… in honor of how I feel today.
Musings on Time, Death and Toilets
There are 60 seconds in a minute. That’s 3600 seconds in an hour, and 43,200 seconds in a twelve-hour shift. Given the fact that our parish has a population of roughly 150,000, and there are usually at least four ambulances on duty at any one time, dividing a daily call volume of fifty or so calls between them, the chances seem infinitesimally small that I would constantly get called out while I am on the toilet. Yet here I sit, wrestling with a pager and my pants, desperately tearing one square at a time off a toilet paper roll that refuses to live up to its name – roll – trying to get back to my rig where my partner eagerly awaits the opportunity to rescue some helpless little old lady who has fallen and can’t get up.
I’m stapled to the toilet in Taco Bell, fighting with the vindictive byproducts of two combo burritos with extra sour cream. Right now, Taco Bell is winning. Every time I get zipped up and my hand touches the bathroom doorknob, my guts spasm again and I find myself scrambling to make it back to the toilet in time. Each time my ass touches the toilet seat, my pager buzzes in an angry snarl, reminding me that time’s a wastin’ and Grandma’s hip is just getting sorer. I feel like I’m stuck in a game of Operation. I sigh and check my pager again. It’s a Priority Two, just a lift assist, at a residence just a few blocks from here.
Thank God. My response time will suck, but at least nobody’s dying. You know, I could just plug myself up and refuse to shit ever again. Now that would be a valuable public health initiative. Nobody would fall, or have strokes, go into cardiac arrest and die, or have asthma attacks. People would manage their blood sugar appropriately, and would drive safely and never have accidents. I’d be the modern day Jonas Salk. Nah, it would never work. I’d swell up and explode, and the greater patient populace would be forever deprived of my many talents.
I sigh and switch the portable radio to the talk-around channel before I key the mike. “Control, this is 306. We’ll be on that call in just a couple of minutes.”
“We’ve been holding that call for ten minutes now, 306. What’s the holdup?” comes the impatient reply.
Ten minutes, my ass. You only paged it to us three minutes ago.
I wait until my bowels stop rumbling before I reply. Gastronomical sound effects would be embarrassing right now. “Control, I’m uh, a little indisposed at the moment. I’ll be 10-8 in a minute.”
“How are you indisposed, 306?” the dispatcher presses. I can just see her smirking at her console. Sweat breaks out on my forehead, and my guts twist into a knot.
“If you must know, I’m on the shitter!” I blurt. At that precise moment, my bowels burst forth like a volcano. It sounds like the nature show footage of male elephant seals fighting for mates.
“Ten-four, 306. Let us know when you’re en route,” comes the strangled reply, amid raucous laughter. Several laughing voices, in fact.
Well, there’s one dispatch tape that will be played again and again for the entertainment of the crews. I’ll have to run the ridicule gauntlet at shift change.
“Everything come out all right?” my partner smirks as I climb into the rig. Dusty Jensen has been an EMT for eight months. EMS hasn’t had the time yet to turn him into an out-of-shape old man with stiff knees and hemorrhoids. Right now, he’s twenty-three, blonde and having the time of his life. He lives for the bad calls, drives like the NASCAR fan that he is, shamelessly flirts with every unattached nurse in every Emergency Department, and is young and naïve enough to think that he invented the practice.
“Everything coming out is not the problem. That stuff punishes me every time I eat it.” I settle uncomfortably into my seat, buckling my seatbelt.
“So why do you insist on eating there?” he asks as he pulls into traffic.
“Other than the fact that it’s half-price?” I retort. “I have no idea. Taco Bell is my weakness.” Dusty says nothing, just gives me a sideways glance that communicates quite clearly that food in general is my weakness.
“Yeah, laugh it up rookie, “ I sigh, shifting gingerly in my seat as my guts start to rumble again. “When I got into this business, I looked like you. Twelve years of ambulance calls and fast food will do this to you.”
“We’re five minutes late responding to this call,” Dusty points out as he crosses Harrison Boulevard and turns left onto Donovan Circle. “They’ll probably have something to say about it.”
Nothing compared to the razzing I’m going to take from everybody in the control center. I’d much rather suffer through an ass-chewing for the late call.
“I’ll take the responsibility,” I assure him. “You can’t control the fact that your partner was on the shitter when they gave us the call.”
“You can’t just hold it?” he asks like the rookie he is, having never experienced hemorrhoids, gastric reflux, heartburn or indigestion. He is bright, eager and in disgustingly good shape. Right now I freaking hate him. He makes me feel old.
“No, I can’t just hold it,” I explain patiently. “Always take the opportunity to piss or take a dump when it presents itself. All too often, you’ll need to but won’t have the opportunity. Besides, holding in a dump is unhealthy. It eventually backs up into your brain. That’s where shitty ideas like System Status Management come from.” I grimace and try to think about dams and brick walls as I feel my guts rumble ever more insistently.
By the time Dusty pulls to the curb outside 1512 Donovan Circle, my digestive system is in revolt. I am able to hold it in only through a supreme act of will and years of practice. We knock on the door and get no answer. I do a little potty dance on the doorstep, shifting uncomfortably from one leg to the other. Dusty cautiously opens the unlocked front door and calls out, “EMS! Somebody call an ambulance?”
“Back here,” a frail voice answers. “I’m in the bedroom!”
Dusty and I weave our way through the house, occasionally calling out “Where are you?” and being answered with “back here!” It’s an EMS version of Marco Polo. Eventually we find ourselves in the rearmost bedroom. There is a frail little woman sitting on the floor next to her wheelchair, looking very much embarrassed.
“Thank goodness,” the woman sighs happily. “I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.” The woman self-consciously arranges her housedress to cover her exposed knees.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” Dusty says sympathetically. “We were tied up on an emergency call,” he lies with a sidelong glance at me, “and we hurried just as fast as we could.”
“But we’re here now, so why don’t we get you off this hard floor and back into the bed?” I offer quickly. “Did you injure yourself when you fell?”
Please God, say no. The last thing I need is to be tied up with her for the next thirty minutes.
“I don’t think so,” she answers. “I forgot to lock the wheels on my chair, and it just kind of squirted out from under me,” she says, extending her arms to us. “If you young men could just help me up…”
“Don’t move, Ma’am,” Dusty says gravely, looking back at me and grinning evilly. “You may have injuries that aren’t immediately apparent. At least let us assess you before we move you.”
Goddamn you, Dusty Jensen. You’ll pay for this. I say nothing and just smile and nod, afraid to move suddenly.
“Well yes, I suppose that’s a good idea,” she agrees, pleased that this handsome young man is so solicitous. After this call, I’m going to going to beat the handsome young man’s ass, if I don’t wind up shitting myself first.
Dusty slowly and gently palpates her hips and lower extremities as I feel the sweat break out on my forehead. It’s the most thorough assessment I’ve ever seen him perform. I surreptitiously look around for a bathroom.
You are the master of your own body. Your sphincter is under your control. You are the master of your own body. Your sphincter is under your control. You are the master of your own…
“And does any of this hurt?” Dusty is asking as he flexes her feet and knees. If he had a reflex hammer, the little bastard would be checking her deep tendon reflexes.
Brick walls. The Hoover Dam. Fort Knox. Nuclear reactor control rods. Blast doors at NORAD…
“Any history of osteoporosis? Degenerative joint disease? Ever have a hip, knee or shoulder replacement?” Dusty is asking as he palpates the woman’s shoulders. I almost whimper as I shift from one leg to the other. My ass cheeks are clenched so tight I could squeeze a diamond from a charcoal briquet.
Setting concrete. Death Valley. Dry riverbeds. Intravenous infusions of Lomotil. Molasses in the wintertime…
“Okay Mrs. Perkins, I think we can safely help you up,” Dusty pronounces, motioning me over. “If you’ll just plant your feet firmly on the floor and take our hands…” I fix a pained smile on my face and bend over slightly, offering my hand.
Mudslides in Colombia. A tsunami in Sri Lanka. Lava flowing from a Peruvian volcano… Focus, man!
Dusty and I manage to help Mrs. Perkins back into her wheelchair. Dusty takes one of our run tickets from the clipboard and turns it to the refusal of care page. “Mrs. Perkins, if you’ll just sign here, signifying that you were not injured and did not want an ambulance to the hospital…” He trails off, patting his shirt pockets. Glaring, I grimly hand him my pen.
A fireworks factory explodes in China. Champagne corks popping. A horrific explosion in the Jello pudding factory. Oh Lord, I ain’t gonna make it…
“Thank you so much for your assistance,” Mrs. Perkins is gushing, shaking Dusty’s hand gratefully. As she turns to me, I grasp her hand and nearly double over. “Are you all right, dear?” she asks me, seeing the look on my face.
“Uh, could you point me to your bathroom?” I blurt in desperation. Bewildered, she points down the hall. Without another word I bolt in that direction, opening doors until I find the right one. Slamming the door with one hand, I fumble with my belt with the other, dropping my pager into the toilet in the process. I barely make it onto the toilet in time. I swear they can hear the elephant seals fighting all the way down the block.