Why did you get involved in EMS?
Chances are that your answer may have something to do with wanting to help others.
I know that was my reason. I’ve always thought of myself as one of the “fixers”. And it didn’t matter what type of run I was on at that point in time, private transfers or 911 runs, it all comes down to a person with a need out there, and us being able to take care of that need. Maybe I wasn’t fixing the patient, per se, but I was fixing what could potentially turn into a life threatening issue.
When I became a Paramedic and was set loose to practice on the street my thinking of myself as a fixer was reinforced. Some of the patients I was now interacting with were of a higher acuity than I had been able to treat before, and now I was in charge of the ambulance and everything on it. I was responsible for any care or interventions given by myself or my EMT partner, as well as any care or interventions not performed. It’s quite a responsibility, and while it’s only been six short months, it’s something I hope I never take lightly.
It’s a great feeling, having that name tag that says Epijunky NREMT-P on it. I fought like hell to get to this point, going through two very tough Paramedic programs with fantastic instructors. And am I proud of myself? Absolutely I am. Not too proud, nothing close to walking around with my chest puffed out with a Paragod attitude… Just… Proud that I finally made it.
In late December, the day after a particularly grueling 24-hr shift, I drove home feeling a little under the weather. It wasn’t anything specific, and honestly, I chalked it up to just being exhausted from running a ton of calls the majority of the previous day. I’m 34-years-old and a Mother of two. My body isn’t used to being up for 24 straight hours. I remember pulling into my driveway, putting my car into park and grabbing my gear before getting out. When I stood up, the world spun. I remember blinking a few times in an attempt to focus on my neighbors house thinking that if I could just stare at one point, this nasty case of vertigo would stop. And within a few seconds it did. But not before I took a step, slipped on ice, and landed flat on my backside. Ouch. After muttering a few four letter words, I collected my bags, stood back up and went into the house. I felt fine, and the vertigo never did return. I didn’t even mention it to my family. I figured it was just another less than graceful move by yours truly.
The following day was Christmas morning, and my gift from Santa was some pretty intense back pain. My response was to pop some ibuprofen and find a way to make it through Christmas morning without my kids knowing that anything was wrong. And I did manage to do this, quite successfully. The next morning however, was another story. This was worse than just back pain, this was excruciating pain. It was I-cant-stand-up-and-walk-without-help kinda pain. Knowing that I was due to be on an ambulance for 24 hours the next day, I swallowed my pride and headed into the ER where I was possibly the worst patient ever.
Let me explain. I didn’t want to be there. I’m a fixer. I’m not a patient. To the ER staff’s credit, they were amazingly patient with a very very stubborn girl. I thought it was odd that they wanted to run my blood for a CBC, but I didn’t complain. All I wanted was some relief for my back and possibly a work note if they weren’t going to be able to calm my spasming muscles down before tomorrow.
Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. What happened next would be the beginning of my own personal hell.
Dr. Mc Hottie (well, he is rather handsome) came into my room with a very concerned look on his chiseled face. He was followed by a PA, a scribe and my nurse. ”Epi, I don’t know how you’re able to walk, let alone function right now…”
Er, ‘Scuse me?
“Epi, are you aware that you’re anemic?”
“Yes, I have been for years. I’m a gastric bypass patient,” I mumbled, getting a little nervous.
“Okay, I understand that, have you been having problems with your iron and B-12?” He was sitting next to my bed now. My anxiety climbed by a factor of 10. I knew I had problems with anemia, and if you ask anyone who knows me, I’m not just pale, I practically glow I’m so white. That being said, I came in for my back, and they weren’t even concerned about that.
I just nodded.
“Your hemoglobin is 6.1. Normal is 12-14. 6.1, Epi.”
Hemoglobin is the component of your blood that carries oxygen from your lungs to the tissues in your body where it picks up carbon dioxide to take back to your lungs. Basically, the handsome Doctor was telling me that my body was severely oxygen starved. He started naming a myriad of problems that I was probably suffering from, possibly without realizing:
Pale skin. CHECK.
Shortness of breath.
Dizziness. A big CHECK.
That last one really struck me along with the threat of impaired memory. While I hadn’t had issues with either so far, the thought of not being able to think clearly while with my children or a patient in the back of the ambulance… That scared the hell out of me. I was in trouble. And even worse, I was putting others in danger as well.
All of a sudden my back was hurting a little less.
I was no longer a fixer. I was a patient.
I had the entire rainbow collection of wrist bands. Allergy, Fall Risk (!), my hospital ID and finally the green blood band. My reality was rapidly changing. I was stuck in a gown, felt like a pin cushion thanks to multiple iv failed attempts, and I was absolutely terrified. They were talking about blood transfusions, not just one, but multiple. My quick visit to the ER was looking like it was going to turn into a couple of day affair. The icing on the cake was passing three different crews and a supervisor from my service while in the ER.
My saving graces were a friend and former preceptor who stopped by and refused to leave me until I was tucked in and he was positive I wouldn’t sign myself out AMA. Kozi, I can’t thank you enough. And yes, Turkey is still a funny word. (I say very weird things while being given IV narcotics, folks.) My sister from another mister JustMyBlog who sent a beautiful flower arrangement, and a certain friend out there who listened (and watched) me whine via skype while they were simultaneously drugging me and giving me blood.
Four units of blood (and one very sleepless night) later, I was set loose. My HGB was still on the low end, but acceptable by the hospitals standards, and my back pain was being taken care of with narcotics. I had been given orders to see my family doc the next day, and I was fairly certain that I was going to be in the clear in a few short days. I’d be back on the truck soon. Management told me to take care of myself and to let them know when I was released by my doctor.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy, yeah? Of course not. I don’t do anything the quick and easy way. My nightmare was far from over.
The conclusion later on tonight or tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and be safe out there ;)