Rode Along

Read part one here.

On November 10th, I did my ride-along with the Oakland Fire Department.  My ride-along was with Station 13 in Oakland’s Fruitvale district.  For those of you who are current with your national (or international) news stories, Fruitvale is where Oscar Grant was unfortunately shot and killed on New Year’s day, 2009.  It is a low-income area with a lot of un or under-employed individuals for whom 911 is the only source of health care readily available to them.

Interestingly, the big fear that I had going into it was that there would be some major trauma and I’d be unable to handle seeing it.  I viewed the ride-along as my opportunity to prove to myself once and for all whether or not it would be an issue.  So as you might imagine, I didn’t see a single trauma all day.  We had nothing but medical emergencies, which, in most cases, weren’t really even emergencies (if you define an emergency as a life-threatening event.)

The first call of the day was a possible seizure which, as it turned out, the Fire Lieutenant said, was probably not a seizure but something drug related.

There was another call for a woman who was in severe abdominal pain and was histerical when we arrived begging us not to let her die.  She had been eating regularly, but hadn’t had a bowel movement in several days.  Abdominal pain doesn’t seem surprising.  I found out later in the day that this patient was a “frequent flyer” who the fire crew knew.  They also knew her to be a chronic crack abuser and apparently, crack stops up the works, if you know what I mean.  Being incredibly uninformed about (and disinterested in) drugs, I did not know that.  I suppose I’m going to have to learn about such things, but to be honest, I’m not at all sure how to do that.

The most memorable patient of the day was complaining of “difficulty breathing”.  The patient wasn’t actually showing signs of having difficulty breathing but it’s not really surprising if he was, given that he weighed in excess of 600 pounds.  Treating and transporting him to the hospital was a bit of a fiasco, but mostly on the part of the ambulance company who didn’t have a bariatric ambulance readily available and when it did arrive the operators on it didn’t know how to work the equipment.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a true emergency because we would have been screwed.

One of my classmates did his ride along with Station 13.  It happened to be the day after the Mehsserle sentencing was handed down and there was some speculation about whether there would be more protesting that day which could have taken place in the area Station 13 serves.  No protesting took place but it seems likely that people were reluctant to go out, just in case.  Whether it was because of that or random chance, my classmate got one call the entire day.  It’s hard for me not to see this as a good thing as calls to 911 mean bad things are occuring, and while we were there to get the experience, someone has to be in distress in order for that to happen.

At any rate, when the first call came in about 90 minutes after I joined the Fire Fighters, the Paramedic on the crew told me in route, “So I’m just going to let you take it and we’ll follow your lead.”

I was stunned.  “On the first call?” I asked.  I had hoped to get to watch them do a couple calls before I jumped in, get a little bit acclamated first.

“This could be the only call you get.  You just never know,” he replied.  I couldn’t really argue with that logic.

Nothing we did in class could prepare me for the experience of working with the fire department on medical emergencies.  We had practiced Medical Assessment a few times in class, but it’s always done by yourself or with one other student.  It’s always done in a calm, safe environment, with a “patient” who isn’t really sick and who isn’t in distress.

With the fire department I was working with four experienced EMTs (one a Paramedic) who all knew what they were doing and were accustomed to getting right to work.    I found that I was not prepared for the situation.  Still being new to the whole thing, I had to think about what was happening, what I needed to be doing and what questions to ask.  The experienced Fire Fighters on the other hand would dive right in and knew just what to do and just what to say and just what to ask, as you would expect them to.  I found that more often than not, they had already done or said or asked everything that I could think of to do or say or ask.  So it would seem I knew the steps, I just didn’t have the confidence or the certainty of what to do.  When I wasn’t right on top of everything they stepped in to pick up the slack and when it was all said and done, it felt, however inaccurately, like I didn’t know what I was doing.

By the end of the day, I was pretty frustrated with myself for not performing better than I did.  Of course I wanted to be a natural and to wow the fire fighters with my impressive ability.  Instead I fell back on old patterns and shied away from the forefront due to my insecurity and lack of confidence in my knowledge and ability.

I asked the Fire Fighters for their honest opinion and by and large they were positive, but they agreed that I needed to assert myself more and be more confident.  Unfortunately, only so much of that can be put on.  The rest comes with time and practice.

I left the fire station about 5:45 in order to get to my class at six and I basically walked into the class just as we were starting.  Little did I know that Mr. Williams, my teacher planned on skills testing that night.  Dispite my fatigue and frustration with my performance and experience that day, I did all of my skills tests except for Medical Assessment and passed every one on the first try.  I was, in fact, the only person to pass every skill I attempted.

I guess that’s enough for today.  Tomorrow-ish I’ll tell you about my day in the county trauma center.

Read part 3 here.

Oh Where, Oh Where Has That Riggledo Gone?

Remember when I used to write a blog?  Remember when I said I was going to make a habit of writing more regularly?  Yeah, me either… apparently.

I spent the last 17 weeks in a strange, other-worldly, vortex in the space-time continuum, in which time flew by while seeming to drag on FOR. EVER.

Gracious!  When you say it like that, 17 weeks, it hardly seems like any time at all, and yet, it feels like a lifetime ago that I started my EMT Class.  Maybe it’s just by comparison to the roughly equivalent time I spent anticipating the class, never really fully grasping the magnitude of what I was about to subject myself to.  I knew it was going to require a lot of work.  I knew it was a significant commitment on my part; returning to school at all, let alone for such a significant undertaking, after so many years.

I enrolled in this class in May, but then there was nothing to do until class started.  I sat around thinking about the class and wondering what I was getting myself into.  When my textbook came and it was more than two inches thick, with over 1500 pages, I thought surely it must be more than one class worth of material.

I knew I was going to have to work hard, but I never imagined how hard.  I had no idea how all-consuming this class would turn out to be.  The first half of the semester was, admittedly, more work than the second half.  Most of the reading, introduction of new information, intensive testing and general trials and tribulations took place before the mid-term with the second half focusing more on learning the skills and learning to put the information into practice.

But the second half of the class also, included the more anxiety inducing tasks of spending 10 hours on a ride-along with the Oakland Fire Department and an additional 12 hours in the County Trauma Center.

Amid all that work and stress, I also had a real, paying job to do and I found myself unable to live up to my usual level of slacking off and screwing around on the computer on company time.  (I won’t lie.  I found that part disappointing.)  As a result, my time to read and write blog posts was significantly diminished and as a result, I have published only 20 blog posts in the last seventeen weeks, which frankly, is more than I thought I had.

The class is over, it ended last Wednesday, and now, finally, I have a minute to breath and tell a little more about it.


Well, anyway, I thought I could.  I wrote several more paragraphs after this but wasn’t able to finish the story in the time I had available to me so I’ve copied them into a draft and I’ll attempt to finish the story tomorrow.  I’ve got a lot more to say.

Read part two here.

Ride Along

The day I have been simultaneously looking forward to, and dreading, is finally upon me.  This time tomorrow I will be concluding my ten-hour ride-along with the Oakland Fire Department; a requirement for completion of my EMT course.  I’m looking forward to experiencing a day in the life, as they say, but naturally, there is so much that is unknown about this experience that I’m anxious about it at the same time.  A few people in the class have already done their ride-alongs and have reported back good experiences.

Of the two options that were available to me, I elected to ride along with Station 13 which is closer to my house than the other station.  I also chose Station 13 because the other station is reputed to be “built on an Indian Burial Ground” as in, they see everything.  That station might have been a wiser choice, but it seemed like a good idea not to thrust myself into the fire.  I chose Wednesday, because it seemed likely to be the least busy day.  It wasn’t my intention to avoid any experiences exactly, but I did feel like it was a good idea to not overwhelm myself and Station 13 seems less likely to do that.

I have no idea what they will have me doing.  We are, of course, supposed to stay out of the way, but we are also supposed to participate and learn as much as we can from the experience.  I know they’ll involve me in the calls as much as they can.  I have an official “Merritt College EMT Program” polo shirt with a medical logo and if you don’t look too closely, or compare it to the Fire Fighters shirts, you might not notice that I’m just a student and don’t really know what I’m doing.  My hope is that I’ll be able to closely observe and participate and that suddenly everything I’ve learned so far will snap into place and next week, when I have to do my skills tests, it’ll be “second nature.”

So when I hit publish on this post, I’ll be packing up and leaving the office.  I’ll head to the grocery store where I have to make final choice between a box of cookies or a bag of apples; we’re encouraged to bring a bribe snack item to the fire fighters.  It seems they get a lot of pastries and junk food so I’m leaning toward the apples.  Then again, maybe they want the junk food.  Then I’ll go home, fix and eat dinner, and iron my shirt and black jeans to wear.  I’ll watch the results show for “Dancing with The Stars (and Bristol Palin)” (I can’t include Bristol Palin as a star) and then right to bed.

I’m supposed to be at the fire house at 7:30 in the morning.  I’ll be with them until 6:00 (which happens to be what time my class starts) and then when I leave there, I’ll be heading straight to school until at least 9:00.  That’s going to be one hell of a long day, so if you’ll excuse me…  I’ve got to get moving!