A retread because I’m suffering Blogger’s Block today
It’s hot. I mean hot, like it only gets in Louisiana or equatorial Africa, which, come to think of it, share more similarities than the weather. It’s late July, and the temperature has been hovering near 100 for the past six days, with 93% humidity. There’s nothing like working outside while stewing in your own juices.
We’ve just worked a wreck on North Main Street, a bullshit fender-bender with three victims suffering from acute “Allstate-itis.” There were no apparent injuries, but everyone in one car had a severe case of “The Other Guy Was At Fault” syndrome, as well. It’s a common malady around here.
I’m sitting in the cab of the rig, wondering idly if that smell is coming from me or my partner, when dispatch calls us over the radio.
“Unit One, Dispatch?”
“Unit One, corner of Ben Franklin East and North Main, go ahead.”
“Respond to Consolidated Foods on a Priority One.”
“Unit One rolling.”
BOHICA – Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.
We’ve gone about a half-mile, where North Main turns into State Highway 25 when the radio crackles again. “Unit One, Dispatch. You’re responding to a fall at Consolidated Foods. The patient will be at… stand by…”
Please God, not the rendering plant…
“…at the rendering plant in the back. The gate guard will guide you in.”
Thank you very effin‘ much, Dispatch.
Consolidated Foods is the local poultry processing plant. I worked there for an interminable six months as the plant EMT – endless eight hour shifts of ergonomics lectures, urine drug screens, and dispensing Ben Gay and Motrin to an endless stream of poorly educated, minimum wage workers convinced that they have “Coppertone Syndrome.”
They employ a sizable number of Hispanic workers, so I had to take a crash course in Spanish to work there. Despite all the classes, I still only habla un poco Espanol. Thanks to the ubiquitous signs posted around, I can now say “Caution: Wet Floor” in Redneck Spanish.
Cuidado! Piso mojado!
I have also uttered such knee-slappers as “Does my chest hurt when you breathe?”
The rendering plant is the section where all of the waste products go for processing. You’d be surprised at what they can use from a chicken, besides the meat. The beaks, feet, feathers, and fat are all packaged and processed for sale for one purpose or another. What’s left is then sluiced through a series of drains that all lead to the rendering plant, where they separate it into what can be turned into dog food and what cannot.
What cannot be rendered into dog food is then pumped into tanker trucks and hauled to the incinerator every day. The point is, what makes it into the tankers is well and truly waste. It is the foulest, most Godawful sludge you can possibly imagine, literally not fit for a dog to eat. It is to this section of the plant that the guard directs us.
When we pull around the corner, the smell hits us like a solid wall of funk. The rig immediately starts losing traction, fishtailing a little as Pardner gives it gas. Just ahead is a tanker with the top hatch opened. For a hundred feet in every direction, every surface is covered with an inch of rotten chicken slime. The plant nurse is on the scene, waving us closer. He already has our patient packaged and immobilized.
The nurse, Arrogant Bastard, gives us a report as I unsuccessfully try not to gag. In EMT school, we were taught that puking on your patient is not considered professional. AB attended the same class, but seems to be better at not retching than I am.
“Some asshole left a full tanker here over the weekend. He climbed up on top to make sure the hatch was secure, and it blew. Knocked him about ten feet out into the parking lot. Apparently some gases built up and vented when he broke the seal.”
No shit, really? It’s only been simmering in a metal tank in 100-degree heat for three days. Hope nobody lights a match.
“Thanks,” I croak. “We’ll get it from here.” AB smirks as we load the patient in the rig, gagging the entire time. I always knew he was an asshole. Apparently, his nose doesn’t work either. I’d like some more information from him, but right now a full handoff report takes a distant second to my avoiding doing the Technicolor yawn all over the back of the ambulance.
As soon as we hit the highway, I holler at Pardner to phone in a report. The handset of the phone is in the cab, and under the circumstances, it would take the threat of violence to make him open the divider window and hand the phone to me. Not that the threat would work – Pardner could kick my ass without trying.
I check my patient’s pulse and ask him to move his arms and legs. Everything moves fine.
“You okay, man? Anything hurting?” It’s the best patient interview I can manage between gags.
“How the hell do you think I’m doing, man? I’m covered in rotten chicken shit!”
Okay, dumb question.
“I meant, does anything hurt more than the rest? Any difficulty breathing? Numbness or tingling?” By now, I’ve edged over to the curbside door well, and I’ve got my face pressed to the screen of the sliding window. I’ve got the air filtration system running, and it ain’t helping.
“No, nothing hurts but my head, Goddamnit! Oohh, I think I’m gonna’ puke.”
Join the crowd, buddy. Why didn’t we hose this guy off before we put him in the rig?
I roll him onto his side as he retches. Nothing comes up though, and as the spell passes, I roll him back. Between the smell and the sympathy retch, I can’t hold it any longer. I manage to toss most of my Sonic burger and tater tots into the biohazard bag, but some of it hits the floor. Craving some kind, any kind of relief, I poke my head through the screen on the curbside door and gasp for fresh air. I spend the next minute hanging my head out the window like a poodle, painting the side of the ambulance with the remains of my lunch.
As we pull into the hospital, Pardner is cursing. Nobody is waiting outside for us, despite the fact that he asked for someone to meet us outside with a hose. Podunk General Hospital, Nail Salon and Crawfish Hut doesn’t have a decontamination shower – at least not one that can be set up outside.
Oh well, they’ll regret that mistake in just a minute.
As we roll into the Emergency Department, the nurse’s questions are cut off by her gag. “Okay, what’s the… Jesus Christ! What is that smell?”
She doesn’t wait for an answer, but instead flees into Room One.
Well, can’t say we didn’t warn you, sweetheart.
We follow her into the room and unload the patient. The patient report we give is wasted. Our patient’s nurse is currently heaving in the sink, not paying much attention to us.
Does it constitute abandonment if the nurse was too busy puking to hear your report?
As we leave, we hear footsteps running down the hall. Apparently, reinforcements are on the way.
Join the party, folks! This should be fun to watch.
As we clean our rig, it becomes apparent that the nurses have worked out a system; they are assessing and treating the patient in shifts. Every few minutes, a different one will run out into the ambulance bay, rip off her surgical mask, vomit into the grass and gasp for air.
“I wonder how long it will take them to cut his clothes off and hose him down?” Pardner wonders.
“Who knows?” I shrug. “You warned ’em. Let them figure it out. Speaking of clothes, we need to change ours.”
The air filtration system has done an admirable job of clearing the smell from the rig, but our clothes still reek. Three hours later, when we bring in a nursing home transfer, the fire department is there with ventilation fans set up in the Emergency Department hallways. It still smells like rotten chicken shit.