The "bird" (Pt. 2)

The next morning, I roll out of bed at around noon. I try not to feel too bad about it--I was up until 5-something with a pointless call. I'm allowed to sleep in, I rationalize.
Sleepily, I cut myself a piece of coffee cake I see sitting on the table. I'm startled by a tap on the shoulder, and I turn with the knife in hand.
"Whoa, a little jumpy there?" It's one of the career staff coming on shift, and I nod.
"Sorry about that, it's been a long shift."
"Yeah, about that." He pauses and I feel suddenly uncomfortable. "Hey, Sam?"
"What's the first thing they teach you in EMT class?" I swallow hard. I know what's coming.
"Scene safe, BSI."
"Right. So, about that call yesterday?"
"I had by BSI," I say as I show him my hands, as if this will help my case.
"The scene wasn't safe."
"Why not?"
"Unshielded, downed power lines running under the medic."
"Right. Were you driving?"
"Good. Let me tell you something. Even if you don't touch that line, it can still shock you from about six feet away."
"Whoa." My life suddenly feels extremely valuable.
"You better thank God or whatever that you were wearing those thick rubber-soled shoes of yours." He prods at my foot with his.
"They're probably the reason you're alive. Until the guys with the white dome hats show up in a truck that says Dominion, don't you go anywhere near a power line, okay?"
"Don't ever get too comfortable, Sam."

He disappears for a moment and comes back in with an emesis basin. It's full of trash, clothes, and IV supplies. My mouth drops immediately; that's from my call yesterday.
"Also," he starts, "this is completely unacceptable."
"Yeah, this was in the back of the medic."
"That's unreal! I bagged the sheets and cleaned up with them; I mean, I'm not trying to place blame, but holy crap!"
"It's okay. You make mistakes, you learn. Don't let it happen again."
"Yeah, definitely not."
"Are you ALS?"
"No, just BLS."
"That's what I thought. Well then, I won't get on you about this, but nobody exchanged the IV box."
"Yep, it's missing 10 and 20 drip sets, two bags of saline and some bio occlusives."
"Oh my God. I'm so embarrassed right now."
"Good, that's the only way you'll remember not to mess up like these guys in the future."

Any feelings of grandeur I had slide right out of my heart. I'm not Sam, the EMT who saves lives; I'm Sam, the girl who apparently learned nothing from her EMT class, has no respect for the cleanliness of the ambulance or the state of the equipment.

I swore to myself I'd remember "scene safe, BSI" for the rest of my life. I dreamt about it when I was in class. It was the thing that I always caught when other people forgot. Am I becoming jaded? I just jumped those power lines like they were any other thing in my way. What if I had tripped? What the hell is wrong with me?

I'm pulled from my own thoughts by a call going out. As I climb into the seat of the ambulance, I silently say a prayer. I'm not exactly sure to whom I'm praying, but it doesn't matter.

Please, protect me, my partners and my patients. Should something happen on this or any other call, I just hope I've lived a legacy.

I feel stupid, but I don't care at this point. We arrive on scene, and it's an elderly lady who is so constipated she's ready to burst.

"Glad nothing could go wrong here," I think to myself.

On my way to grab the stretcher, I trip down the stairs and scrape up my hand.

"Don't ever get too comfortable."


Fyremandoug said...

Its when you go to lift one foot up off the ground is when its the most dangerous, the power will travel up one leg and down the other and depending on the line, zap the hell out of you or kill you. The safest way to get out of a downed power line area is to hop with both feet ... like a bunny. I got the "tickle " once and have class that taught us how to get out of that situation safely. Hang in there Sam your the kind of EMS person I would want to take care of me or mine.

Chris said...


Forgetting to tidy up the back of the truck, a mistake (although joint with your partner). Yes, it was unacceptable, but it was a mistake. Learn from it, it's not a problem.

And regarding the safety issue, we all do it. Worry about it, because you should, but as I say, we all do it. I'm a chemist (as in chemistry, not pharmacy), and i regularly carry out procedures without the correct PPE, because I know how to do it right without coming into contact with it, or because I know "that chemical isn't *that* harmful!

Stupid of me, but I do.

Take everything you did wrong there, and learn from it.

Oh, and like fyremandoug, if I needed an ambulance, I'd want you on it. (Unfortunately not going to happen though - can't see them dispatching you all the way over to England!)

Scott said...


And it always sucks to have a chat with the boss . . .

Anonymous said...

Ok my turn lol. There are times that all of us as EMS providers become complacent. I am as guilty of it as anyone. The power lines, well that is the drivers fault for not being aware of his surroundings. Yes, you should be that second set of eyes to prevent it ever happining again. Never be afraid to speak up and demand something (move the rig, wait for law enforcement, etc) when it regards your saftey, your patients or your crews.

Assume nothing and prepare for everything... Muffin :)

Anonymous said...

It's called "tunnel-vision" Sam. It's easy to get wrapped-up in the heat of the moment and disregard your own safety, especially when you see what looks like a potentially critical patient. It happens to the best of us, even those of us who've been around the ol' block a time or two.

Remember, you're useless to that patient if you allow yourself to get injured in the response. There's more to "going home at the end of your shift" then remembering just to wear your gloves.

Please be more safe. EMS needs more EMT's like you and it would be a tragedy if we lost you.


VA FireMedic said...

Everything that "went wrong" here is something that all of us have done at some point. We all make mistakes, some of us (me) make more than others. There was a lot of things leading up to why things went wrong here, the fact that we got there before the fire department (firefighters usually realize things like downed power lines because that is what they do), the scene was hectic, and you all didnt go to the hospital with the patient (thus not remembering to exchange the box).

You're a good EMT, but nobody's perfect. You dont even know how many times I've messed up on a call, and its made me a better provider. I would suggest that you take at least the classroom part of a vehicle extrication course as it teaches you about scene safety and approach to MVC's.

See you wednesday!


Silent Owl Scribe said...

Whoa! That's um...that's, amazing alright. But Sam, don't dwell on it. Many things happened...you may or may not have made any mistakes...things happen, things happen. Yet, I feel that you will be a much stronger and better EMT because of this. I believe in you. Take care.

Beaker said...

I'm glad you didn't get all defensive and try to pretend it was someone else's fault. That way you can learn and you'll make completely different mistakes next time... we're human I can't tell you that we won't make mistakes :) But your story is a great example, the first mistakes had big consequences but now you're going to be careful and future mistakes will be small ones like hurting your hands :)

tracy said...

Dear Sam,
i'm sooo glad you are okay...what a scary story, about the power lines...nothing compared to an ambulance not being cleaned perfectly ...imho. i mean, both are important, but your life, i mean, really...please be careful, you are so precious, to sooo many.

thank you for everything,

a true admirer, tracy

david mcmahon said...

It's a lesson that is applicable to us all, in every walk of life.

Stay clear of those power lines, too .....

Witness said...

Its not the dangerous situations, its not the random accidents... it's complacency that kills us. Keep on the balls of your feet, and relax only when you clock out.

And hop like a bunny. It's the truth! Hehe.

EE said...

I won't go into the scene saftey thing, everyone else pretty much covered that.

You asked in the post "Am I becoming jaded?" NO, you aren't anywhere close to jaded.

Talk to you soon and email or whatever if you want to talk.