Chapter 35 – Could This Be My Calling?
They say that not all those who wander are lost. They also say that the older you get, the more confident and self-assured you become. I don’t think that either of these statements holds particularly true for me. I think that a lot of the traveling I’ve done over the years, I did precisely because of how lost and how without a place I belong that I feel. And as far as getting older goes…well, I feel just as lost as ever.
I’ve always felt jealous of all the people that’ve known exactly what they wanna do with their lives. They decide a path they wanna take while in high school, select a college that offers the major they wanna study, work hard for four years, maybe go to grad school maybe not, get a job in that particular field, get married, have a family, work in that particular field until retirement age and call it a life. It’s this simple and secure, tried-and-true path, right? It seems to work for a ton of people. Somehow though, things just never worked out that way for me. That way of doing things never felt like a good fit for yours truly.
Along these same lines, I also hate the show Shark Tank. Ya know that show? The one where entrepreneurs present their products or business ideas in front of potential investors and all that good shit? Yeah, that’s the one. I fuckin hate that show. I get pissed off and feel insecure watchin it because I’m weirdly jealous of all those people that go on there with their great ideas they’re so passionate about and go on to make millions from. It’s like, how come I don’t ever have any ideas like that? How come all my ideas are so fuckin stupid? Like, believe it or not, I actually do have a place in the notes section on my phone where I keep all my ideas and, as I sit here readin ‘em, I cringe at the thought of tryin to present any of this shit before the “sharks.” They’d tear me to pieces. A lot of ‘em aren’t even business ideas. Listen to some of the shit I got written here…
The first two notes are t-shirt ideas. One of ‘em is to portray a Native American in traditional garb and face paint who is suffering from cancer and undergoing intravenous chemotherapy. Underneath this image it will say “Chemosabe.” The other idea is to have a picture of the face of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst with his typical red backwards baseball cap and little beard, and next to him would be a plate of Italian dumplings. The line under this image would say, “I did it all for the gnocchi.” Of course, now that I just decided to share those two ideas here, I decided to punch ‘em into Google and it appears they’ve both already been done. So, not only are they not super clever, but they’re also not even original, which I guess further highlights my point about how worthless a piece o’ shit I am. The next idea on my list is to make a YouTube video that’s a montage of a buncha different people havin seizures with The Guess Who’s 1964 version of the song “Shakin’ All Over” playin in the background. The next note is not even an idea. It reads, “Do you think deaf-mute pornstars do dirty talk in sign language while they’re fucking? Like signing, ‘Oh yeah, so good. Give it to me harder. Fuck my tight little pussy. Yeah.’? And if so, is it transcribed at the bottom of the screen for non-deaf people to jack off to?” Nextly, speaking of porno, we have the idea for a porn in which a man tucks his dick down between his thighs into a mangina and then has someone else lick it like it’s an actual pussy and that’s all that happens the entire time, for like half-an-hour. And finally, the last idea I have on my list just says, “Wear nothing but pair of wool socks and stick lightbulb up ass then drag feet across the carpet to see if it will light up from static electricity.”
As you can see, these ain’t exactly the types of ideas with great money-making potential, so looks like I better not quit my day job. Speaking of which, as the summer of 2020 went on and on, I continued to get pummeled by more and more window washing and gutter cleaning jobs. Although I managed to keep up with the business by working six or seven days a week, an ever-growing part of me began to get very worried that this way of life just ain’t sustainable. Sure, I make all the money I need and am savin quite a bit as an able-bodied 32-year-old man payin no more than a hundred bucks a week for groceries while livin at my mom’s house, but there’s no fuckin way I could ever buy a place of my own on the northwest side of Chicago and support a family makin what I make. Also, twenty years from now, when my body’s completely fallin apart from all the abuse I’ve put it through over the years, do I still wanna be bendin over to scrape bird shit offa triple-track storm windows or be atop a 28-foot ladder on a windy day scoopin slop outta people’s gutters? I don’t think so. Just like everybody else, I desire a sense of comfort and peace in my life and don’t wanna hafta be doin shitty shit like this every day until the day I die just to survive. So, with these things in mind, I began spendin more and more time thinkin about what I might be able to do for a career – particularly things that don’t require me to go back to school for an extended period of time.
Sometime in late July or early August, I was textin back and forth with my buddy Jack. He and I attended different grade schools on the northwest side of the city, but both our dads were firemen and the two of us first met in third grade when our families drove down to Florida together for Easter. We ended up goin to the same high school where we became good friends, but then slowly drifted more and more apart after that era of our lives. In spite of only hangin out maybe once or twice a year, every time we’re together – or even just when texting – we get along just as well as we ever had. Most of the time the shit we text about is the same sorta perverted immature bullshit we used to laugh about when we were kids, but in the summer of 2020, some of the shit we were textin about was actually pretty “adult” and depressing. We talked about how much it sucks that his sister and my father were both gone and never comin back, and how time doesn’t care – it just keeps rollin along. We talked about the way things used to be and how we couldn’t believe how old we’d become. We talked about our desire to slow down time and the powerlessness we feel from our inability to do so. At the end of that chat, I ended up inviting Jack over to go for a swim in our backyard just like back in the day. He accepted the invitation and we agreed on a time that’d work for the both of us.
One time when Jack and I were out by my pool back in high school, I helped him draw a big dick in sunscreen across his stomach and chest before he spent the next couple hours layin out on one of our chaise lounge chairs out there. You shoulda seen how it turned out. The dick was big and white, and all his skin around it was lobster-red. The balls were down by his belly button and the shaft extended upwards between his nipples givin the impression it was titty-fuckin him. He worked as a camp counselor back then for the Chicago Park District and would regularly go on field trips to pools and to the beach, and said he couldn’t take his shirt off at those places the whole rest of the summer so the kids wouldn’t see. That was back then. Now, when Jack ended up visiting in the summer of 2020, instead of havin cocks burnt into his skin, as we sat out by the pool together he was tellin me about all the preparation he’d been helpin his fiancée do for their impending marriage takin place a month in the future. Ain’t it wild how times change?
Like both of our fathers, Jack is a fireman. Unlike both of our dads who worked in Chicago, Jack works for a suburban department. I told him how earlier that summer, I’d visited our mutual buddy Mike who’s also a fireman (in Chicago), and how he’d been encouraging me to try and get on the job. I explained to Jack how, recently, I’d been seriously starting to consider it as a career option.
“Yeah,” I told him, “I just figure I can’t do this window shit forever. I mean, I haven’t had health insurance since I got outta the military a couple years ago. I want somethin I can make good money and have good benefits from doin – like, somethin that I could potentially build a family on – but somethin that’s not a boring-ass nine-to-five in an office. I just can’t do that shit, man. I’d go nuts. I’d probably end up goin on a shooting spree or settin the place on fire like that retarded guy in Office Space who was told he could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven. And, well…I also think becoming a fireman could be nice way to honor my dad or somethin like that, ya know? Doin the work that he loved.”
“I hear ya,” he nodded. “Yeah, I love my job. I mean, there’s still a buncha stupid bullshit you gotta deal with, but as far as gettin a steady paycheck goes, I can’t think of a better way to do it. You get so much time off and there’s so much downtime at the firehouse. Like, when we’re not doin the house chores or drilling, a lot of the guys work out, one guy’s teachin himself Spanish, and another guy’s learning to play an instrument. So, it’s like, as long as you do everything you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it, you’re free to do whatever you want the rest of the time. Like, the job is what you make of it, ya know?”
“I see, yeah, that’s what Mike was sayin,” I said. “Yeah, I like the sound of that. Because all day when I’m out washin windows and cleanin gutters, I don’t feel like I’m learning anything. I mean, sometimes I got the headphones in and I can listen to shit in Spanish or somethin, but…I dunno. I’m just afraid that if I keep doin this kinda work, my brain’s gonna go to waste and I’m gonna get stupid or somethin.”
“Yep, yeah, I know what you mean,” he said. “Well, they say there’s supposed to be a test for the city next year, but who knows – that’s all just rumors. And even if there is a test, gettin on the job in the city is like winning the lottery. I think like twenty-thousand people or somethin absurd like that took the last test in 2014.”
“No shit – that many?”
“Yeah. And you know how it works, right? It’s pass/fail and everyone who passes is assigned a random place on the list based on their social security number. Like, Mike was really lucky to’ve gotten such a high number in the draw.”
“Yeah, yeah, he was pretty lucky – that’s what I heard. What number did you get?”
“I don’t remember exactly, but I also did pretty well. Not as good as Mike, but good. They actually called me up within the past year. I told ‘em thanks but no thanks. I like where I’m at now. My plan’d always been to just do the suburban thing until I heard from the CFD and then transfer over. Cuz, ya know, when we were growin up, our dads were always sayin stuff like, ‘Those suburban firemen are pussies. They don’t actually go in the fires, they can’t eat smoke like us.’ All that shit, ya know? And I didn’t wanna be a pussy-ass fireman. But then I got hired out in the burbs and saw that exactly none of that was true. We do go in the fires and put ‘em out just like they do in the city. It’s the same shit. On top of that, out in the suburbs we get less stupid bullshit runs in the middle of the night.”
“Yeah, fuck that.”
“Yeah, I don’t need that shit. Besides, I like all the guys I work with. And most importantly, I met my soon-to-be wife and she’s a suburban girl. She grew up out there and has no interest in movin to the city, which is exactly what we’d hafta do if I were to take the city job, so…fuck it. Like I said, the plan’d always been to transfer over, but life just happened to me in the meantime, ya know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I feel ya. That’s good shit, man. Glad you found your place in the world,” I said. “But uhh…since gettin a job with the city is unlikely, if I were to consider joining a suburban department…like, do all suburbs require you to be a paramedic before you can take their entrance exams? I know the city doesn’t require you to have shit because they give all fire candidates EMT training in the academy and paramedics are trained separately or whatever, but I heard in the suburbs it’s a different story. I heard they like all fireman to also be paramedics so they’re more versatile and can respond to any sorta call that comes in or some shit like that. Is that true?”
“Not all require it,” he said, “but most departments do. Most of the good ones, anyway. Cuz like, the majority of the work we do is EMS stuff. We go on way more runs to treat sick and injured people than we do to go put out fires and paramedics are allowed to give a wider range of treatments than basic EMTs. So, some departments will take you on if you only have your EMT license – or in very rare cases, have no medical training at all – and then if you show that you’re a good worker that’s planning on bein with the department for a while, they’ll send you to paramedic school for training on their dime. But yeah, a lot of the departments like you to have your paramedic license before takin their tests. Even if it’s not a requirement though, they usually offer preferential hire points to candidates that do have their license already, so…”
“You’d recommend getting a paramedic license before tryin to get on in the burbs?”
“Yeah, if you’re serious about it, it’s your best shot.”
“Okay, okay. And how long are EMT class and then paramedic school?”
“EMT class is just a normal school semester. They teach you a ton of shit, but a lot of the information doesn’t really make sense even by the end of the course. Like I mentioned, you can only do basic stuff with an EMT-B license. Stuff like CPR, giving oxygen, giving glucose to diabetics, giving Albuterol to asthmatics, using EpiPens during allergic reactions – stuff like that. Like, you can’t do intravenous stuff or read an EKG or do needle decompression for pneumothorax or anything like that until you’re a paramedic. And paramedic school is like nine months. The first half is classroom and the second half is gettin your hours in the emergency room and ridin along on ambulances. It’s kind of a full-time gig, but I liked it a lot better than EMT school. For me, it’s when everything started to come together. It’s when all that information I still didn’t understand at the end of EMT class all started to make sense.”
“I see,” I said. “And uh…you ever get tired of dealin with sick people that are dying and people that are totally fucked up from bein in gruesome accidents? Like, does all that shit take its toll on your overall mental wellbeing?”
“Well, I mean, a lot of the time no. A lot of the time you just go out and do what you get paid to do. Of course you treat the people with kindness and compassion, but at the end of the day it’s just my job. If they die, I’m not gonna feel it the way I feel it when losing a family member, for example. There was this one time though that I was kind of affected when I took a second to stop and think about how fucked up the situation was. We got a call and it was for this teenager that killed himself at his house. And when we went in there into his room, his brains were splattered all over the wall and ceiling, and one of his little siblings was standing outside the room crying and…I dunno. It was fucked up. That one was kinda tough to deal with.”
“Wow, yeah. Sounds like it would be.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“So…” I began again after a moment of silence, “What about fires? You said you don’t get a lot of ‘em?”
“No, we don’t get a lot – at least not compared to what the job was like for our dads back in the eighties. It’s mostly just small stuff, but we do get a pretty good blaze every once in a while.”
“Are they still fun for you? You still get an adrenaline rush from it?”
“Hmm, no, not really. At first it was kind of exciting, but now it’s just part of the job. Some guys still get pumped up every time there’s a fire, but for me it’s just somethin that I do to earn a living and pay the bills. Nothing more.”
“Are there any old school guys on the department like our dads that brag about how much smoke they can eat? Any guys who still say that only pussies wear masks in fires?”
“Ha, no. Everyone wears masks and has oxygen tanks on ‘em,” he said. “But honestly, I shut mine off sometimes until I feel I absolutely need it.”
“What?” I said. “Really? Why the fuck wouldja do that? Isn’t it like…absolutely fucking terrible for you to be breathin in smoke from burning furniture and shit like that with all the chemicals and whatever?”
“Yeah, probably. But the way we do things on our department is if one guy runs out of oxygen – instead of just that guy leavin the fire to go back outside – everybody’s gotta leave. So, it’s like – you just don’t wanna be that guy, ya know? The guy that runs out first and makes everyone else leave when we’re not yet done puttin out the fire.”
“Hmm, okay. I gotchya. Yeah, I wouldn’t wanna be that guy either, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to breathe in all those toxins just to avoid inconveniencing the rest of the guys.”
“Yeah, I don’t know if everyone else thinks that way or if it’s just me, but that’s the way I approach it,” he shrugged.
“I feel ya. How about guys like my neighbor ‘Smash’ Stefan? Any dudes on your department got a reputation like him for causin unnecessary damage at fires?”
“Nah, nah,” he smiled. “No one like that. My dad said that guy used to treat people’s houses the way Keith Moon would treat hotel rooms. So, thankfully no – no one showin up to a small, easily containable fire in a kitchen and rippin out all the walls in the living room and smashing their TV open on the pretext of makin sure the fire hadn’t spread to those places.”
“That’s too bad,” I said. “What about dealin with drunk people? Like, how do you put up with getting woken up in the middle of the night to go pick up a drunk person in the ambulance? I’m afraid that I couldn’t do that. It’s just like, not only do I not fucking care, but I’m also morally opposed to it. Cuz like, ya know, most drunk people don’t wanna be treated, right? And when I personally was walkin around completely shitfaced and someone called an ambulance on me, I told ‘em I didn’t want their treatment, but they decided they were gonna take me anyway, and I was so god damn pissed off, dude. I mean, I know I told you before, but I was hittin the paramedics and fightin those motherfuckers tooth and nail to get away, but they wrestled me down and tied me at my wrists and ankles to the bed, and brought me to the hospital against my will. Like, it was a fucking nightmare. I don’t think I could do that to another person after how awful that was for me, ya know.”
“Yeah, man. Sorry that happened to you. It’s stupid. The law says that anyone who’s had more than a couple drinks doesn’t have decision-making capacity, so if you get drunk you basically forfeit your right to turn down medical treatment.”
“Yeah, yeah. I remember my dad tellin me stories about that,” I said. “He’d say that groups of, ya know, illegal Polish immigrants would often buy bottles of vodka and then go sit in alleys together, passin around the bottles until they were all completely fuckin hammered, and some do-gooder passing by would call 9-1-1 on ‘em. And my dad said the firemen would hafta go out too alongside the paramedics as part of an ambulance assist, and that he’d go up to the guys and say, ‘Hey, which one of you guys is the drunkest? Somebody called an ambulance on ya, so we gotta take at least one of ya to the hospital.’ And then my dad said that all the Polacks would point at which guy they thought was the most fucked up, and that’s who the firemen and paramedics would throw in the back of the ambulance just to comply with their legal obligation.”
“Ha, yeah, my dad used to say stuff like that too.”
“Yeah, it’s funny, right? And those illegal immigrants don’t give a fuck about a ride to the hospital because they don’t hafta pay their bills. But I did. I got fuckin screwed and had to pay a thousand bucks for gettin beat down and thrown into an ambulance, then another thousand for my time spent in the hospital. And that was back when I still had insurance. Imagine if that happened to me now. Having one too many drinks would end up costin me five or ten-thousand bucks. That’s fucking insane. Our system sucks. Like, no means no, ya know? If I don’t want treatment, fuck off. So like, again, after having experienced that, I don’t think I could do that to someone else.”
“Yeah, I hear ya,” Jack said. “I definitely don’t like dealin with it. It’s just one of the bullshit parts of the job I mentioned that I don’t particularly like doing, but…I gotta do it, ya know?”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “But uhh…how ‘bout you – you ever get hit by someone who was as adamant as I was about refusing treatment? I can’t imagine that the majority of people who wanna be left the fuck alone give in without puttin up a fight.”
“Yeah man, some people fight me. In fact, one guy even strangled me.”
“One guy strangled you?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “The guy was blacked out. He had that empty look in his eyes, ya know? Like, you could tell he just wasn’t there. You could tell he was on autopilot. So I wrestled him into the back of the ambulance, and he somehow grabbed on to this one strap that holds my radio in place, and he wrapped it around my neck and started strangling me with it. My partner looked back from the front of the ambulance and asked if I needed help. I had the guy pinned between the wall and the cot, so I said nah and told him to just drive to the hospital. So we get there and my partner’s kinda one of those goody two shoes Christian guys that never swears, ya know. Like, he’s not religious the way we are bein phony Catholics from the northwest side of Chicago just out of our Irish tradition and goin to church only once or twice a year – like, this dude’s the real deal. And so we’re in front of the ER and my partner opens up the back door and sees I’m still fightin with this guy and says, ‘Hey, knock it the fuck off!’ And then once we’d subdued the guy and got him into the ER, I said to my partner, ‘I’ve never heard you swear before.’ And my partner was like, ‘Well…he was hurting you!’” Jack smiled. “I dunno, man. Maybe you hafta know the guy, but I thought it was so funny to hear him swear like that.”
After having this little poolside chat with Jack, I actually did end up deciding to take the first steps towards becoming a suburban firefighter. I looked up and found an EMT class that was due to start at the end of August at the local community college and signed myself up for that and, in the meantime, signed up to take a CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) later that week at a place out in Glenview called NIPSTA (Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy). Pretty much all suburban departments list having a completed and up-to-date CPAT as a prerequisite for applying, so I figured I’d get that done with just in case. The CPAT is basically – I wouldn’t say an obstacle course because there are no obstacles per se – but it’s “a sequence of eight events that test your physical ability to perform essential job tasks at fire scenes” that you gotta do in under ten minutes and twenty seconds while wearing a fifty-pound vest. In order, the events are as follows: Stair Climb, Hose Drag, Equipment Carry, Ladder Raise and Extension, Forcible Entry, Search, Rescue, and then finally Ceiling Breach and Pull. Although I was nervous goin into it, I was able to complete the CPAT with relative ease, finishing with about a minute forty to spare. I remember goin home after the test feeling good about myself and tellin my mom and sister that, “Maybe this could be the line of work I’m best suited to do after all. Maybe for all these years I’ve avoided bein a fireman because of all the anger I’ve held on to towards Dad. He always said I would make a great fireman, but maybe I never wanted to give him the satisfaction of makin that come true because of how pissed off I am at him for makin us watch him alcoholically destroy himself in front of us over the years. I dunno. But I’m excited. Maybe this could be my thing.”
A few weeks after that began the twice-weekly evening EMT classes over at Oakton Community College. At first – and I’d even say throughout the entirety of the course – I really did enjoy learning about how the human body functions. I thought it was so fuckin fascinating how all the systems work together and, unlike many of my classmates who couldn’t seem to be bothered to do so, I’d spend hours carefully reading every single page of my textbook. It’s amazing stuff. It’s super interesting and I studied really hard to learn it all, and ended up havin the highest grade in the class when all was said and done. That said, there was one major problem…I absolutely hated patient care. But more on that in a minute. I first wanna go on a little sidebar here about something really interesting I’d learned about during EMT school.
So, this one evening when I’d been deeply submerged in my studies up in my bedroom, I got super excited when reading through a chapter about trauma and happened upon the concept of priapism. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe the comedic potential of such a thing. For those of you who aren’t in the know, priapism is a persistent and sometimes painful erection that is caused by something other than sexual stimulation – one potential cause being damage to the spinal cord. For our purposes as EMTs, we learned that when we’re assessing a patient who we suspect may’ve suffered a spinal cord injury, we’re supposed to do “a quick sweep” across the patient’s genitals with the back of our hand to check for that condition. I of course thought it was funny to play the idiot in class when doin a trauma assessment on a female dummy and say in a stupid voice that I was “sweeping for priapism” while walkin through all the steps, but no one seemed to understand that I was joking and told me dryly that you’re not supposed to perform those on women. It’s like, “Duh, that’s the fuckin joke,” but since they ruined it, I decided to take it even further. “Well, why not?” I wanted to know, continuing to play the idiot. “Because they don’t have penises,” I was told. “Well, this is 2020,” I said, “and a lot of women these days do have penises, so…” Crickets. No laughter. Not even a smile. It was really disappointing. And that’s not the only major disappointment I had with this shit. I was also flirting with a nurse on Tinder at the time and told her that ever since I matched with her, I’d been stricken with a severe case of priapism and that nothing less than close personal attention from a hot sexy nurse like herself would be enough to cure me. And instead of playin along with the joke or at the very least givin me an “lol” or a laughing-face emoji, she ghosted me after that. I really couldn’t believe that no one thought this shit was as funny as I did. But ya know one person who I knew would not only understand the jokes, but also get a kick out of ‘em? My buddy Jack. So, just as he’d been back in high school, during EMT class, Jack became my main outlet to send all my stupid immature perverted ideas to.
“They should make priapism porn,” I messaged him one evening. “The set should be someone’s front yard and there should be an extension ladder knocked over and some dude just layin there on the lawn when an ambulance pulls up and two hot paramedic chicks get out and go to start treating him. They see he’s conscious and begin by askin him what happened. He says he fell off the roof while hanging Christmas lights. They tell him they’re gonna check him out real quick before transporting him to the hospital. They discover he has priapism during their trauma assessment and proceed to cut his clothes off. They decide the best treatment for his current condition is to take turns sucking his dick. And then one of the chicks takes off her uniform and starts fucking the guy. While bouncing up and down on him she says, ‘You like that? You like the way I ride that rock-hard cripple dick? Huh? Your legs may not work anymore, but your cock sure does, baby. Oh yeah. So good. Keep fuckin me, baby. Keep fuckin me with that cripple dick of yours.’”
“Ha,” Jack said. “Supine sexiness.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And then when the patient stops breathing during the intercourse treatment they’re administering, they’ll perform ass-to-mouth resuscitation on him.”
“Yeah, do a head-tilt/chin-lift maneuver on him right into the asshole.”
“Yeah, one chick’ll be givin chest compressions while the other does a jaw thrust maneuver then sits on his face, plugs his nose and blows two farts directly into the patient’s mouth for every thirty compressions performed.”
“I have honestly never done any of those ‘maneuvers’ on a patient,” Jack said.
I probably shoulda asked him, “Why not?” and took this as an opportunity to learn a little bit more about the job from him, but I was havin too much fun with the medical-themed porn scenarios. So I responded…
“Let’s start a website called stomastuffers.com where a buncha COPD patients get fucked in their trach tubes. And they use frothy pink sputum for lube.”
“Ha,” he said, “tight stoma.”
That unfortunately was pretty much it for that conversation, but one other noteworthy exchange I can remember offhand’d been the time I texted Jack a question that was formulated just as those they have in the Emergency Care textbook and on all the online quizzes we’d take after every chapter. It went…
“You and your partner are responding to a call for a 37-year-old male who has been decapitated. You arrive on the scene and find the patient’s torso on one side of the room and his head on the other. Before doing anything else, you should_______________.
A. administer Naloxone to the patient.
B. begin doing chest compressions on the torso while your partner administers oxygen to the head via a BVM.
C. request law enforcement assistance.
D. auscultate the patient’s chest for any abnormal breathing sounds.”
And then Jack responded…
“E. insert you and your partner’s penis in bloody torso.”
So yeah, I had a lotta fun textin with Jack throughout my time in that class. And like I said, I learned a lot about the human body and how to treat certain conditions. That said, although I enjoy knowing how stuff works, I quickly came to the unfortunate realization that I can’t fucking stand actually doing any of the shit I learned about during EMT school. I hated takin vitals on my classmates and practicing CPR and installing supraglottic airways and takin blood-sugar levels and covering sucking chest wounds with three-sided bandages and whatever-the-fuck else. I just don’t fucking care. I just don’t wanna deal with it. Even before I did my mandatory 12-hour shift in the hospital and another 12 riding along on a private ambulance, I was thinkin to myself that I’d rather take a phallus twice daily per os for the rest of my life than to hafta do any of this shit on a regular basis as part of my job. And then when I actually did go do those things, that was pretty much the nail in the coffin for me. Even though I still thought I’d be good at puttin out fires and doin that physical aspect of the job my dad’d always glorified, there’s just no way I could mentally take doin the rest of this shit, especially considering – as Jack’d said – the majority of the runs I’d be goin on as a suburban firefighter are all for EMS stuff.
Sometime in mid-to-late December during the week after I took the course final is when I was scheduled to go get my clinical hours. The three words that I think best describe my 12-hour shift in the emergency room at Evanston Hospital are boring, annoying and depressing. When I wasn’t busy pretending to be busy when there was nothin to do, I was often used to help restrain senile old folks, delusional drug addicts and other psych patients so they could be properly sedated by hospital staff who’d prefer to not have these people wanderin around causin trouble. The most notable of these cases’d been a 400-pound black woman who kept shouting that, “This is how you treat a pregnant woman?!” as four members of hospital security held her in place so a teeny little white nurse less than half her size could come up with a needle and drug her into submission. “You’re not pregnant,” everyone openly laughed in her face. “We ran the tests, there’s no baby inside you.” And the lady said back, “Wait ‘til I tell my husband about this!” Everyone laughed again. “You’re not even married. Just lay down now and go to sleep.” “I’m a doctor too, ya know!” she shouted. “And I know howta party. These drugs you givin is weak. They ain’t shit compared to what I normally take. Look, I ain’t even affected.” And she just kept swearin and yellin for another minute or two after having received the injection, but everyone stopped payin attention, knowing she’d soon be unconscious.
Later in the day, the Chicago Fire Department brought in some 90-year-old lady in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest. The firefighter/EMTs had presumably been pounding on the chest of this decrepit old 80-pound bag-o-bones the whole way to the hospital, and I stood there watchin ‘em continue this CPR for another five minutes in the ER before the doctor decided to finally pronounce the lady dead. After seein what I saw, after seein some 250-pound firefighter with his big meaty paws between this great-granny’s saggy old tits, usin his bodyweight to smash down on her sternum over and over…like, there’s no way that every bone in that frail old lady’s ribcage hadn’t been broken by all those chest compressions. It just seemed so excessive. I mean, the lady was clearly dead. She lived ninety years, she had a good run – what was the point of all this? Why couldn’t we just let her rest in peace? Even if she could be revived at this point, I’m sure she would’ve had brain damage from the lack of oxygen on top of whatever preexisting senility she had, and there’s no way she’d ever physically recover from the damage that’s now been done to her chest cavity. What sorta quality of life would that result in for her or for the person responsible for taking care of her? The whole episode was just so disgusting and sad, and I can’t describe the relief I felt when they finally let the old broad flatline. The rest of my time on shift, I wanted to know why that lady’s dignity had to be taken away like that, but didn’t feel comfortable broaching the subject with any of the strangers at the hospital who to me had all seemed so cold and unsympathetic. So, later that evening I decided to reach out to Jack for some insight.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s just another one of the dumb things about the job. Even if someone is really old and has been dying of cancer or somethin and is probably better off dead like in the case you just mentioned, if they don’t have a DNR – a do-not-resuscitate order written by a doctor – EMS personnel gotta keep doin CPR and hittin ‘em with the defibrillator until a physician at the hospital declares ‘em legally dead. Or on my department, if we perform CPR for half-an-hour on the scene and have given all drugs and tubed ‘em and there’s still no sign of life and their ETCO2 has dropped below a certain number, we can call medical control and tell ‘em the situation, and then they put a doctor on the phone and the doctor gives us permission to stop. He gives us the time of death and his name and we get a log number for the radio call. Then we turn it over to the police. Give them all that info. They do their thing. Then yeah, I believe that’s when the body snatchers come get ‘em.”
“I see,” I said. “A half-an-hour sounds like a long time to be doin CPR. I get sick of doin it on the dummies after two minutes in the classroom. After half-an-hour, you gotta be dyin.”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Doin chest compressions, I always end up drenched in sweat. But we don’t hafta do it that long manually anymore. Like, when we show up to someone’s house and they’re coding like that, usually one guy starts doin CPR. Or the engine guys do CPR. Then when the ambulance gets there, we slip the patient into this thing called the LUCAS device. You learn about those in class?”
“Hmm. Yeah, I remember readin about that or somethin similar in the textbook. It like…automates CPR, right?”
“Yeah, somethin like that. It’s like a half-circular device that you put around the patient’s chest and it provides mechanical compressions at the standard rate so you’re free to do other stuff like get IVs in ‘em and stuff while they’re still getting adequate circulation and perfusion.”
“Yeah, okay. Now that you mention it, I remember lookin that shit up on YouTube when I came across it in my textbook – cuz like, we don’t have one in class to learn with. We only do manual CPR, so I was a bit curious about how this machine works. And yeah…seein the way that thing consistently pumps up and down, I remember thinkin it would be funny to put a dildo on it and strap the thing to someone’s ass instead of their chest.”
“Ha. Funny you say that. That was the exact conversation we had when the department first got one of those. Best part is it would never get tired. You get the same consistent brutal anal-pounding every time you use it. It’s a win-win.”
“Yeah, sounds like it,” I said. “But wouldn’t takin the time to put one of those things on a patient interrupt chest compressions and compromise perfusion?”
“It only takes about fifteen seconds to put on,” he said. “The hardest part is makin sure it’s in the right place. And over time it often slides around. So when you stop to check for rhythm and for a pulse, you can have another guy move it back into its proper place. The downside of it is that it often causes a lot of blood to come into the ET tube because it fucking destroys the inside of people’s chests. But it is nice. Once it’s on and you have a line, you kinda just push meds every few minutes and wait for ‘em to stay dead for half-an-hour then call it in. Or less likely, wait for some type of life to appear and then transport ‘em. To be honest though, unless you get shocked and get CPR right away, you don’t stand a chance. So actually, unless you drop in front of someone or someone finds you within a couple minutes of you dropping and they immediately give you CPR and hook you up to an AED before we get there…like, we won’t even work with ‘em. They’ll be asystole on the monitor and feel coldish. And even if we’ve gotten to ‘em in time, after thirty minutes of CPR, their ETCO2 will drop and they don’t stand a chance.”
Not long after my day in the hospital, I went for a ride-along with the Superior Ambulance company based out in the northwest suburb of Des Plaines. I went with a girl and a guy. The girl was about twenty years old and had aspirations of becoming a firefighter. The guy was a few years older than she was and wanted to be a nurse. He said he was working his third 12-hour shift in a row. I didn’t understand exactly what he’d meant by that. He explained that he’d just worked for 24 straight hours and was now just beginning another 12-hour shift with me tagging along.
“How is that possible?” I asked. “How are you still functioning? How is that even legal?”
“It happens,” he shrugged.
Private ambulances piloted by EMT-Bs and not paramedics – in the Chicago area at least – serve no purpose other than patient transport. They will never – or will very, very rarely – be sent to handle any sort of emergency situation because those are all typically handled by municipal fire departments. For all intents and purposes, private ambulances are like taxis that transport old people back and forth between nursing homes and hospitals all day long – and EMT-Bs, the chauffeurs.
Our first transport of the day was some demented old lady that needed to be moved from a hospital in one super far out suburb I’d never heard of back to her nursing home in some other far out suburb I’d never heard of. At first glance, when we finally got there, the lady kinda reminded me of Grandma Flanders from that one early episode of The Simpsons, so I was kinda half-expecting her to look at me and say “Hello Joe!” but I quickly found out she was in an even shittier state than Ned’s crazy old “Momerino.” This lady was so mentally gone that she had zero awareness of her surroundings and could no longer formulate words.
Shortly after having arrived at the hospital, we’d entered and’d been standing in the lady’s room waiting for the nurse to come in. Like, the lady was awake and looking around, but I honestly couldn’t even tell whether or not she knew we were there in the room with her. And so, we’re just standin there dickin around and eventually the nurse comes in and removes the electrodes and leads that’d been running from the patient’s body over to the vital signs monitor and told us that she was good to go. Before we moved her from the hospital bed to the ambulance stretcher, however, the guy I was shadowing looked over and told me to check her vitals. I asked the guy why, if we needed to record her vitals before transport, we couldn’t have just done it while she was still hooked up to the monitor. He said that because as an EMT I should be able to take ‘em manually. I wanted to do no such thing and was kinda pissed off at being challenged first thing in the morning, but was determined to get through the day without quitting. So, I reluctantly introduced myself to the lady and told her I was gonna be taking her vitals. As expected, she didn’t understand a word that I said. I reported to the guy that the patient is AOx0, meaning that she’s awake but doesn’t know who she is, where she is, or what day it is. He said it doesn’t matter – we need the numbers, so just do it anyway. I sighed and surrendered myself to the current situation.
So, starting with her blood pressure, I grabbed the lady’s skin-and-bone arm and, as is customary, started wrapping the sphygmomanometer around it just above her elbow. Appearing frightened and not liking my touching her one bit, she began to flail around and yell incomprehensibly. The guy came over and pinned her in place while I strapped on the BP cuff, pumped the thing up and started looking for her radial pulse. After palpating all parts of her wrist where her radius meets her hand, I couldn’t find it and told the guy of my problem. He said I hafta find it because it’s my job. I tried for another ten seconds, but couldn’t find it and got tired of hearin the lady fight and yell, so I just made somethin up based on the averages I remembered from the textbook. He asked if I was sure. I said yeah. He was satisfied and let the lady go.
A few minutes later, after I’d bullshitted the rest of the patient’s vitals, I and the other two all grabbed the sheets on which the lady was laying – sheets that, especially around her exposed feet, were covered in piles of dead skin – and used ‘em to lift her out of the hospital bed and move her over onto the ambo stretcher. We brought her outside and over to the ambulance then loaded her in the back. The guy and girl went to the front of the vehicle leaving me with the instruction to take the lady’s vitals every fifteen minutes during transport as per company policy. I said, “No problem,” but didn’t mean it. I in fact had a huge problem with those instructions. I saw absolutely no reason for again violating this woman who’d finally calmed down and was now sitting silently by my side after we’d upset her so badly back in that hospital room for absolutely no fucking reason. She sat staring blankly out the back of the ambulance the whole time while I scribbled down a set of phony bullshit vitals at the passing of every quarter-hour. We then dropped her off at her nursing home and went to make our next transport.
Without getting too much into it, another patient we transferred that day was this old guy that needed to get to the radiology department of a certain hospital – I can’t remember which. Long story short, the guy said he hadn’t taken a shit in about a week, but then suddenly had to go sometime after we’d arrived at the hospital but just before we could get him into the room where he was to have his CT scan or MRI done. So, we took him over to the nearest bathroom we could find. He was a pretty big guy whose legs could no longer hold up the weight of his body. We had him in a wheelchair until we got to the door of the bathroom. There we stood him up and started makin our way inside. The girl waited outside and I went in with the dude EMT who was usin all his power to keep this old guy upright.
It was cramped and tiny in that bathroom. There was only one toilet and one sink, and not room for much else. Three people in that mofo at the same time made for quite a crowd. I asked what I could do to assist him, but my preceptor said he had the situation under control, so I just stood by helplessly watching this disaster unfold. For whatever reason, the old guy didn’t wanna try sitting down on the toilet even though he had us there willing to help him do so. He was standing right in front of the thing with his ass facing the bowl and his pants at his ankles. The EMT was standing in front of him and holding him up by his armpits. All of a sudden, a week’s worth of shit started blastin out this guy’s ass all over the top tank of the toilet, the seat, the floor and the wall behind it. It was a complete fucking mess. The stench, which struck my nostrils immediately, made me gag. When he figured it was all done, the EMT grabbed a couple handfuls of toilet paper, reached around and perfunctorily wiped the old guy’s ass while still holding him up. After that – and I’m sure he still had a buncha shit caked between his ass cheeks – he pulled up the guy’s pants, guided him outta that stinkhole of a bathroom, and set him back in the wheelchair. We then took the patient over to the room where the radiologist’d been waiting for him, and helped lift him onto the machine. Once he was settled in a position the radiologist approved of, we vacated the room and the guy I was shadowing pulled out his phone and went back to the bathroom to snap a couple quick pictures of the shitty massacre we had no intention of cleaning up.
It’s a good thing that by this time of the year I’d already finished all my gutter cleaning jobs and was done with work for the season because, after my day on the ambulance, I spent the better part of the next week in bed too depressed to do anything at all. Those days all blended together, so I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point my sister texted me. She’d been aware of my messed-up mental state and was reaching out to see how I was doing. I responded…
“I’m still in bed, but starting to feel a little better. The headache isn’t as overwhelming and I’m not constantly bombarded with feelings of guilt and hopelessness. I just can’t stop thinkin about how I woulda rather strangled all those old people to death using my stethoscope and put ‘em outta their misery than wrestle ‘em down to take their vitals against their will. I mean, I don’t actually wanna do that. I just don’t wanna be around old people like that in general though, because they’re too real a representation of what the future holds for me and my loved ones. I mean, all the shit we’ve already gone through with Dad the past few years has worn me out, and the thought of Mom turnin into one of these helpless, babbling-retard dementia patients who can’t even form words and who shit all over the place makes me wanna kill myself. Like, if you die young, it’s supposedly this tragic thing, but I actually think it’s better that way. It’s less tragic than no one in the world givin a shit if you’re alive or dead, and everyone forgetting about you as you rot away in one of those shitty hospital beds bein poked and prodded by jagoff piece o’ shit EMT-Bs every fifteen minutes so the company they work for can’t get sued for negligence. I just hate reality so fucking much. And I hate the feelings that reality provokes in me. I just don’t wanna face any of it. I feel like I’ve already done everything I’ve ever wanted to do in my life and that there’s nothing to look forward to but more extreme pain and suffering. I don’t know how I can continue to pretend to care about anything society expects of me (working, paying bills, dating, having a family, etc…) when all this horrible bullshit is lurking on the horizon. I know I’m not unique in this realization or anything – like, by saying these things I’m not trying to imply that I know more about our existence than other people and that they’re ignorant fools for turning a blind eye to our inevitable doom as they go about their daily business – but I just feel like I’m an overly sensitive person and that I’m too weak to handle all of it. I just don’t wanna play this game. I’m afraid that I’m not equipped for it. I don’t know what to say. I’m just not a happy person and fear I never will be.”
What she said in return was very brief…
“I guess I don’t have a lot to say cuz all of that is so true and it’s upsetting for everyone. But I guess I keep thinking of the line, ‘Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.’”