“You’re a dark red. Not fire engineish or flat, but deeper.” I half shrugged, embarrassed. My weird habit or brain glitch where people were associated with colors wasn’t something I talked about a lot, but when stuck in an ambulance with one other person for 12-15 hours at a time for 3-4 days a week and you tend to talk about all kinds of things. “There’s a name for that, you know. Associating things with colors. It’s called synesthasia.” He took a bite of his sandwich and raised an eyebrow at me.
“Really?” I sat up and grabbed my phone off the dash. Some quick googling led me to page after page of information, and sure enough, some of the quirkier things my brain did seemed to fall under this description. “Ha! It says people with synesthasia generally have abysmal navigational sense. Can I claim this as a disability?”
The tones interrupted us and I grabbed the pen and paper as he finished his sandwich and checked us into service. A sick call at one of the walmarts. This could be anything, but usually calls like this were easy charts – a general waste of the advanced intervention skills we had had to learn and more an exercise in patience. We discussed ways of getting my lack of directional sense acknowledged as a disability all the way up until we arrived on scene.

We strolled into the women’s bathroom with the equipment on the stretcher between us and navigated around the fire personnel who were already with our patient. “Y’all are gonna need that stretcher… and an extra sheet.” One of the firefighters said as we walked in. Another one was talking soothingly in a bathroom stall to, I was assuming, our patient.

It was George’s turn to take a call, but when I stepped into the bathroom stall to assess the situation I was already of half a mind to take it. A woman in the 50-60ish range was hunched over the toilet, her hair a pale permed bush, immaculately styled, bobbing up and down as she heaved up bile. Her crisp white linen pants were covered in diarrhea and the smell was overpowering. I felt so bad for her, she must be mortified. I laid a hand on her shoulder as I announced our presence and then looked back to find George swallowing convulsively with a hand under his nose. “Ma’am. We’re just going to go ahead and get you to the hospital, ok?” “I am so sorry, but I don’t think I can stop.” Her delicate pink lipstick was smeared and the fine lines around her mouth were stark as she pursed her lips firmly together. She did, indeed, contine to add to the stains on her pants. I smiled cheerfully at her, “That’s ok, ma’am. We need to get you feeling better and figure out what caused all this.” I grinned and raised an eyebrow at George before grabbing the monitor from him.

As quickly as we could, after I checked her pulse and blood pressure since we didn’t know how dehydrated she was, we burrito wrapped her in a sheet and transferred her to the stretcher. She maintained her composure throughout the ordeal and sat on the stretcher as if she were having tea with the queen. A firefighter helped us wheel her out so I was able to jot down notes on my glove concerning her medications and the circumstances leading up to current events. It sounded a lot like a really bad case of food poisoning, but it was best to be sure. In any case, she could not have left under her own power although she had that faint sense of unpleasant surprise at finding herself in the back of an ambulance.

There were three types of patients in my experience: People who refuse to call an ambulance when they need it until something (near death or a family member…or a family member threatening death, close enough) force their hand, people who are resigned to needing an ambulance for long term care and/or are capable of correctly diagnosing when they need immediate medical assistance, and people who are completely capable of seeking medical care on their own who call the ambulance for stupid things like head colds and “stripper toe bites” (“I don’t know where her mouth had been, I could get an infection!”). …ok, ok, maybe four types. There are also those who aren’t sure if they need an ambulance so they call, get checked out, and then are happy to refuse transport.

In any case, my patient was making the best of the situation but was clearly horrified to find herself dependent on strangers. She was stained with feces up to her chest and a dribble of vomit had crusted in the laugh lines around her mouth. I made small talk about the weather, family (she was a grandmother of two small boys), and general well being as I completed my assesment and started a bag of fluids. She answered politely in between delicately heaving into the vomit bag and all the while my partner drove as quickly as he could without running lights and sirens with a towel wrapped like a turban around his head and face. It was all I could do not to laugh.

I finished the chart before I got to the hospital, and helped the nurse clean the patient up. Technically, I could’ve left after moving her into a room, but the ER was busy and the nurse seemed a hair a way from chucking a medical reference book at the pompous PA’s head-I figured she could use a hand. That and I’d finally gotten the patient relaxed enough to make a few tentative jokes at her situation. Humor helps a host of ills.

Mrs. Murphy popped up in the supply room as I was tossing the smelly sheets into the hamper and fetching a few more towels for the nurse. “That was BRILLIANT, my dear. Swiping that call right out from under hubby’s nose. He’s fully aware of George’s sensitivity to certain smells.” “I’m not surprised Murphy is familiar with the smell of crap.” I stated flatly, “I didn’t take the call for you or your husband. That poor woman didn’t deserve the increased awkwardness of having a man wrap her in a sheet in her current distress.” I left the room without further comment, but the look on Mrs. Murphy’s face as I left was anything but reassuring. I sighed, and turned the cornor to head out into the bay.

“—COVERED in shit. She didn’t stop the whole w— There you are!” I had interrupted George recalling our call to another crew. “I don’t know how you f***ing stood that smell!” I laughed a little, embarrassed, “Yeah, she was a bit ripe, but she couldn’t help herself.” The medic on the other crew launched into a story about his smelliest patient and I exchanged a glance and nod with George before walking out to the ambulance. He’d finish up in there while I finished up a previous chart in the ambulance. I smiled, realizing we had reached the stage where we knew each other well enough not to need words to communicate. Thanks for the call, Murphy. I thought smugly, it was a big help.


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