken nuggets.) Then, suddenly, you’re reduced to a withered, limp noodle asking for a new set of underwear secondary to a weapon that uses smoke-detector batteries for fuel. It’s not a tool to take lightly.

One last thing I feel compelled to mention: Tasers, although proven to have no ill effect on the myocardium or even pacemakers, are ill-advised on combatants who are prone to myelin-sheath sloughing, dendrite regurgitation, synaptic cleft prolapse, axon anarchy, cerebral halitosis, brain-stem drooping, vagal fungus and dental lint.

Until next time, never remove an impaled Taser barb as you would a fishhook. JEMS

This article originally appeared in June 2011 JEMS as “Taser Timeout: The ultimate punishment.”