I started my EMS career in a small, rural system, but I have worked most of the last 25 years for a large, urban based agency. The differences in the two are like night and day. Oh, people always have heart attacks, auto accidents and the like, but ambulancing in the city is unique. Country people call 911 when the grim reaper is knocking at their door. They feel that it is a waste of resourses and down right wimpy to summon EMS for any other reason. In the city, we tend to be innundated with unnecessary, sometimes comical calls we lovingly refer to as...(and I am paraphrasing) Bovine Fecal Matter.
Once during an ice storm, my partner and I traveled across town on slick treacherous roads to find a woman whose washing machine was broken. When I admonished her, telling her that 911 was for emergencies only, she bowed up and shouted, "This is an emergency, I gotta get these clothes clean!" I have been called because a guy wanted to bum a cigarette, a woman wanted us to go get her prescription filled at the drug store and someone's shingles had been blown off their roof during a thunderstorm. One distraught woman demanded that we get rid of her roaches.
We also encounter some pretty strange reasons for requesting transport to the hospital. One very healthy young man wanted to go because his mouth was dry. I told him to drink some water and he replied, "What am I going to do when the water's gone and you're not here?" (Huh?) We are required to transport upon request, regardless of the reason so you can imagine the looks we sometimes get from triage nurses at the emergency room.
I always comply with the transport rule, but I had a call many years ago where I made an executive decision not to. We arrived at a residence to find a man sitting on his front steps looking dejected. His wife was locked in the house and had refused to come out or let the man in. When we got out of the ambulance and approached him we found out why. He had been sprayed by a skunk. The stench was overwealming, and he wanted us to take him to the emergency room to get it off. I don't know what he thought the hospital was going to do for him, but I knew that if I put him in my rig that it would be out of service indefinitely and the ER folks would have my hide for bringing him in. I did feel sorry for the guy though. They lived in the projects and obviously had financial issues, so I gave his wife twenty bucks and told her to buy several bottles of tomato juice and have him bathe in it. I had that smell in my nose hairs for the rest of the shift.
We routinely get calls for runny noses, stumped toes, hang nails, pimples, cut fingers...the list goes on. One guy called because he dreamed he got shot. It upset him so badly he wanted to go to the emergency room, so we took him to the emergency room. I don't know the percentage of BS vs the real thing, but it is pretty high. These useless runs tie up advanced life support ambulances and drive up the cost of health care. There are many in my profession who are constantly angered and stressed by these calls, but I just look at them as an unfortunate reality. Besides, they are easy runs. After a string of auto accidents, cardiac arrests, and really sick people, I welcome the little break you get just giving someone a ride to the hospital.
So, the next time you sneeze...call 911! Hey, it's job security.