Administration and Leadership, Columns, Special Topics

Call Whine One One: A Humorous Take on Complaining

Issue 8 and Volume 40.

It’s a contagion we easily contract as EMS providers. It’s an inevitable toxic exposure that has the potential to deride any prospect for an optimistic engagement with a patient. Despite one’s attempt for phalangeal block, dock and lock implantation of the aural canals with bilateral indexes, there is, alas, no prophylactic tympanic diaphragm (or enough ear wax) to constrain this toxin’s grating journey through the cochlea before traversing the now traumatized axial nerves as it relays its chafing message for temporal, parietal, and frontal lobe processing.

Woefully Harsh Individual Naggers ExacerbatingRescuer Suffering, or WHINERS, isn’t an unexpected secondary mental affliction for many of the hapless patients we run on. Many such WHINERS see themselves not as survivors, but as victims from not only what medical or traumatic event has befallen them, but also by everything about them—including their friends, family, the medical community and Gilligan’s Islandreruns. WHINERS often see EMS as a platform for venting negativity to a captive audience they’ve emergently summoned.

A good EMS provider adapts to these situations by becoming an active, reflective and compassionate listener without injecting judgment or advice. Even if all the WHINER does is complain about everything including my IV technique being too painful (as I thread it through their spidery, thready, fragile, scarred veins in the back of a bumpy ambulance, winding its way through mountainous terrain) while the patient continuously fidgets and jerks secondary to his withdrawal from a chronic history of ETOH (wine, not whine) abuse. His breath, by the way, about sends me into a state of unconsciousness—a condition I was in prior to being toned out at 3 a.m. Of course, this patient’s onset of minor abdominal pain began 10 hours earlier during normal waking hours, which I can’t really appreciate anyway because I had to pull in an extra 24-hour shift to compensate for my health insurance premiums skyrocketing because of all the rehab I had to go through when I hurt my back lifting this same 350-lb. patient five months earlier who still, just like clockwork, calls 9-1-1 every other day because he still (despite my additional community paramedic training, which by the way didn’t increase my salary—just my responsibility) negligently overdoses on his insulin, leading to a combative state of hypoglycemia and causing me be to get punched in my face while trying to get an IV established through his spidery, thready, fragile, ETOH-laced, scarred veins … . Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

So after treating a series of whiney patients, how do we “unwhined” at the end of the shift? Why, we converge in the ambulance bay with other crews getting off and whine about whiney patients, of course. Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe some form of grumbling is OK. It can stir conversation or even illicit some sympathy for someone seeking help, but for the most part whining is nothing more than a complaint without a resolution.

Similar to a VIRUS (Vocalized Irritating RantsUndermining Solutions), whining can spread more quickly when in close proximity of others. And though some may say one should avoid or walk away from such pessimism, such action whilst traveling in a moving ambulance cab can be problematic. If confined in a cab with a partner bearing unsolicited grievances with high-pitched whimpering, I may buy them a Big Gulp and try to listen with a sincere attempt at empathy without actually agreeing with them (whining needs validation to stay alive, after all). If that doesn’t work, I may then ask what their solution is to the predicament and, if they have none, ask the question, “If you can’t change it, what’s the point of complaining about it?,” all the while shoving their soda straw up their nose to convey, Shut the $!% up and suck it up already!

Okay, skip that last sentence. But seriously, studies show that most people reflexively mimic the emotions of others without being fully aware of why they think that way. Whining breeds more whiners. The good news is, positive emotions are just as contagious as negative ones. Have you ever noticed people laugh harder in a packed movie house than in a half-full one? Humor helps puts things in perspective. Maybe that’s why I often use humor as a reality check by exaggerating a grievance to help contain the contagion. I may not be able to change the complaint, but I at least have the power to change the way I think. Don’t agree? “Can’t be that easy,” you complain? Here, let me buy you a Big Gulp.