Let’s Honor our Emergency Medical Technicians
(My Dedication to America’s Unsung Heroes)
“Much like the television show, “Rescue Me.” Even real-live superheroes have problems. Yet despite their personal dramas and worrisome situations, they are still there for us. Through natural disasters, fires, and sickness; The priceless EMT is always there!”
As a child in 1968, back in my old neighborhood in Detroit, one bright sunny late afternoon, I was out riding my little banana seat Stingray bike. You remember the ones with the tall sissy pole in the back, and the steamers between the tire spokes? I was pedaling alongside my next door neighbor buddy, Gary (who has long since passed on). As we made our way to the corner of Mt. Elliot and Canfield, we happened upon a situation where a fight was brewing. It was between a middle aged husband and wife. They were at the corner, on the side street (Canfield) standing next to the drivers door of the car parked the Canfield street at Mt. Elliot; (they lived at a small 4 unit apartment complex on the corner. The husband was the caretaker there). The wife was fussing and begging the husband not to drive, as he was quite visibly intoxicated! Hubby’s car was by today’s standards, “Very Fly!” He sported a two door droptop 1964 Bel-Air, complete with a vast array of lights, reflectors, curb finders, and mud flaps… along with even more smaller lights (for whatever reason) most everywhere on (and inside) the car. This man was also a baseball coach for a little league team. Well, as this altercation escalated, tensions began to grow and boiled much higher, onto a fever pitch. So much so that hubby abruptly slapped his house dress wearing wife across her face, and demanded the car keys form her.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I am beyond incensed, I see red! “And Believe you Me!” It was more than obvious that this timid looking little lady must have seen Magenta combined with Mandarin-Red overtones! There was true anger swimming about in her infuriated, emotionally abused mind. It was my thinking that through this anger, came her only immediate response and reflex at that time; and that reflex was to reach into the backseat of husband’s convertible and grab (out of a huge sack of baseball equipment), a nice beige and tan colored Ted Williams baseball bat. One of which she proceeded to use, and literality execute a perfect (and swift) Hank Arron swing, right across the left side of her husbands ear and temple. The sound was excruciating! No special effects person (a Foley Artist) could ever reproduce the sound of that bat connecting with this man’s head; nor the sound of his body dropping like a sack of potatoes to the asphalt, right next to his big fancy car. Suddenly coming to her senses, his wife literally lost it, and became totally hysterical at what she had just done to her husband. Other neighborhood women who were standing on their front lawns came rushing to her aid, and of course an ambulance was called. Now mind you back then, we didn’t quite have an EMS or Emergency Medical System fully in place just yet. That innovation was just coming into being.
That meant at that time in 1968, This man had to settle for the service of an ambulance (I remember seeing the American Ambulance line of station wagon units a lot as a child. Why is this? Mainly because they were the very Ambulance Co. who’d take my mother to the hospital many a late night when asthma overwhelmed her). The whole idea of an EMS or an EMT was just dawning in most metropolitan areas of the country, and in Detroit during the late 1960’s, the only means to immediate emergency medical help or a direct trip to the hospital was by ambulance. That late afternoon, it was an American Ambulance that came to service (which was very minimal service considering the situation; and this is no reflection on any ambulance worker back then! Its just that the equipment on board your basic ambulance unit in 1968, pales in comparison to what is on board a modern EMS vehicle) this middle aged man and take him to a hospital. What amazed me was the ridiculously long time it took for this, ambulance to arrive. This incident happened around 5:30/6pm, late summer. By the time the ambulance arrived, the sun was setting low, and dusk was clearly lurking in the shadows around us.
Poor hubby laid there for that great length of time, bleeding from the ear, and was as still as a possum during a bear attack! Me and my little friend Gary were undone to say the least! Paralyzed with fear and shock, I never moved from that spot on the corner as we sat on our bikes, directly across the street from this incident, observing this intense dramatic situation unfold in front of our young eyes. Shaken and yet amazed, I had never seen such a thing before. Two month’s or so before we moved away from Mt. Elliot a year later in 1969, this man came back to live at home in his front apartment cubical on the corner where he once stayed. (Now that I look back on the situation, I can only imagine he had a brief extended stay in some sort of Convalescent or Nursing Home environment, as Brain Injury facilities such as the ones we have today, did not exist in 1968). So much like before his Head Injury, this once very active middle aged man, once again sat on the front porch in his chair, with his dog at his side; only this time, he would just simply sit in a fixed position, locked in a constant empty stare, looking lost and spacey as if not there at all. His dutiful wife brought his lunches and dinners to him on a TV tray to the porch, at the same time most everyday (that I saw). After this incident, her expression was always one of guilt and pity! Like he had done on many occasions before his injury, I never saw this man run with his dog through the field and playground across the street again; much less notice or fuss at us neighborhood kids for riding our bikes on his grass anymore. Something had drastically changed about this man that I did not understand, yet at the same time, I was very curious! My thinking was on the line of, “How did he recover at all?” For I surely thought he had died from such a solid blow to the skull. This was the seed that sparked me to eventually start work with people who are Brain Injured, and was my second exposure to how slow and ill equipped some old school ambulances s(not an EMS unit) could be during a crisis! I remember many a late night in early 1960, my mother stooped over the front porch railing in freezing weather, clad in her house coat, trying to catch her breath during or after an asthma attack. I stood by watching as my worried helpless father, tried to comfort my mother as we all waited for that slow ambulance to show up and take my mother to the hospital for treatment. Well as fate would have it, two years subsequent to some of her worst asthmatic attacks, my mother eventually died from complications of her asthma and a heart ailment in the late summer of 1962. I feel that her death had nothing to do directly with any one particular ambulance service not showing up in decent enough time. Yet and still, I wonder to this day if mother’s care and/or medical maintenance (in and out of the hospital) would have gone smoother and better served her condition had the emergency time ratio been better managed. Would a quicker, more on the spot emergency relief system have spared my mother from the distress and suffering of her chronic asthma, and other aliments as well? I’ll never know!
Memories ring loudly in my head as I recall my having a terrible asthma attack as a child while in Nashville, the fall of 1964. After Kennedy was killed in 1963, my father thought it best to send us kids south to stay with our grand parents, until things cooled down in Detroit (My father feared the cities would riot as a result of Kennedy’s death), and also so that he could find work (as Chrysler kept pop laid off… a lot!). The thought of an ambulance picking up a small black child in East Nashville, slowly chocking to death from asthma was almost non-existent. I can’t speak for all of middle Tennessee, so I can’t say it was not an impossibility! My grandparents being who they were, were most likely at a lost as to where to take me; as Nashville still had businesses and hospitals sectioned off as, Colored and White. I didn’t know this until I was older and was told of how things were in certain parts of Tennessee, in 1964. I barely remember my grandparents driving me around from hospital to hospital that night, hoping that they would find just one hospital that would treat a 7 and a half year old black child suffering with asthma. As I lay on the back seat of Granddaddy’s old Buick, all I mostly remember are the rain drops on the windows, and the red neon lights on the top of some hotel that we passed by as scenery that evening. I surely must have received some kind of treatment, as I am here typing this paper. When and where I received this treatment, I couldn’t tell you, as I blacked out along the way. My question to this day is, “Why didn’t Granddaddy think to call, or trust calling an ambulance?”
By the early 1970’s, a pretty efficient EMS system had begun to be put into place in most major cities throughout most of metropolitan America (even in Nashville). Hollywood even had a television show (which was also kind of a promotional ploy) to help people adhere to the idea of an on the spot/quick response unit to health emergencies. This television show (which debuted in January 1972) was simply called, “Emergency!” The very idea was incredible to me! The cutting down on response time meant stabilizing and preventing a victim in need from going into shock, thus preventing patients from suffering fatal heart attacks or bottoming out from the effects of low or high blood sugar, gunshot and knife wounds, brain Injuries, and yes even asthmatic conditions, well before getting to a hospital ER unit. Therein also set the pace for the potential of a whole new breed of survivor. “The Traumatically Brain Injured Individual!” By cutting down the duration of Shock Value after an accident down into mere minutes, stabilizing the victim, and getting them to a hospital — Double Quick, the victim was most likely to survive, and become readily rehabilitated byway of an in-patient, or out-patient Brain Injury/spinal cord treatment center.
Since the early 1970’s, The EMT has been a major frontline lifesaver for countless thousands of auto and truck accident victims, pole linemen, home accident victims, and people from all walks of life, in all manner of health situations. Yes, and even for all those shooting and stabbing victims we hear about on the news on an almost daily basis. When I worked in Brain Injury, years ago, I was once asked and allowed to go along with a client of mine to sit in on an AA Meeting that featured mostly Emergency Medical Technicians. The heart breaking stories they told brought me to tears. Their volatile home lives, drinking problems and domestic issues were monumental, as a result of dealing with the extreme stress associated with the job of saving human lives from carnage. I could never have fathomed anything in my mind to be as horrid or as heartbreaking as the life and death stories I heard that evening! Their stress levels were through the roof, and could easily have been classified as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome!
You have to imagine that after a day of attending to fatal and near-fatal motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents, heart attacks, the smell and sight of blood, and many other kinds of conditions and aliments on a day to day basis; is it any wonder that any EMT could very well lose their mind, completely!
Michigan’s Eastpointe Fire and Rescue EMT’s saved my wife’s life, two years ago when a misdiagnosed prescription, caused her to go into the beginnings of cardiac arrest at home, not even an hour after coming home from the doctors office. Those guys (the EMT’s) were here in 3 minutes flat that evening! My wife was in the hospital in just over 8 mins after they arrived! They had everything needed in their emergency unit to treat and life-support my wife until she safely arrived at her hospital destination; again that was just over 8 minutes later. That’s incredible timing! These EMT’s were, as the kids say now days… “On it!” My wife was ok, and I think it was largely due in part to the EMT’s ultra-quick response time and life-saving know how! You cannot put a price on something like that!
I believe that our EMT’s nationwide are truly a unique and most overlooked breed of unsung hero in this great country. And much like many of us out here, they are underpaid, laid off, overworked, devalued, taken for granted and forgotten by not only our civic leaders and some sectors of the medical profession, but the public at large. I think most all EMT’s have great passion for what they do, and definitely mean well. You have to have passion for saving lives if part of your job is to pull small children out of wrecked vehicles, on a regular basis! So the next time you see an EMT out and about somewhere, and they’re not busy, pull them aside and say thanks for being there. I’m pretty sure they’d truly appreciate hearing it! Believe me, as in anything, it makes you go the extra mile when you feel appreciated! More Importantly, when you’re out on the road, and you hear those sirens or see those flashing lights, pull over and let them through; and at the same time, give’em a thumbs up for a job well done! For one day, you may need their expert skills and services to help you through one of life’s big ugly bumps in the road.