Thursday, November 29, 2007


Again, we're called on an overdose. Female, unconscious, breathing. Alcohol and heroin. Police responding as well.

My partner snorts as I manuver the ambulance down narrow streets with cars on either side, strobes reflecting from windows. "Unconscious? We'll see. Nothing a little narcan won't fix, in any case." She sighs. "I don't want to fight with someone, we just started the shift..."

The fire engine arrives a few moments ahead of us. I turn a corner and thump the steering wheel. "Go get 'em, boys! Make me proud!"

But when we arrive, parking in the middle of the street, one of the firemen sticks his head out the door before we're halfway up the stairs. "Grab your suction, we're working a code."

Oh, dammit.

She's sprawled out in a tiny living room. Nice enough house. A firefighter pumps on her chest; another squeezes a bag-mask. Two other people, friends of hers, I suppose, sit on a couch. They're arguing about responsibility, and who should or shouldn't have called 911, and so on and so forth. I try to tune them out.

My partner and I jump in. She starts an IV, remarking that she's surprised a drug user has such good veins. I get set up for the tube; take a look, pull back, confronted by a mouth much too small for the grandview blade. I stand up to swap blades. A couple of cops are standing at the door now, dark blue uniforms almost black in the poor light.

One of the friends is asking the firemen over and over, "What's happening? What's her condition?!" They've already told him that his friend's heart is stopped, that we're doing everything we can, please let us work on her.

Now he fixates on me. "Why don't you give her some narcan?" he asks, accusingly. "Come on, she was just breathing until right before you guys got here."

I look at him, look down at our patient. She's cool, mottled. She's been down for a while. Look back at him. "Narcan only works if her heart is beating, sir." I pop the old blade off, snap the new one on, click it open to test the light. "Which it hasn't been, since we got here."

"But, come on, she was just breathing, jesus, do something ... I mean, she's been like this for an hour, but she was breathing, come on, guys ...."

I look over at the cops, toss my head at the friends. "Them. Out of here. We need room to work." I turn my ball cap around backwards and nudge the fireman at the head out of the way, kneeling again, scope in hand.

The cops take the friend by the arms, out the front door, down onto the sidewalk, firmly but not unkindly. As he steps out the door I glance over. The lifepak faces me, yellow on black display glowing softly. The three lines are flat as the surface of a pond.


Julie said...

I am immensely enjoying your blog. We had a case very similar to this except it was the woman's two sons who were sitting there watching. They had waited until she stopped breathing to call 911 and then after our paramedics intubated her the oldest son said "Oh yeah, momma didn't want to be on no machines - she told me once when we were getting drunk together." Sigh...........

Drew said...
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Anonymous said...

I turn my ballcap backwards during RSE.

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Anonymous said...

It's sad. Many years ago,I was part of that life. It was common knowledge to call 911 onlt after the 'friend' stopped breathing and then to leave.It was the "code" and even the potential OD agreed to it.Now I'm a member of the ER medical profession with many years of sobriety and all i can think is WTF? But, if I dig a little further back into my psyche to those old days, I know I would feel the same way. It's a sad, despondant, hopeless lifestyle.