Administration and Leadership, Cardiac & Resuscitation, Patient Care

In EMS, Patients, Partners & Politics Don’t Mix

Issue 10 and Volume 37.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly & applying the wrong remedies.
—Groucho Marx

Is it me or does everyone seem a lot more uptight and over-sensitive lately? Fine! Don’t answer the question. See if I give a flying duck! Thank God there are monthly lighthearted articles like mine that allow the reader to kick back and take a break from the unrelenting drama of day-to-day life, which is why I have chosen the topic of politics to help you relax and free your mind of stress.

A co-worker recently asked me if I was a democrat or republican to which my response was, “That’s a question I will refer to my lawyer.” Not that I don’t stand by my convictions mind you, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as an EMS provider, it’s to never buy a suction unit with a reverse switch on it. The other thing I learned was to duck (as in flying) while discussing politics in the workplace. Every quadrennial year it seems, intelligence, integrity and selflessness are thrown out the window as divisive labeling and animosity rules the day.

My job is stressful enough when it comes to dealing with confrontational patients without having a colleague considering me vermin simply because he views my political pick as vermin. I’m all for meaningful dialogue that honors political diversity, but more often than not. I’ve seen these civil discussions turn dicey with a resulting exchange of unsportsmanlike angiocath stab wounds rather than that of ideas.

Unlike most work environments, a 9–5 hour workday is considered part-time in the fire and EMS profession. We are therefore likely to engage in these types of political discussions whether we want to or not simply because we literally sleep, eat and lounge in the same vicinity. It’s estimated that more than $6 billion will be spent by both candidates on mean-spirited, exaggerated and intimidating catchphrase advertising.

Thus, voices from the lounge chairs are bound to give rise to political affiliation during these unceasing, polarizing TV political ads—whether you want to hear them or not.

So how can one avoid discoursing on one’s political association while at the same time chloroform a co-worker’s blowhard campaign rant that provokes political ideology without thought?

Non-confrontational attempt #1: “I am here and salaried to execute a set of commissioned duties—not campaign for your party.”

Non-confrontational attempt #2: “I’m not comfortable discussing politics and prefer not to participate in this discussion.”

Confrontational attempt: “%#@ off, you narrow minded, delusional, sanctimonious, rhetorical narcissistic baboon advocate of unsubstantiated generalizations and intolerable dogmatic babble.”

Some eight years earlier in my career, while transporting a centurion-plus patient on November fourth to a hospital, the patient pointed to the “I voted” sticker on my uniform and softly said with a introspective smile, “Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush, Clinton and Bush.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, smiling back as I ripped the Velcro blood pressure cuff free from his bicep.

“I voted in all them elections,” he clarified.

“Yeah? A true patriot to the voting process, obviously,” I endorsed.

“I suppose,” he said without conviction. “All I know is diapers and politicians should be changed often and for the same reason.” As he said this, he pointed to his underlying Depends. Pausing only to readjust himself on the cot, he continued, “Of course, my two cents worth is worth only just that—two cents.”

Now totally engaged in the patient, I ignored the cardiac monitor batteries telling me it was time for a change. “So what do you think of the candidates of today?”

Happy to know someone was actually listening to him, the patient pulled himself up even higher on the cot. “It’s all bad comedy really,” he said.

“‘Too many clowns and not enough circuses,’ my father would tell me when I was a boy, and he voted as far back as Theodore Roosevelt. Call me an idealist, but everything in politics has always sucked.”

“But these are exceptionally hard times,” I interjected ignorantly.

“Are they now?” he smirked. “Well young fella,” (I cannot recall the last time anyone called me “young fella.”) “Every electoral proponent of their party touts that this is the most critical time in our history with each partisan group trying to scare the bejesus out of everyone, lest the horrific prospect of the other guy becoming president actually comes true.

“Really? Well, guess what?” he continued with more impassioned fervor. “The world is still spinning. No matter who the president is, this country will continue to endure. Our democracy still governs the person in charge of it.”

As we approached downtown, we saw a crowd of people with signs on a street corner loudly advocating their candidate with the opposing view standing on the other side of the street. “See those people out there,” my patient grinned. “I laugh at folks who idiotically go crazy when their party member doesn’t get elected. One thing I can say after all these years is that I have mastered the genteel art of letting others rant on and on while sitting back and basking in the knowledge he or she is full of diaper dung. Speaking of, are we at the hospital yet?”

EMS is a profession that demands its providers have a high degree of broad-mindedness while working in an environment rich in cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity. Regardless of a patient’s personal belief systems or social and economic standing, all of us cast our vote each day by what we do or don’t do in relation to patient care. When I see a medic quick to use incendiary words or labels toward a group of people simply because they do not agree with their own political standing, I cannot help but question their overall tolerance and ability to compromise or provide bipartisan patient care.

Or as Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Once you label me, you negate me.”

Until next time, remember labels are for diseases—not people.