#14: Becoming an EMT for Absolutely No Reason At All

Episode Transcript

(This is an auto-generated transcript. There may be errors.)

Many years ago, when I was a teen, I think 16 or 17, I took a trip to Waco, Texas with my sister. We spent a couple of days visiting friends. And as part of the trip, I ended up attending Baylor university for a couple of days as a sort of tag, along with one of my friends who had just enrolled the student bear.

One of the classes I sat in on was a certification class for EMT emergency medical technicians. Although he wasn’t getting a degree in emergency medicine. For whatever reason, my friend had decided to become an EMT. And this was just one of the many courses he ended up taking. I was only there for a day or two, but sitting in on that class, opened my eyes to the potential career in emergency medicine, after I returned back home to Colorado, I decided actually it could be a great fit for me. It required almost no school except for the actual certification itself and is a fairly recession-proof career that you can take almost anywhere, at least in the USA.

So, after thinking about it and researching and finding out what it would cost and how long it would take. I enrolled as an EMT student taking a summer program at the local community college, for those who might not be familiar with EMS emergency medical services, EMT stands for emergency medical technician, and there are at least two and sometimes three levels of being an emergency medical technician.

One is EMT-B emergency medical technician, basic. Uh, basic is the lowest level of EMT certification you can get, and it qualifies you to drive an ambulance and provide BLS basic life support. The second level, which is not recognized in all States, including my own state of Colorado, where I was enrolled at the time is EMT-I, emergency medical technician, intermediate. I don’t exactly recall what the additional level of certification gives you. I think it mostly has to do with things like you can administer more medication than an EMT-B and perhaps you get paid a little bit more, but that’s about it. Finally, the third and highest level is EMT-P emergency medical technician paramedic.

Even though there are technically three levels of EMT. Most people are just familiar with the first and the third, a basic and a paramedic. And oftentimes they’ll refer to an EMT-B as just an EMT and an EMT-P as just a paramedic or a medic going to EMT. School was one of the, how do I put this most eye-opening experiences of my young adult life up to that point.

I had just turned 18. And so, I was barely done with high school and actually enrolled in my EMT course while I was still a senior. I decided to take a summer course, which would allow me to study during the summer. So, it wouldn’t interfere with quote unquote real college courses that I would be taking in the fall and spring.

Now, one of the strange things about going to EMT school is that there are lots of modular pieces to it. What I mean by that is you can’t just go to EMT school and finish and say, yay, I’m an EMT. Now you have to do it in stages or modules. There are multiple steps involved for me, that included number one, becoming CPR certified first before school even started.

Number two actual EMT school. Number three I V certification, which believe it or not is not covered in EMT school, at least at the college that I enrolled at and number four state and national registry after school. So that’s four separate types of courses you have to take. If you want to become an EMT.

The first part was relatively simple. I signed up for CPR classes with my mom because she was a nurse, and her certification was about to expire anyway. So, we went to the same class at the same time. That was kind of fun. One thing I learned in CPR class is the concept of good Samaritan laws. What that means is in most places in the USA, if you are a layman or innocent bystander who happens upon some sort of medical emergency, say somebody found unconscious lying down on the ground, who needs some sort of medical attention.

If you decide to render assistance and you don’t know what you’re doing, and you accidentally hurt that person. You’re pretty much shielded from liability because you didn’t know any better. You were just being a good Samaritan. That sounds fair. But what started to concern me when I was taking CPR class is that our instructor told us, okay, now that you know how to do this good Samaritan laws do not cover you anymore.

Be very careful about if, how, and when you render life support, if you ever find yourself in a situation like that, Because you’ve taken the time to study this topic and go to classes and get certified. You’re now legally required to know how to do it. This was a strange concept to me that I hadn’t thought of before.

And it wasn’t a big deal, but it introduced me to the idea that if you become educated in medicine, to any extent you will be held to a higher standard than everyone else around you, because you should know how to save someone’s life. This is a topic we discussed many times throughout the next several months, but this was the first time I had really heard it expressed in such a way.

By taking a CPR course, good Samaritan protection was now taken away from me. This was weird and sobering. It made me really think, do I want to do this? Do I want to be held to a higher standard? If I’m out at a restaurant and I see somebody choking on steak and they need help, and I have the ability to render help.

I’m going to really think twice about doing it, because if I do it the wrong way, it could actually be worse for me than doing nothing at all. Well, good news. I passed the CPR course and so did my mom. Of course, I got my little card that said I’m now CPR certified and I can move on to the next step EMT school.

For me school means school. So, studying and getting EMT certification in my mind meant community college. One thing that I found out after I finished was that a lot of people that I knew who were EMTs, didn’t go to a community college at all. They actually got their certification from a hospital. That was something I had never thought of before, but I just happened to sign up for it at a community college.

And I also thought if I do this, I can get college credit for it. Now that turned out to be not true. And I fought that tooth and nail for many, many years at each subsequent college I applied to, but we’ll talk about that later. I signed up for the course and started buying gear. Some of the equipment obviously would be provided by the school or by the ambulance company once we finished school.

But there were some things that each one of us needed ourselves such as a stethoscope EMS pants, a uniform shirt. A sphygmomanometer also known as a blood pressure cuff or as they called it in class, a BP cuff safety glasses, a small flashlight, EMT, sheers, and finally a CPR mask. The class itself was about a thousand dollars give or take plus some of those extra supplies, like I mentioned, and also a few textbooks on the first day of class I showed up and there were maybe 10, 20, or even 30 other people.

It was the youngest person in the class, but there were a couple of other people, not that much older than me and the rest of the class was definitely in the 30, 40 plus age group. Most people had no medical background whatsoever. Many of them, from what I could tell, had never gone to college at all and had probably just finished high school or passed the GED.

Some of them enrolled in the course so that they could become a firefighter because the state I lived in requires that all firefighters have at least an EMT basic certification. This was eye-opening. And strange to me. I had never known that firefighters were the people who would be first on the scene and that they were actually EMT.

Yes. And they had life-giving skills growing up. I thought of firefighters as just that fire fighters. And I was shocked to find out as I learned in class and later during my ridealongs, most firefighters rarely fight actual fires frequently. They end up doing things like rescuing cats from rooftops, helping infants that are choking, setting, broken bones, providing CPR for people whose hearts have stopped and giving nitroglycerin to people having a heart attack.

I had never thought before, if you have a serious life-threatening emergency call of firefighter, but that’s actually the way it works. In fact, it was honestly pretty disappointing when on our first day of class, our instructor said basically an EMT is just a glorified taxi driver. I thought for sure he was kidding.

That was impossible. But over time I found out he was pretty much right. Our instructor was a nice guy, a black man from Chicago, whose name was Lauren, which thoroughly confused me because when I had signed up for the course, I saw the name Lauren and assumed that our instructor would be a woman. But when I showed up and saw a man standing in front of the classroom, I thought I must be in the wrong class.

But no, his name was Lauren, and he was going to be our teacher. He had a funny way of saying some words like ambulance, he called it an ambulance. And when talking about the tailbone in our pelvis, instead of saying Coccyx, he would call it a caucus. He was a funny guy. I liked him a lot and he was a great teacher.

He was really good at helping us figure out the moral ambiguity of the industry by running through theoretical scenarios with us. Let’s say you arrive on scene and this happens, what would you do? One of us would raise our hand and shout out something very simple and obvious and he’d say, okay, that sounds good.

But let me give you some more information on the scenario. Here’s an additional aspect. I didn’t tell you in the beginning, then we think, Ooh, well that makes things complicated. Hmm. That’s not such a straightforward answer anymore. This was really helpful because EMS is kind of Spartan. It’s like really, really old fashioned medicine because the level of medical care that you can provide as an EMT and a medic driving around in a van is extremely limited.

You can only bring a certain number of drugs and a certain number of medical devices with you in a vehicle on wheels. So, when you arrive on the scene of a crime or an accident, you’re extremely limited in what you’re able to offer. And you’re constantly having to make split second judgments that in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to make, because you’re not in a hospital.

People who work in EMS have to deal with things like MCIs mass casualty incidents, where a lot of people are hurt or dying all at the same time and you have limited time and equipment. So, you actually have to decide who you’re going to help and who you’re not going to help. Like I said in an ideal world, this wouldn’t be the case, but emergency medical services are not ideal.

It’s the best you can do with what you have, where you are right now. One thing that was eye-opening about my classmates is that a lot of them didn’t really seem like candidates for medicine. Several of them smoked. Lots of them had incredibly foul mouths. Some of them made very dirty sexual jokes during and after class.

And just the overall collection of soft skills was lacking. It’s just a fact of life. The less education, a position requires the lower, the quality of candidate. I won’t sugar coat this from what I saw in class. And afterwards. Lots of people in emergency medicine are smoking, drinking, cursing people with anger management issues or personal lives that are a total disaster.

And they’re potheads. That’s not exactly the kind of person that I think most people would say, yes. I’d like to put my life in the hands of someone like that, but that’s just the way the world works. Class at EMT school was fun and frightening. That was frightening for a couple reasons. Number one, when school was over and we finished and we’d actually go to work as an EMT, it wouldn’t be hypothetical or theoretical exercises in a classroom anymore.

We would actually be working on real life human beings. If we made a mistake, we could hurt someone or kill them as a young 18 year old guy. I had never been in this position before, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to think about it. Number two. It was also scary because emergency medicine is full of blood and death and Gore and trauma and injuries.

And that’s not natural. I had to force myself to go through my textbook, tempted to turn the page. So, I didn’t have to look at pictures of ring avulsions and dog bites and stabbings and gunshot wounds. That made me feel disgusting or sick or depressed inside broken bones, missing teeth, black eyes, fractured skulls.

It’s grotesque it’s brutal real life. And that brings up another point. People who work in EMS, whether they exemplify ideal personal lives and self-discipline, or not, some of them are messed up. It takes a special kind of person to be able to wake up in the morning, put on a uniform and drive around in a van where you deal with dying and dead people all day long, going home covered in blood that isn’t yours at the end of the day.

Really messes with your mind. Paramedics in particular are a totally different breed of human. I actually have a lot of respect for paramedics, but I’m telling you, there is something wrong with their brain. If you have worked under a paramedic, or if you’re married to one or no one, just ask them how wacky they have to be to work in the industry.

And they’ll tell you, it is a totally bizarre job. And the kind of person who chooses that for a career has to have a screw loose in their head. You could call it gallows humor, but man, the things that medics think are cool or war stories they like to share with each other when they get back from a shift, oh man, you should’ve seen this guy’s eyeball hanging out of his skull.

It was so cool. This is normal behavior for them, and they know that it’s not normal for everyone else. And at least in my experience, they’re willing to admit. Yep. We’re all crazy here. The book knowledge was really hard for me in one sense, because I had never been a college student before and studying a medical textbook, yuck.

That’s about as boring a task as I’ve ever had in my life. Up until that point, reading about milligrams and milliliters and vials and CCS and albuterol and ibuprofen and. Indications and signs and symptoms and Contra indications. It’s just a lot of head knowledge that rattles inside your skull, because you don’t know what to do with any of that.

Other than try to remember what those terms mean when it’s time to take a quiz or a test, that part was really hard, but the part that was fun and the part that was easy for me was the lab. We had classroom instruction all day on Saturdays and then lab instruction all day on Sundays. That’s where the practical side came into play.

And we really got to have fun. We would play with oxygen tanks and mannequins and Kerlex and fake tourniquets and used fake blood and stage makeup to make ourselves look like trauma victims and we’d practice our skills on each other. While our instructors watched, I liked it a lot and I thought I was pretty good at it.

In fact, I actually must have been. I was given a special award, Ron Stauffer best clinical skills. We did all kinds of fun things during school. We learned how to set bones and immobilized, cervical spines, and use stretchers and put bandages and splints on people and arm slings, administering oxygen with nasal cannulas and things like that.

One of the more difficult things was learning how to set OPHS and NPS oropharyngeal, airways, and nasal pharyngeal airways. These are tools designed to help keep the airways open of whoever you’re working on. If they are unconscious. One thing. A lot of people don’t know is that if you become unconscious due to some medical accident, you can die.

Not from whatever your accident was, but by swallowing your tongue or choking on vomit, keeping your airway open is actually a remarkably difficult thing. In some circumstances. That’s why they told us. You have to remember the ABCs of EMS, airway, breathing circulation in that order. Setting an OPA, an oropharyngeal airway is really complicated.

And of course, you can’t actually do this on a test subject because you’re literally sticking a plastic tube down the throat of a living human being. This you can only do to someone who is unconscious, whether they’re knocked unconscious or made unconscious through some medical technique, like tranquilizers.

 NPHs nasal pharyngeal, airways. Those you can technically practice on a live person. I think, although we didn’t do that, but we did practice many times on mannequins. The whole goal is to make sure that you keep the airway open so that they can stay alive long enough for you to do whatever you need to do to them, and then transport them to the hospital.

So, the OPA goes down the throat. And holds the mouth open and the NPA goes down the nostril. Yes. You stick a lot of lube on an NPA before you insert it into the nostril. It’s kind of gross, but it saves lives. A lot of these techniques that we would learn during lab, we’d start to get good at, and then they’d throw another layer on us.

Like, okay, well that looks great in a classroom. Let’s go try it out in the van. So, we load up, put our fake mannequin on a stretcher and start driving. This is school, right? You want to prepare yourself for the real world. So, we would have our fake medical team working on our fake medical patient in the back of a real ambulance, driving around like a crazy madman, swerving around corners all over the campus to try and get us used to what it would actually be like in real life.

It was really funny and there was a lot of laughter, but it was quite eye-opening once again about how EMS is not ideal. On that note, if you can avoid ever writing in the back of an ambulance, I highly recommend you do so. Aside from the fact that it costs an unbelievable amount of money, at least in the USA, they’re gross.

People have died, their blood guts, vomit bones have all been splattered all over the inside. It’s not a clean place where you’d want to spend any time. If you can avoid it. Now, I’m not saying if you’re in an accident, don’t call an ambulance. Of course, you should. What I’m saying is try not to get in an accident in the first place.

Yes, I know. That’s kind of ridiculous, but I’m telling you one of the reasons why I drive the speed limit is because I’ve seen what happens when people ride in an ambulance. It ain’t cool. And I don’t want to be there by the way. EMT is, are the ones who drive the ambulance. It’s the paramedic who sits with the patient in the back.

And guess what? You don’t need any special driver’s license to drive an ambulance? I could have done it as an 18 year old without a CDL or anything. There are at least three configurations for ambulances, at least in the United States. Number one looks like a truck cab, like a little tiny U haul truck.

Number two looks just like a minivan with a really tall roof. Sometimes those are called trauma Twinkies. And number three is the type that fire departments use, which looks like a bigger sort of moving van with a big square attached to the back of it. One great lesson I learned while taking this class that served me very well for the rest of my time in college was study groups.

I had never heard of a study group before, but on the first day, one of my classmates asked the teacher if we could form study groups and he said, yes, I highly encourage it. I didn’t know what that meant, but when I talked to the person who suggested it, I thought, well, that’s a very interesting idea. The study group is where several students, I think we limited it to four or five each we’ll get together outside of class and discuss what we talked about and learned in class.

And those of us who missed something or didn’t understand it could catch up or help each other. Understand it. That was an exceptionally good choice. And I’m really glad that I did it, not just in that class, but I’ve done it since in many other classes afterward study groups are a fabulous idea and I highly recommend them.

As part of school, we had to do a final paper on something medical. One guy talked about what causes multiple sclerosis and how there’s no treatment or cure for it. And that was interesting one gal talked about what almost sounded like eugenics and gene splicing in embryos. And that was very disturbing.

I ended up doing a project on caffeine and its effects on the human body. By the way, for those of you who can’t go a single day without your cup of Joe, actually, from what I researched you can, caffeine is not addictive, but it is habit forming. So, you’re not totally off the hook toward the end of our classes.

We signed up for ridealongs with real ambulance companies, which would be staffed with real EMT and medics and real life patients. For my first ridealong, I went to a private ambulance company in Colorado Springs, which was in and of itself. Very interesting and confusing to me. I didn’t understand how the structure worked.

At least in my town where I lived. Firefighters were always the first on scene and private ambulance companies were contracted to show up afterwards to transport patients to the hospital. So, it was just like my instructor said. EMT and paramedics are basically glorified taxi drivers. And that was almost infuriating to me.

I couldn’t understand why it was that we even existed when at every single emergency we went to, it wasn’t really even an emergency anymore because all the hard work had already been done. The patient had been stabilized and we were just transporting. It was a letdown. That’s when I discovered there can sometimes be a bit of a rift or a social.

Break between EMS professionals and firefighters for whatever reason. And I’m still a little bit irritated about this. Firefighters are famous. They’re like Mr. And Mrs. Incredible. They get all the glory and the fame and the cool outfits and the cool gear. Everybody in the world only has good things to say about firefighters, but I didn’t want to be a firefighter.

So, it was a little bit weird that we, as the EMS professionals were dressed similar to firefighters, but we drove an ambulance and they drove firetrucks and they were the first onsite. They had cooler uniforms and people just universally respect them. I definitely felt like EMT basics and paramedics do not get nearly the same respect that firefighters do.

And I think firefighters love it that way. They look back at the poor suckers who work for the ambulance company and think, huh, I used to be like that a long time ago before I became a firefighter. Of course, I’m not saying all firefighters are like that, but I am saying there really is a dividing line between the two.

I learned some things that were frustrating to me and seemed really unflattering toward EMS in general. For my first ride, along at the private ambulance company, I was paired with a man and a woman who had worked for that company for, I don’t know, several years. And they were good at what they did, but there was definitely some eye-rolling about the stupid rules that their company had that made their lives miserable.

One example is one of the EMTs. I met, had a Band-Aid over her eyebrow and I asked what that was about. And she said, I have an eyebrow piercing and our company is Nazis about that. So, I’m not allowed to show it. So, I just put a Band-Aid on it. I thought that was really weird that she would literally go to work every single day with a Band-Aid over her eyebrow.

And she would rather do that than just not have a pierced eyebrow. I also asked them the question that every lay person wants to know. How fast can you drive this thing? And they said, well, technically we can drive it really fast, but there’s this little alert box in the cab that tells on us. If we go faster than 10 miles over the speed limit, that was disappointing.

EMT. We’re hired to do a particular job, drive an ambulance and put on lights and sirens and drive fast, but they weren’t really allowed to drive fast. I could sense animosity between the EMTs themselves and the company they worked for. I wasn’t expecting that one interesting aspect of being an EMS worker that I barely noticed is that sometimes companies will give perks to people in EMS.

For example, we went to Chipotle for lunch one day, and apparently at least that Chipotle at that time, I don’t think they do it anymore. Gave them free food. It turns out that there are restaurants and coffee shops that give preferential treatment to people wearing uniforms, whether that’s EMS, firefighters, or even police officers.

And to me, that presents an ethical problem. I asked the lady that I was with that day. Are you allowed to accept free food? She said, no, technically we’re not allowed to, but we do sometimes. That was disappointing and it felt like an open secret that everybody wearing a uniform was in on, but nobody else knew about, I didn’t like that, that first ridealong at the ambulance company was relatively tame because again, it seemed, we showed up when all the action was over.

One of our first stops was a call for a guy who had fallen down and had a seizure. We pulled into the parking lot at a large tech company, we went up the elevator or stairs into a bunch of offices and found a man lying down in front of his cubicle, being worked on by firefighters. They had done their work and now it was time for us to take him to the hospital.

I helped lift him onto the stretcher and then into the ambulance. And I used a BVM, a bag valve mask to help him breathe about halfway through the trip he woke up and then started vomiting. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I panicked, I lifted the BVM and guarded my face as though not to get vomit on me, but I looked in his eyes and I thought, does he know that I’m grossed out by this?

Is he angry at me? Is he even lucid? That was my very first taste of what emergency medicine would be like. If I stayed in this field, I would have to deal with people, vomiting on me all the time, it was hard to resist my primal urge, my instinctual pole to recoil. The second I saw him open his mouth and start to throw up.

I had to tell myself, no, I need to keep doing my job. Even if he gets barf all over this stuff that is unnatural and very uncomfortable. I learned a lot, just even on that very first ridealong, I got to see what it looks like when somebody has a seizure. I got to learn that if they wake up, they’re going to start vomiting.

I got to learn that in this guy’s case, if you’re a lifetime alcoholic and you just wake up one day and say, I don’t want to be an alcoholic anymore, I’m going to stop drinking alcohol. It can have serious side effects when we went to the hospital and we took the guy to the ed, which by the way, that’s another weird disconnect.

Lay people like to say, ER, emergency room, but in EMS they call it an ed emergency department for whatever reason, boy were there some characters there. Holy cow, while we were there waiting for the doctors to fill out their paperwork or whatever, a lady with some sort of mental challenge walked in, she had attempted a self-inflicted gunshot wound and only used a really, really small powered gun.

Maybe just an air rifle. But for whatever reason, she was walking and talking loudly, very opinionated blood was dribbling down from her chest and she glared at everybody and started yelling. What are you looking at? You think this is funny? Yes. Some people definitely thought it was funny, including the EMT that I was assigned to.

They thought it was hilarious. I don’t remember how they phrased it, but they looked at me and said, welcome to your new life. A few moments later, I had to grapple with one of the most difficult decisions I’d ever had to make in my life. Up to that point while we had dropped off our patient, another patient came in who was a very, very old lady, probably in her nineties.

And she had received CPR on the ambulance the whole way to the hospital and was continuing to do so on the gurney. They had cut her shirt open. And so I got to see a topless 80 plus year old woman, which was something I was not exactly prepared for. But on top of that, she got into the ed and whichever doctor it was who was on call that day, who was in charge, took a look at her vitals and read the chart and talked to the paramedics about the drugs they had already administered.

And how long they’d been performing CPR He decided to call it I’m paraphrasing. I don’t remember exactly how he said it, but he basically said, all right, that’s it, we’re done. Let’s stop wasting our time. She’s gone. That was the first time in my life.

I had seen somebody basically say, this person is no longer worth providing life support for. That was fascinating. I thought, wow, this guy has to make these kinds of decisions every day. But then for whatever reason, he decided that he didn’t want to make this decision alone. So he looked at everybody crowded in the room and he said, unless you think I should keep going.

He pointed individually to everyone in the room and said, do you think I should keep going? Do you think I should keep going? Do you think I should keep going? Do you think I should keep going? Eventually he pointed to me, do you think we should keep resuscitating? I’m sure. I answered in about three seconds, but it felt like three hours as I pondered the weight of this question.

And I said, no, that was the end of it. And I thought, well, I have now officially had someone else’s life in my own hands, at least to a limited extent, that’s it. I would never be the same ever again. That didn’t bother me, but it really did allow me to see that if I so chose, I would be a part of this system and would have to make decisions like that every single day.

I wasn’t sure what to think about it. I pondered it. What was neat about my ridealong experience is I got to see it from the perspective of the private ambulance, which only picked up patients for transport after the firefighters had arrived. I also got to see it from the perspective of the firefighters.

One of my ride. Alongs was with an actual fire department in a small Colorado mountain town. That was fascinating. I met a bunch of foul mouth smoking guys who talked about X-rated sex acts and all kinds of things that were hard for my 18 year old brain to comprehend. As I’ve mentioned, there seems to be some sort of instant respect for firefighters.

And I’m not saying they’re not worth respect, but I am saying spending a lot of time with a bunch of guys who live together in the same place and deal with life and death every day makes for some pretty bad jokes, gallows humor, and a lot of filthy sex talk. My ears burned at the conversations they had, where they’d brag to each other about various sexual conquests.

They’d had, I was also really confused at how many of them smoked cigarettes. It’s a very weird thing. It’s, there’s a cognitive dissonance there where somebody who spends their entire lives saving the lives of others, goes home or back to the fire station in their case. And engages in behavior. That’s going to end them up in the hospital someday.

I wasn’t sure what to think about it. And I certainly didn’t ask them about it if they didn’t smoke cigarettes, a bunch of them chewed tobacco, either way. A lot of downtime at the fire station was spent standing outside on the driveway, smoking cigarettes and stubbing out their cigarette butts or spitting their tobacco juice into a soda can or on the ground.

This was something I had never seen before, and it was not disturbing, but just gross the firefighters. I found that they’re nice guys. They’re good people, but they’re definitely a brotherhood. They look out for each other and they talk to each other in a way that perhaps, maybe only soldiers do because they live together in a situation that’s essentially like barracks.

Firefighters work 24 hour shifts. And there’s a lot of downtime when people aren’t dying or getting in car crashes or lighting things on fire. So when they’re not out on the job, they’re back at the station, sleeping or watching backdraft or cooking for each other. Or looking at pornography or making dirty jokes in smoking.

When I showed up at the fire station, one of the first things they said to me is, so are you going to be a shit magnet or not? I said, what? Excuse me. They said, what’s your experience been so far when you go on these ride, alongs, are you a shit magnet? I said a shit magnet. They said, yeah, some people who show up for a ridealong, they sit here for eight hours and nothing happens.

Some people come and all the shit happens. They bring it with them. They’re like a shit magnet. You know, I didn’t know how to respond to that. But I said, I don’t think I’m a shit magnet and it turned out I was absolutely right. I was not a shit magnet. I actually had a pretty boring ridealong. I wasn’t looking for the full experience with blood and suicides and amputations and decapitations, I hadn’t been in EMS long enough for that stuff to be exciting to me.

I just wanted to survive. So, I was pretty happy when we got our very first call, an older gentleman, probably in his late fifties, early sixties, but significantly overweight had slipped and fallen and might’ve broken his hip. I don’t think he did break his hip, but he wasn’t able to stand up and he needed help.

We helped pick him up and get him out of his house, make sure he was stable and then transported him to the hospital. And because he was awake and totally lucid. We talked, I learned about him. He told me that he had worked at a water treatment plant, the chemicals that they had used to treat the water, ended up giving him CLPD chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

So, they forced him to retire early. When we asked him why it was that he was as old as he was, and yet had two little, tiny babies living in the house with him and his wife. He was honest. He told us his grandkids had to come live with him because his daughter was a crack head in jail and had her parental rights taken away.

So here he was in his late fifties or early sixties had C O P D was medically forced to retire early and was now raising a second generation of kids. That was really sad. And it was interesting for me to see. But everybody has a story, whether it’s the firefighter or the EMT or the patient. Another call we went on was for a lady who had been riding a horse but got bucked off of it.

She was wearing a helmet and I don’t think she broke her neck or anything, but just to be safe, we transported her to a hospital. The gal was very nice, but she had a lot of body odor. And so, in the hot summer weather, we were driving a long time to drop her off at a hospital that I’d never heard of before.

And she was sweating profusely in the back. I learned two things during this transport. Number one, I get motion sick in the back of an ambulance that’s because the ambulance that the fire department used, the kind that looks like a truck with a box on the back, had an air suspension system designed to keep the cab as level as possible, but it also had the side effect of making me super seasick.

Number two. I learned that being in the back of an ambulance can be unbearable for things that you hadn’t thought about. I am not making fun of this lady, but she had the worst B O I was sitting there listening to her chat with the EMT feeling like I was going to vomit because of the seasickness, but her body odor filled the cabin and made my motion sickness so much worse.

I didn’t get seasick on the type two trauma Twinkie that the private ambulance company had. But my goodness, I was sick to my stomach in the type three ambulance that the fire department had during our ride back from dropping off this lady at the hospital in Denver, the firefighters started talking to each other about whether they would sleep with her or not.

They started commenting on her, looks her personality, and I was just shocked that. People who dressed up in a nice uniform, like that could have such conversations about their patients. After that call, when we got back to the fire department, the guy who had earlier asked me if I was a shit magnet said, oh man, you missed the best call.

And I asked him what he was talking about. He said, when you left, we got this awesome call. An arm crush amputation. In essence, what had happened was a guy had just graduated from college or high school or something like that. And to celebrate bought a brand new BMW. The guy literally got in his car and sped down the road so fast with his arm out the window that he flipped his car, and it ripped his arm off.

I was not sorry to miss that call, although it would have been very occasionally when my ridealongs were done. I got good letters of recommendation from the people that I had written along with. And I passed my class and I graduated. And that’s when I found out that this whole thing had been a waste of time because I was only 18 years old at no point during this process.

Did anybody stop to ask me the question? How old are you? And by the way, do you know what that means for your ability to get hired? For example, the ambulance company, where I had done my ridealong, had a policy of not hiring anyone under 21 years old. I was barely 18. If I wanted to get a job at the ambulance company, I had gone through this entire process three years, too early, I started asking around and it turned out that actually that was kind of a common requirement.

I did have some options, which included being a volunteer firefighter, which as I mentioned, I was never interested in. And why would I want to volunteer? Why on earth would I go through all this pain and suffering and late nights and cramming for final exams and ridealongs and paying over a thousand dollars for this course, just so that I could work for free.

No, this was supposed to be a potential career choice for me. That was totally disheartening and totally bizarre. I went through all of this process for absolutely no reason at all. I ended up sitting for my exam, taking the national registry test, which is the NR EMT, the national registry of emergency medical technicians.

And I passed back. And that’s it, that’s, it that’s all best thing that ever happened. I never worked a day as an EMT in my entire life and all of my certifications and my registry memberships have expired. And aside from the life lessons of which there were many, the only things that I really took away from this is that now I knew just enough about how to save someone’s life, to be dangerous, meaning that.

I had studied enough to have textbook knowledge so that those good Samaritan laws I mentioned earlier, no longer applied to me. So I got the worst of both worlds. I spent all that time studying this topic and paying for it. And by the time I was done, I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have a career. And now I didn’t even have liability protection.

If I ever wanted to put my skills to use in an actual emergency. In all, I don’t regret it. It seemed like a good choice at the time. I would have done things very differently if I were starting over and maybe who knows someday, I’ll go back and do it all over again. And this time I’ll actually get a job, but it was an interesting life experience that helped me to learn more about humanity and life and death and pain and suffering and things like that.

 Thanks for listening.

If you liked this episode of Micron (or even if you didn’t), let me know! I’m always open to feedback, including questions, comments, and episode suggestions. Send an email to feedback@https://ronstauffer.com/micron. You can also leave a review on Apple Podcasts here, which would be super-helpful as I try to grow the reach of the show. Thanks!

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