Administration and Leadership, Patient Care, Rescue & Vehicle Extrication

EMS Providers Work Around Superstitions

Issue 8 and Volume 37.

 “Achoo!” Ah, the sneeze—a reflexive response initiated from the grid of the trigeminal nerve secondary to histamine release triggered by foreign particles or other external stimulants breaching the adenoidal void. Or is it a methodically calculated means by our patients to expose and contaminate prehospital care providers with all manner of pestilence? Or … could it simply be an extrication mechanism for exorcising evil spirits hell-bent on residing within our demonic nasal mucosa? Either way, someone is bound to say, “God bless you” following an episode of SEE (schnozzle explosive expulsion). 

We’re all guilty of it. Heck, I’ve even thrown a bag of saline over my shoulder after spilling an amp of sodium bicarb to ward away evil spirits (sodium is salt, after all). 

It’s irrational and ludicrous—a belief system that’s in direct conflict with our progressive medical scientific enlightenment. Yet, we still incorporate this faulty dogma every working day. 

Every practitioner of life has a set of activities or routines that provides them with a sense of spiritual and/or emotional support. Often referred to as rituals, this form of systematic repetitive behavior can help neutralize anxiety and stress. Some individuals OD on standardized formalities to the point of these acts having to be performed over and over and over and over … and over again—aka OCD (obnoxiously calculatingly deranged). 

With medicine growing at an exponential rate, one would think our scientifically oriented minds would override any urge to submit to ritualistic superstitions. Still, occasionally, along with our susceptibility toward being ADD, superstitions have a way of sneaking their way into our customary circadian routines despite their fallaciousness. (Cool words, huh? I just love my new computer’s thesaurus program. Except, I couldn’t find a synonym for thesaurus … or synonym for that matter. Weird.) 

Maybe we in EMS play into the superstition game because prehospital care isn’t an exact science. Lack of control makes medics feel uneasy, especially when we can’t foresee when tragedy will befall our fellow man. We want predictability even before bad things happen. Superstition provides explanation. Explanation provides control. Control provides security. Security provides protection. Protection leads to less anxiety. Less anxiety leads to fewer rituals. Fewer rituals lead to less repetition. Less repetition leads to less OCD. Less OCD leads to fewer superstitions. Superstitions provide explanation. 

So what are some of these ever-present EMS tribal superstitions? How many of you have a lucky pen, jewelry, charm, uniform pin(s), stethoscope, pair of trauma shears, underwear or chucks, socks, ball cap or .357 magnum? Just like athletes, EMS providers don apparel that increases their chances for victory on the field of play. 

I know one medic who wouldn’t work in medic unit 13. He told me patients die in that ambulance. However, he also suffered from RAS (rocks are smarter) syndrome. 

Speaking of 13, many EMS providers, including those with acronymic titles of RN, DR or HMO, believe if that number falls on the fifth day of the week, all the lunatics (moon blood suckers) will mobilize and wreak unrelenting havoc on the cosmos. Fridophobia is expeditiously amplified even further if you add a full moon to the equation. Statistically speaking, if you work EMS 16 years, you have approximately 210 full moons and 28 Friday the 13ths in your path. But how many of those full moons actually fall on the 13th of a Friday? Not to mention, what are the odds of you working that particular shift? Hmmmmm. That adds up to a whole lot of nada, zilch, nil, zip, zero, zippo on your list of things to worry about.

And guess what? If nothing happens on that night, no one will say a word about it. But if the big one goes down, full moon Friday the 13th will go down as the most abominable, cursed, damnable date to ever work a shift. 

I believe most of the superstitions we fail to divorce ourselves from involve rituals that are attempts to prevent things from happening. To keep their bases covered, a medic will never say “never” to any procedures or any potential deleterious event (e.g., “I’ve never been on a bus accident full of hemophiliacs,” or “I’ve never missed a tube.”) This will lead to a prophetic manifestation of the opposite to occur. And then there’s the other word. Yes, you all know what I’m talking about. The dreaded, “It is sure is quiet out there.” To avert evil and gain a sense of control over chaos, the word “quiet” must never be mentioned while on duty. I drive my crews crazy when the radios remain unobtrusively silent as I audaciously parade around the station bellowing out to no one in particular, “Dang! It sure is QUIET out there. It is soooooo QUIET. I can’t believe how QUIET it is!” And guess what, more often times than not, it will stay that way—assuming of course that I’m rubbing my lucky rabbit’s foot at the time. 

Until next time, “Gusundheit!” … metaphorically speaking. JEMS