The day had come: Time to see what New York City Paramedics do. The grime of the city. The hustle and bustle. The intensity. The size. New York City. I was excited.
I had sorted a shift out from Australia via some contacts (thank you again if you’re reading this!). A few emails and a phone call later, I’m booked in. After borrowing The Worlds Smallest Ironing Board from the hostel, coupled with The Worlds Worst Iron, my crease free shirt (NOT!) and I were on their merry way to Brooklyn.
The Subway, or any underground train for that matter, is a semi-magical type of transport. Descending in the the depths of the earths core, you are whisked away in a steel can on wheels, propelled through a network of subterranean tunnels, only to submerge in a completely different biotope.
I felt like I had come out on the Wrong Side Of The Tracks:
…and when you’re in f*ckin’ Brooklyn, you best watch your back!
Woah. Dirty streets, rubbish lying around, big mean-looking guys with tats walking around. A dark freeway underpass. A broken fence. I looked around, and felt like the proverbial sore thumb sticking out. No one really took notice of me, but There was no way in the world I was going to do anything to draw further attention towards my person. No way was I taking my iPhone out to take pictures. I made sure my valuable were as safe as possible, and out of sight. I morphed in to “man on a mission”, and headed straight to the ambulance station, trying not to leak any signs of curiosity of the neighbours or indeed the neighbourhood. Because I was just that – curious. But I was attached to my health and my life. (I’m sure this was a bit of an overreaction, but you can never be sure…and this was precisely the landscape that is always portrayed in various US gang films…).
I arrived in one piece at Maimonides EMS depot (pronounced May Mo Nuh Deez. Maimonides was a medieval Jewish Scholar). Phew. Knock Knock? Noone. I walk in, and am greeted by some paramedics, who direct me upstairs to the supervisors office. A few doors and some very narrow stairs later, Henry greets me with a big smile, welcomes me, and eagerly gets right in to it: “Let’s head downstairs, I’ll show you around and introduce you to the paramedics”.
We chat for a short while about the service, but then his phone rings and Henry excuses himself. “Grab some food in the meantime! It’s EMS week, help yourself, go right ahead”. Well, free food, can’t decline a friendly offer, can we? The banquet had been ransacked by earlier crews (it was early afternoon already), but still plenty to be had.
Eventually, some people in uniform wandered in, who turned out to be the medics I would be riding with soon. We go through the different kit they carry, compare each others respective guidelines and protocols, and are bleeped immediately for a standby position. You see, in New York, all Ambulances except FDNY (pronounced fid-nee, or fud-nee if you’re from New Zealand) get dispatched from street corners, not from stations (more on that in another post).
Halfway to our streetcorner, we are sent on our first job. Oh yeah, this ALS truck is now running hot! Big, boxy, bouncy, bad. Together with the fine and silky smooth roads (NOT!) of NYC, it would make for quite an unpleasant ride if I were not so excited. And another thing: Drivers of all emergency vehicles are quite playful when it comes to sirens: wooowoop. wup. wuup woop. wooohoooowailwailwail. woop. wail wail. HONK yelp yelp HiLo. HONK woop.
A haemophiliac in a high rise building has called, thinking he has broken a bone. We’re in “The Projects”, the New York term for low income (generally ugly high rise) housing. And I get the picture pretty quickly: Dark and dirty entryway, a lift smelling of stale urine with goodness-knows-what smeared over the graffiti. Creaking, the lift sneaks us up multiple floors, spits us out in a tight hallway, where mum (or should I write mom) awaits us: her brother has a bleeding disorder, heard and felt a snap in his thigh, which is now slightly swollen and tender. And he can’t weight bear.
Luckily we have the carry chair handy.
Our patient is comfortable as long as he isn’t standing, but the upper leg is tender to touch. All vitals within normal range, declines pain relief, so apart from monitoring and transport there is is not much more to do.
We arrive at hospital after an uneventful transfer where, once again, it becomes painfully (for the seasoned US medic, not me) obvious of the stretcher systems that are in place in most of the US & Canada: Person A must hold half the patient + stretcher weight, whilst Person B must fold or unfold the legs of the stretcher. Man, you gotta hold a lot of weight, that can’t be good for your back! I think that topic alone is worth an additional blog post (at the risk of even more wrath in the comments section)
Back in the van, restocked and roomy (yes, this thing is rather large), we are sent to our street corner again. Not a bad corner, as far as street corners go: Close to a major road, yet quiet, a supermarket for food nearby, and free public WiFi.
And we wait for another job.
And fall asleep.
A nine hour shift with one job. It’s light. Nothing. Then it turns dark. Nothing. BLS crews whizzing past us on lights and sirens. NYPD screeching past. Firetrucks honking their airhorns as they hurl past. But this ALS crew isn’t needed anywhere.