Administration and Leadership, Patient Care, Training, Trauma

EMS Providers Care for Zombies

Issue 5 and Volume 37.

Paramedic: That’s a nasty bite you got there, big fella. How’d you get it? Not talking, are we? Suit yourself, but your insistent moaning and yowling is starting to get on my nerves. And stop looking at me like I’m someone you could sink your teeth into. I’m not the one who tased you—not that it phased you a bit. 

I gotta admit, I’ve never seen anyone with such stamina and total disregard toward painful stimuli— especially when the police officers took you down with that subtle shotgun blast. Oh, arggh, yourself. There’s no use at fighting the restraints with your rudimentary attempts of biting and clawing, Big Guy. I used to work in a rodeo after all. Ha ha! Hey, you look familiar. Have I transported you to detox before? Your clueless wandering and poorly coordinated ataxic gait looked familiar. 

I can’t smell alcohol on your breath, but holy latrines, your breath reminds me of death warmed over. Not that you’re warm by any means. You’re chilled to the bone, including the various ones sticking out from your decomposing, skin-sloughing limbs, which explains why I’ve encased myself in protective MRSA (monster repellant safety attire).

What I can’t understand is how you can keep bleeding with a pulse rate of zero, but ah hell, what do I know? I’m just a brainless ambulance driver. Hmmm. That last comment seemed to have calmed you down quite a bit.

What is it with all this zombie mania over the past several years? How else do you explain the plethora of zombie films, zombie websites, Facebook and high gas prices? Our brains are as infatuated with zombies just as much as zombies are infatuated with ours. From a psychological perspective, zombies may symbolize fears we’re inescapably drawn to: death, mayhem, mindless conformity, the collapse of social order and the need to floss.

Maybe zombies amplify our trepidation of an incurable disease, or perhaps they profess an innate aggressive need to shoot people in the cerebrum. For me, it’s finding any excuse not to pay taxes.
Whatever the reason is for this social escapism into the realm of reanimated pulseless people, it’s time EMS takes advantage of this basic brain stem functioning craze and inaugurate zombieism into our training and public emergency preparedness programs—not that it hasn’t already happened.

More than one million copies of the Zombie Survival Guide—a comprehensive book about surviving and adapting to a world of flesh eaters—have been sold in the U.S. Taking note of this zombie infatuation, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, aka CDCP (creeping decomposed crowd pestilence), put this same premise into an educational handbook on how to prepare for a real emergency.

Capitalizing on the undead faddism, communities are taught to prepare for a blitzkrieg of famished cannibals the way they would a hurricane, pandemic or presidential election year. This includes finding the cause of the illness (e.g., virus, bacteria, toxin, radiation or high-dose epinephrine IV), source of infection (zombie), how it’s transmitted (e.g., bite, unless zombie is toothless sans dentures—sad to watch really), how readily it’s spread (surprisingly fast seeing as zombies move at the speed of a sloth on valium), aggressive quarantine strategies (i.e., shoot anyone in the head who comes to your door, even if they say “trick or treat”) and how to be self-sufficient for a long siege.

Usually it takes some effort to gather volunteers to act as patients when putting together a disaster drill, but officials from the Department of Emergency Management in Delaware and Ohio managed to get 10 times that number for their simulated hazmat scenarios.

I began to incorporate zombie didactics into a few of my EMS lectures to prevent my students from going into a zombie state of consciousness from cerebral overload. The living dead have served as narrative themes of the central nervous system while exploring the science of the brain. I’d use a clip from a zombie film. Based on the zombie’s behavior, students would use the science of their neurological function to identify which part or parts of the zombie’s brain were interacting with the real world and which weren’t.

The 2009 movie Zombieland cleverly integrated a list of rules to enhance your chance of survival should you find yourself alone in a world of brain-sludged humanoids. I’ve taken the liberty to incorporate most of those same rules teaching scene safety … except the No. 2 rule of using a “double tap.” That’s considered to be bad form as an EMS responder.

EMS is no stranger to zombies. Just work a 48-hour shift, and you can experience it firsthand. And yes, many of you have resuscitated the dead only to see them become alive and dead at the same time. The difference in zombie resuscitation is that zombies can resuscitate themselves by the very nature of the wound, thus freeing you to do more important things like run away, with your arms flailing, screaming like a girl.

Until next time, Scott Adams once said, “One way to compensate for a tiny brain is to pretend to be dead.” JEMS

This article originally appeared in May 2012 JEMS as “Zombie EMS: Providing care to the undead.”