Night Shift (part three)

Spring 2008     San Francisco

Well this is about it, folks – I am out of stories for now.   I have taken up a clean, comfortable  and strangely predictable existence back here in the First World, and that does not often lead to colorful accounts of nasty behaviors dredged up from the cultural slums.  I expect to be short of material for these odd pages until I blow a fuse and decide to relocate once more to a filthy primitive sandbox of a country, or go fall off tugboats in the Bay again or even start riding public transit every day.   Sorry about this!

Well, there might be one more tale next month.  Meantime, here are the last of the San Francisco paramedic stories:

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Denial is a powerful element.  We responded to ATT park, the baseball stadium, during the off-season.  Where to exactly?  Home plate.  Corporate event planners sometimes rent the park and a pro baseball celebrity or batting coach to fulfill the dreams of some suits who have watched Field of Dreams a few too many times.  The problem this time was that the group was from Wisconsin, possibly the most overfed state in our bloated Union.

We rolled the gurney right down the third baseline, and found a 350-pound Cheesehead sitting directly on top of home plate, with one leg twisted outwardly at an unnatural angle.  It was cold outside, but he was sweating freely.  (No, Fatty had not just swatted a homer and run the bases.)  We shot him up with a nice dose of morphine, then with much bystander assistance, grunted him up onto a seated position on the gurney. He appeared to have both a dislocated knee and a broken ankle.

The whole way to General Hospital, he repeated his mantra “I can’t believe this happened….How did this happen?”  I bit my tongue hard rather than draw a swollen stick-figure of him and explain the physics involved with applying such a vast amount of torque to a planted extremity.  The last time he swung at a ball was probably 200 pounds ago.

Healthcare costs are soaring?

So is our Gross National Density.

Tax the Fat.

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A 91-year-old man fell out of bed and could not stand up.  He was sharp as a tack and indignant about the sudden weakness, and not being able to dress properly to receive us.   He told me he spent his best 25 years in the Army, “Back when a cavalry unit meant horses not helicopters,” and that “The reason I’ve lasted so goddamn long is this!” pointing to a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. “Two ounces every goddamn night!”   I wanted to go out bar crawling with him just to see if I could keep up.

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Another routine transfer.  This time it was an 80-year-old black woman, clearly on her deathbed.  Tubes, wires, hoses, anxiety.  Two-word sentences, breathing through a stoma (surgical hole through the lower throat), respirator-assisted, really just hoarse whispers in gasps.  My partner Kevin and I disconnected her from all of the hospital equipment and reconnected her to ours, then slid her wispy frame easily onto the gurney.

At this point, I could tell she was trying to tell us something, so we all stopped and listened. She focused on me, pointed a bony, crooked finger and said “You are….fine…….You got….a wife?”   The nurses loved this, and Kevin fell out into the hallway.

I turned a bit red I think and said “Ma’am, are you propositioning me?”

She replied “Nope…….I’m a lesbian.”

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An 88-year-old man, bedridden in a cheap public nursing home.  The staff were not managing his diabetes well, and he probably never did. After a stroke three years ago, he was known to have only three words left in his vocabulary:  “What?”  “No!” and “Fuck!”  Sometimes he could muster up a “Christ!”

I would be mighty belligerent in that condition, too.  I am sure that I will be.  But I hope somebody has the sense to unplug me, especially in a place like that.

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A 94-year-old Japanese lady, weak and confused, maybe from a stroke or a cardiac incident.  She had been sitting alone on the floor for at least a day, before someone came to see why she had not shown up for work.  She was 4′ 11”, maybe 90 pounds, but every day walks her full-time job, as a Judo instructor.  As I understood it, she is the world’s first and only woman to achieve a ninth-degree blackbelt.

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Emergency inter-hospital transport. A 32-year-old woman was set for natural delivery childbirth of her full-term firstborn.  After three hours of hard labor and then sudden heavy bleeding, she delivered by emergency C-section.  The bleeding would not stop, something about her clotting cascade not activating.  After six more hours in the delivery room, after twenty units of blood infused, after both the baby and the mother had separately coded and been resuscitated, they finally removed all of her reproductive organs and stopped the flow.

The delivery room looked like nothing I would see again until Afghanistan.  The hospital staff and her family were all wrecked, but I am pretty sure that both patients recovered after some time.

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While standing outside an operating room filling out paperwork, other medics and a cop wheeled in a prisoner from an outlying state prison. He was in leg irons, but did not seem well enough to make a break for it. The night before, he had been stabbed in the chest by his charming cellmate, who then pried his ribs apart and sexually raped the knife-wound.

The spaces between the ribs are very narrow, so I would have not imagined this possible, and pondered whether this had ever before happened in all of human history.  The prisoner had a collapsed lung and a deep pulmonary infection, coughing up all manner of material.  The surgeon of all people had the odd comment of the night, out of the patient’s earshot:  “Ribbed, huh?  I thought that was for her pleasure.”

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Pictured above:  The 1976 dark comedy “Mother, Jugs and Speed.”  Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel, with plenty of inappropriate paramedic behavior: work-related injuries, drugs, fights, Raquel, bribes, corruption, gunplay, drinking on the job and steady harassing of nuns.

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