The spate of fiascoes actually started on Wednesday night. I am a public servant by vocation and a paramedic by trade. Unfortunately, as so often happens in my chosen profession, I was scheduled to work on Thanksgiving. We had recently bought a farm that put us a solid hour’s drive from the city where I work, so I had retired early to be well rested for my 24 hour working holiday. Barely an hour into my slumber, I was awakened by our two yard dogs. They were engaged in a litany of vociferous yelping which of course roused the two house dogs sleeping at the end of the bed, and I was soon wide awake in the middle of a cacophony of kennel chorus.
“Dagum deer”, I mumbled as I threw on my robe and stepped into the freezing night air to scold the pups into silence. From my front porch, I looked across the pasture in the direction of the barking. A few hundred feet from the house, I saw my two labs loudly protesting, yet keeping a safe distance from the slinking silhouettes lurking in the shadows of our watershed. Coyotes…just the word make my skin crawl. I sprinted barefoot across the frozen ground, screaming wildly while hurling stones at the would be predators. The nasty curs momentarily stared at me with their soulless eye, and then loped away in a manner that seemed to say, “We’re only leaving because we want to”.
I scurried back to bed and turned my electric blanket on high. My racing heart finally slowed, and I drifted back to the brink of slumber. My reverie was short lived. Less than twenty minutes later, the intruders returned and the scenario repeated itself. I wrapped my pillow around my head and lived with the canine argument that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. I groggily awoke to find that I had hit the snooze button one too many times and was scheduled to clock in at work in exactly four minutes. I hastily showered, hurried into an un-ironed uniform and raced “coffee-less” to work. Thoughts of fire department tables piled high with Thanksgiving treats bolstered me as I made the trip in forty-seven minutes.
I had just poured my first cup of coffee when the pager summoned and my partner and I spent the entire morning tending the truly sick and the occasional lonely forgotten soul…two categories of patients that I relish serving. Around two o-clock my generous spirit was starting to wane. We decided to forgo trying to make it back to the station to eat and looked for the closest thing open that would sell us some food. We spotted a family restaurant with a bustling parking lot. Just as I was braking to make the turn, the radio crackled and we were dispatched on a non-emergency call. We further postponed nourishment to pick up an elderly woman at the hospital and take her back to her nursing home.
When we arrived at the patient’s room, she had just been served the hospital’s version of Thanksgiving dinner…pressed turkey, canned peas, and congealed salad. We propped ourselves against the wall outside her room as the 85 year old, 90 pound woman laboriously ate her meal, with her fingers, one pea at a time. When she finally announced that she was finished, we removed the tray and began to move her onto our cot. Smack! The shriveled elfin creature had slapped me across the face. “Take my dentures out and wash them you @$^*%!” she screeched in my direction. “Did you just call me a @$^*% ma’am?” I retorted while massaging my bruised jaw. Whish! I had seen it coming and ducked to miss the second blow. “You $*@, I told you to take my dentures out and wash them!”
My experience has taught me when its time to concede to a situation, so I donned a pair of gloves, slid my fingers into her mouth and pulled out her teeth, bringing with it pulverized peas, bits of pressed turkey, and a string of mucosal saliva. “You got it on my gown you &*$^#!” Noticing the souvenirs from lunch spread across her chest and belly, I failed to see the severity of this but we cleaned her up as best we could and I quietly hummed holiday tunes to myself as she continued her sailor’s tirade all the way to the nursing home.
The long shadows of late afternoon were spread across the parking lot as we renewed our quest for rations. The radio and pager were quiet and the rush of calls seemed to have abated. It actually looked as if we were going to get something to eat as we trundled along toward a welcomed, albeit re-heated meal. Suddenly we heard a loud “SKREE SKREE SKREE” The ambulance began to violently shake, and the cab filled with a noxious smoke. We crippled to a halt, and baled out of the truck coughing and hacking. It was clear that it was going no further, so I shut it down and called dispatch for a tow truck. It being a holiday, it was going to be difficult to find one large enough to pull an ambulance, so we settled in for an unknown wait.
We would have sold our souls at this point for even a vending machine, but nary a cracker nor a moon pie was in sight. My partner then remembered that she had a week old bag of party mix at the bottom of her back pack. We started to pounce on it then realized that not only had we not eaten all day, but it had been hours since we’d had anything to drink so just the thought of gobbling a salty confection parched our throats. She then thought of the sterile water. We keep sealed bottles of it for irrigating wounds, so we fought each other to the cabinet, tore open the seals on the bottles and guzzled the warm distilled fluid while cramming stale cereal and pretzels in our mouths. Though not nearly sated, we survived the two hour wait on the side of the road with stories about our families and happier Thanksgivings past.
It was fully dark when we were finally rescued, had been assigned another unit and resumed our quest for food. Alas, it was not meant to be. We had barely rolled down the road when we were summoned to a patient with an altered level of consciousness. When we entered the house, we were met with a most unusual site. A very large black man, clad only in white briefs, missing one leg, was thrashing about on the floor, screaming incoherently; while a petite and very frightened woman was cowering behind the couch. We called to her from the door; steering clear of the man’s flailing, three remaining limbs. “Ma’am, is he a diabetic?” She nodded yes through her tears. We got to work. I had four strapping firemen at my bidding, so I had them hold the man long enough for me to prick his finger and siphon a drop of blood. I plugged it into the glucometer…20…BINGO! Normal blood sugar is 80-120. This family was not far from a return to normalcy. The only hurdle we had to overcome was establishing the IV and keeping it patent long enough to infuse 50 cc’s of Dextrose. The firemen held the man in a safe, manageable position while I, with a penlight clamped between my teeth, bent over his arm intently searching for a vein. I made my choice, cleaned the site and poised the catheter for insertion. “Whack!” the needle went flying out of my hand and I pitched face forward onto the carpet. Black spots clouded my eyes, and for a moment, I wasn’t sure where I was. My head soon cleared and I scampered out of the way as the fire guys renewed their efforts of restraint. Initially, they had underestimated the agility of the remaining third of the patient’s left leg, neglecting to include it in their holds. Not only had I been pimp-slapped by a profane geriatric waif on this Thanksgiving, but I was just stump-clubbed by a near naked African American amputee!
I finally completed my task, and a few minutes after receiving the simple infusion, the gentleman transformed into a genuinely nice guy who wondered why all of these strangers were in his house. His wife proclaimed us angels sent from heaven. I sighed deeply and with a little smile said, “No ma’am, he just needed a little sugar is all.”
Fate finally smiled on us and we hobbled to the station for leftovers. We had just enough time to finish eating before being called to duty again. I didn’t mind. I had a full tummy and another incredible shift to tell my grandkids about.