Friday, May 6, 2011

Y is for Yawn

Most people know that the acronym EMS stands for Emergency Medical Services. What isnt widely known is that it also stands for...Earn Money Sleeping! Yes, we are the slackers who go to work in fancy stations, watch TV all day then get a good night's sleep before we go home fresh and well rested, all on the taxpayer's dime. Yeah...right!

Well, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that occasionally in my 25 year career I have had that happen. But those times have been few and far between. I have worked several different shifts over the years. The first fourteen or so were 24 hours on 48 off. Sounds really good, especially if the shift is slow and you really do have a lot of down time, but I work in a busy urban system and the reality is the call load usually outruns the resource. There are no built in breaks or meal times. If the call comes in, you run it, regardless of what you may be doing. The mantra I usually recite at the end of an exhausting shift is, "They don't pay me enough to do this".

About a decade ago, my agency got rid of 24 hour shifts. The system was just too busy and exhaustion was becoming a liability so we started working 12 and 14 hour shifts. We no longer languish in the fancy stations. Instead, we roam around, guided by a computer program that distributes the ambulances throughout the response area as needed. We find ourselves on street corners and in parking lots. I have warmed and rewarmed food in convenience store microwaves, and utilized public facilities that would have had my mother running for Lysol. Hand sanitizer has become my constant companion. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be posted near a fire station and can "borrow" their kitchen or bathroom, but we are forever the red-headed step children of emergency services.

And we are busy. More often than not, the calls are relentless. As soon as we clear the hospital from a run, the pager is going off again. I have been so tired that I have cried and so hungry that I would have vomited if I had anything on my stomach. I have cussed and thrown temper tantrums, blaming dispatchers, the public, and God himself for making my life miserable, but I always run the call. Just when I think I am ready to throw in the towel, ready to chuck it all and go work in a bank, I will give a man a few more years with the wife that he adores, keep a child from succumbing to an asthma attack or help bring a new life into this world, and in spite of my exhaustion, I find myself saying, "I can't believe they pay me to do this."


  1. We are all lucky there are those like you who can do this sort of extreme work. I've worked in 24 hour veterinary clinics and the hours/workload are about the same. I can't imagine the emotional toll a long shift would take though! Thanks for all of your hard work (and to all the EMTs out there)

  2. I love that you range from "They don't pay me enough to do this" to "I can't believe they pay me to do this." Thank goodness that there are people like you who get through the toughest days and keep on going...and that despite the exhaustion and under-appreciated tasks you take on, you find reward in serving.

  3. The photo you used in this post is great. It covers just about everything, doesn't it? You're amazing, Cyndi! I've said it since the day I met you, when you dropped the kids off at the house at the crack of dawn and I saw your tiny little frame all uniformed up and ready for a 24 hr. shift. I thought you were so darn amazing ... three kids and yet soooo together. Many times, in that first year, I wondered how in the world you did it. The long shifts seemed inhumane and yet you were always ready and always looked so polished. I felt absolutely inadequate because you were so professional and always seemed so organized and in control. Me? I was far from organized in my life and felt like I'd never do anything that was as important to society as the services you offered every day to total strangers in need. I respected you. I admired your stamina. I was grateful that there were amazing men and women out there who organized their families and lives to accommodate the unexpected emergencies in life that sometimes leave loved ones to pick up a phone and call for help. You were one of those people and I was very proud to know you.

    Over the last twenty years I've come to know you as the mother of three of my favorite people in the world, as the daughter of two people who I love (and have loved) dearly, and as a friend who I adore. I really hope you know how much I love and respect you.

    These insights into your work life are so interesting to me. I love how you tell the stories and am always excited to see a new entry. I love you, Cyndi, and just wanted you to know.

  4. Great post Cyndi. I can't believe you do this work, it is amazing!