101 Things the Fire Department wishes you knew



Monday, February 2

A rough one from the archives


I was asked recently about the call in my career that angered me the most. Maybe because people want to find out what makes Happy into UnHappy. I didn't even need a chance to think about it.

Long ago, your Happy Medic worked in a combination Public Safety system. All the firefighters were firefighter/EMTs or firefighter/paramedics and the police officers were cross trained as medics or firefighters.
Working in such a system allowed for paramedic policemen to perform basic and advanced skills as well as understanding the severity of medical situations.

This is back in my first year of carrying a paramedic license, so confident that I was ready for anything. That's usually when life reminds you of the truth.

It was late in the evening and we received a 911 call from the ER for a welfare check. Not being one to subscribe to the community health aspect of following up on every patient, we agreed to head over there, no lights or sirens. Then we heard on the radio that officers were being sent to the same address, lights and sirens, to take custody of a minor child. The combination of our run and this new police action made my heart jump into my throat. I had a feeling the officers would take custody of a child and place them in my arms. The question was, "Why?"

That question was answered as soon as we walked into the tiny apartment. The stench of urine met us at the door along with piles of trash. Two teenage boys were on the couch, handcuffed by one of the officers. Nearby was a brand new gaming system with 3 or 4 games scattered around. I heard a familiar voice, that of one of the veteran paramedic police officers, call my name from the back room. There was panic in his experienced voice and that made me scared.

The 4 month old child was a shade of brown usually reserved for people who frequent the beaches. She appeared sun tanned, olive skinned. It was easy to see the shade of color since she was barely moving. The young mother, 16 if I recall, was telling a story about how they went to the hospital to get the baby checked out earlier in the week, but left when the boyfriend, not the father, had to go to work.
I noticed the officer had his hand on his baton and was looking for a chance to grab the baby. The officer looked away only briefly, later I learned he was listening to radio traffic in a small earpiece he wears.
"Our Medical Director called this in, she's still technically a patient of his."
That made the baby technically a patient of mine. The officer asked the mother nicely to hand over the child and she agreed. I was just taking her when another girl of maybe 16 turned the corner with another young child. The officer nearly drew his weapon she appeared so quickly. Her infant was the same olive color but moving and acting appropriately.

I processed in my mind the time to transport to the hospital, 30 minutes, and the closest other ambulance, 20 minutes. No time to wait.

I grabbed the baby and made a line for the ambulance. The paramedic officer remained at the scene, taking the mothers into custody and monitoring the other child, which left me alone in the back with the little girl.

We left for the hospital and I began to assess her when I noticed the diaper was dirty. Not dirty only in the 'needs to be changed category', but in the 'filthy on the outside' category.
I removed it and found only dry mustardy bowel I would later learn was a sign of distress in this age of child.
After a change of britches and a quick toweling off with sterile water I learned the olive skin was not hereditary, but dirt. She was in fact white and quite an interesting shade of jaundiced yellow.

I gave her oxygen and she began to squirm a bit, later crying and moving quite well. It was as if she didn't want to breath in the horrible stench around her in that place and found my little world quite a happy change.

She and I arrived in the ER where our medical director, who called initially, was awaiting our arrival along with the Peds team. It turns out mom and the boyfriend took baby from there earlier in the week without permission just before she was about to undergo treatment for her jaundiced condition. It took them that long to figure out where she was.
The 16 year olds were cousins. Children raising children.

That was the first, and last, time I felt like taking matters into my own hands and teaching those girls what it might have been like to be treated the way they treated their own children.

Since then I don't get as bothered by neglectful parents, but now as a parent I see how easy it is to keep children clean and healthy, if you only want to.

And that was the time I was UnHappy.

2 comments:

Chris said...

Where was that?

I'm currently looking at training as a paramedic in the UK, but I also work in security, and it has convinced me that I'd also enjoy police work. A combination job would therefore be ideal.

I'm a UK citizen, and have spent a grand total of 2 weeks in the states (on holiday), so am not convinced I would be allowed to do police work, any idea?

Don't think I've commented here before either, so hi!

The Happy Medic said...

Welcome UK Chris!

There are a number of Public Safety Departments scattered around the US. I know of many in Arizona, New Mexico, California and Montana.

Search online for the keyword "DPS" that should get you started.