Administration and Leadership, Columns

Playing Second-string to God

Issue 3 and Volume 39.

Sunday mornings in our district are usually quiet shifts for the most part. People are usually sleeping in late, reading their morning paper with coffee, or attending church—hopefully not falling asleep while reading a paper and drinking coffee within the confines of a pew.

As for EMS, it’s inevitable an ambulance is going to be toned out to a religious service in which an unfortunate patron loses consciousness while sitting, kneeling or standing alongside their fellow parishioners.

Already I sense your uneasiness. Most writers know good and well not to put to ink a delicate subject such as religion and medicine (with a dash of humor). But since I use nontoxic crayons as my primary mode of communication, I’m just gonna let it roll.

Despite my controversial genetic makeup, I will try to proceed with the utmost respect and sensitivity. If you interpret my words negatively, please just blame it on the toxic pastels that may have inadvertently slipped their way into my olfactory system.

There are many physiological reasons why worshipers experience syncope episodes within their house of worship, including prolonged standing with locked knees, lack of circulated air and heat, dehydration, emotional stressors, low blood sugar and foregone televised playoff football.

There are those who will explain such fainting episodes as divine intervention. Seeing as that’s not my call and to avoid provocation, I shall focus on the rehab aspect of celestial mediation.

There’ve been times well-intentioned parishioners have blocked access to patient care. Holding hands with bowed heads in prayer, they are oblivious to EMS providers. When religious convictions become incompatible with the EMS protocols medics are obligated to follow, it’s best to search out the Shepherd of the flock as your ticket to gain access to the patient. Most lead messengers of any faith observe fainting occurrences as common-place, and are more than willing to help you do your job—including guiding you through their rituals in a respective manner.

The use of humor in a religious setting, especially during an acute medical emergency, can be tricky. This requires a keen sense of knowing your audience— I make a point to never make fun of another person’s religion. But just as religion and spirituality can be a remedy for fear, helplessness and loneliness, so can shared humor provide an anecdote from stress and pain.

Several years earlier our crew was dispatched to a patient experiencing first-time chest pain at a local church. One look at the concerned priest told me this wasn’t your typical syncopal episode. Though the 12 lead ECG was unremarkable at the time, the patient initially expressed all the right things to suspect cardiac irritability was present.

Following two subling nitro and oxygen, the patient expressed he was symptomatic-free of any complaints including shortness of breath, chest discomfort, nausea and generalized weakness. Before I could say another word, he requested we leave, stating his faith would heal him. Despite our warnings and his wife’s pleas to be transported by us, he refused, insisting God would care for his needs and cure him.

Believing I was of clever mind, I told him that God did care for him, which is why we were sent to treat him. The patient gave brief pause to ponder my comment, but after critically eyeballing my partner and I up and down for another minute or two he said, smiling, “You’re not giving God very much credit are you?”

I just looked at the patient with a shocked grin saying, “Hey, even God gives the second string a chance to make a difference.” (Self-depreciating humor is the safest kind of humor, by the way.)

Thankfully the young priest intervened with his own jab of humor by telling the patient if he thinks he’s going to get out of going to mass each week by dying, he had another thing coming.

“Besides,” the priest said, “these medics work on commission and you might as well give your money to them, seeing as you certainly haven’t been giving it to the church when we pass the plate.”

“I don’t put anything in the plate, because nobody wakes me up as it comes my way.” After a few minutes of clever back-and-forth banter between us, the patient finally agreed to be transported to the hospital for further evaluation.

Shared humor doesn’t replace concern, care and respect for our patients, just as spirituality doesn’t replace our need to laugh. Or as Voltaire once said, “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”