The real you by =Sha-X-doW on deviantART

There used to be a downtown “hotel” that was notorious to street paramedics.¬† Located on N 2nd Street, between Main and Oak, across from the Salvation Army.¬† We knew the address well, and unfortunately, we were often there at least once per shift.¬† Paramedics in large cities probably have numerous places like the Home Hotel, but in our city, during the 70s and 80s, few places rivaled the desperation one would find on the second floor of this transient venue.

As a young, naive EMT (not quite a paramedic), I had much to learn.  My first call to the Home Hotel was an eye opener.

The call came in just before shift change, about 7:00am. My partner and I were in a bleary-eyed stupor from a night of sleeplessness, brought on by the constant needs of a city that never sleeps.  She gave me no warning of what I was about to encounter Рnot to surprise me, but because it was so normal Рat least to the medics who worked downtown.

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Update: Check out this interesting discussion at EMS1.com

When I first began my medical career, I would get nervous around exposed patients. ¬†I was young, full of testosterone, and very curious about the opposite gender. ¬†It made me all hot and bothered, but other care providers would tell me that it wasn’t an issue for them. ¬†“We’re all professionals,” they’d say. “It’s really not an issue.” ¬†So, why was I so bothered? ¬†Was I not a “professional?”

Maybe I was just a loser?  Maybe I was a pervert?  Maybe I was just weird?

I remember taking a 21-year-old unconscious female to the local trauma center. ¬†She was attractive, and just a year or two younger than me. ¬†As I gave my report to the receiving staff, they stripped this young woman down to her underwear. ¬†I got distracted by the¬†polka-dots. But when I looked up, one of the nurses was glaring at me. ¬†Oops, the patient wasn’t the only one exposed.

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Don¬īt shoot me in the face.I think one of my biggest frustrations is when people fail to see the bigger picture. ¬†When a system plays out, just the way it is designed to operate, why do we blame the people who are merely actors in the process? ¬†Why do we shoot the messengers?

For example, there are 30-40 million people in this country without health insurance. ¬†Many of those people are good, respectable individuals who find themselves in a difficult, and possibly temporary, situation. ¬†Others have been raised within a culture of poverty – social, spiritual, cultural, and financial poverty – they don’t know any other way. ¬†It isn’t their fault they are in the situations they find themselves, and they don’t know any other way out. ¬†Why do we blame these victimized people for the using the only system they know?

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Photo by: Michael Ferrari - http://www.flickr.com/people/bunshee/

Photo by: Michael Ferrari - http://www.flickr.com/people/bunshee/

Time stood still as I stood motionless in the stranger’s apartment.¬† It was beautifully furnished.¬† There was a baby grand piano across the room with a silver tea set carefully placed on an expensive table-cloth.¬† Exquisite furniture, expensive carpets, and decoration only found in the most expensive homes.¬† Yet, here on the floor, lay an elderly woman in her night-clothes.¬† She looked very peaceful.

I was a young, eager, and very inexperienced EMT. Not yet a paramedic, that would come several years into the future.  Now, on this quiet Sunday morning in, I stood in a luxury, retirement, high-rise building in the 16th floor suite of a very unconscious, peaceful elderly woman.  My senses sought desperately to keep up with the scene unfolding around me, but my body remained motionless.

My partner on the ambulance that day was one of the first paramedics in the country, yet he was only a few years older than me.¬† His certification number was three – as in the third in the nation.¬† Bob carried himself with the nonchalance of the streetwise, the coolness of the experienced, and the cynicism of someone who has seen the darkest of the human soul.¬† I wasn’t his regular partner, in fact, I normally worked transporting people in wheelchairs.¬† This was just a fill-in shift – to prepare me for my future as a street medic.

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