Monday, November 3, 2003
quote du jour:
"I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which a fireman has believe his is a noble calling..." - Chief Edward Coker, Fire Department of New York City, circa 1910.

eekends at the fire station are almost always lazy & slow. There are no bosses around and, thus, no busy work. My shift makes sure the trucks run and the equipment works first thing and we spend the rest of the day napping, watching TV or playing on the computer. On this particular day -- Saturday, September 26 -- the only thing on the agenda was the Arkansas-Alabama football game.

The game was supposed to start about 2 p.m., but it was monsooning in Tuscaloosa... or, more importantly, it was lightning and the game was on hold. Folks in the stadium watched the rain fall and the lightning strike. Hundreds of miles away, our wait wasn't quite as boring.

The pager sounded and out the door we went. I was halfway down the spiral staircase from our upstairs living quarters when I first heard the nature of the call -- a one-week infant choking.

I am quite possibly the quickest man on my department when it comes to getting out to the engine bay and onto the rig. I stepped up my pace. My normally brisk walk turned into a quick jog out to the truck.

On medical runs, I drive the engine. After too many more of these calls, that might not be the case. The pumper is a heavy truck on its own merits... It's 38 feet long, about eight feet wide and probably eight or nine feet tall. Add to that 1,000 gallons of water at roughly eight pounds per gallon and you've got yourself a small freight train with lights & sirens. I tell you all of this so that you can guess on your own that a fire engine should not be driven like a race car. Of course, I sort of ignored that rule on that particular day.

I can retrace nearly every part of the trip. I think that's because I wasn't totally shitting my pants. I remember the driver blocking my lane at the traffic light outside of the station. I remember the Little Caesar's guys with signs along the side of the road. I distinctly remember my partner's concern as I approached the last intersection on our route a bit too fast. I remember saying, "don't worry -- I've got it," while thinking, "whew -- lucky us."

We were halfway to the call when our supervisor arrived on scene.

"Patient is unresponsive."

I slammed my fist on the steering wheel three times and each time yelling either "fuck" or "shit." Which word I chose is one of the few things I don't specifically remember... I just know that they were both considered as good choices before I said them. My little spurt of agitation left as quickly as it came. I calmly picked up the radio and made sure that our dispatch relayed the supervisor's traffic to the responding ambulance company.

I'll admit that I should have been plotting a plan during the second half of our response. I should have been thinking about thinks like back blows... infant CPR... you know, things to do. For some reason, however, I was either very confident or very ignorant.

At that time, I'd run on two other unresponsive patients in my 15 months at Lakeland. The first patient was on the floor, had agonal breathing but no pulse. Just as we were going to attach the defibrillator to him, his wife said that he had a Do Not Resuscitate order. The second patient wasn't breathing when we arrived. We breathed for him with oxygen and a bag valve mask. His heart then stopped. We performed CPR and shocked him three times. The paramedics arrived and were never able to convert him. As we approached the location of the choking infant, I knew that I wasn't really ready for a third unhappy ending.

When we pulled up, I tried to pull a couple of latex gloves out of the dispenser on the dash. I think I ended up pulling six or seven out in a big wad. I said, "fuck it," and left them lying in the floor of the cab. The kid had only been alive for a week... I figured my chances of being contaminated with something were pretty low.

Our supervisor was smiling as we walked up. He had administered some back blows to the baby and dislodged whatever was keeping it from breathing. The baby sort of drifted in and out of consciousness. Every time he'd quieten down, I'd tickle his foot and get him to move around a bit. I told the baby to cry for our supervisor. Our supervisor told the baby to cry for me because I get no ass. Trust me, you won't find that one in any EMT text.

The ambulance finally showed up and transported the kid to the hospital. They later reported that his condition continued to improve as they got closer to the hospital.

Wow. In one moment, this kid wasn't breathing. In the next, the problem was solved. Because of my department, this kid is at home keeping his parents busy and his diaper full.

How's that for happy endings?

One might think that it's hard to top a story like that. After all, not only was it a successful save... it was the first I'd ever been a part of and the first of any shift since I started work at Lakeland (thankfully, we haven't had many opportunities).

However, the Chicago Cubs won the National League's Central Division later that day... And the rain stopped in Alabama while the Razorbacks topped the Crimson Tide in double overtime.

Three great things in one day. Top that.

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