Thursday, December 4, 2008

If you can beat me down the hill to the ambo, you don't really need one...

Last story in the blizzard trilogy, I swear...

John-Boy of the first evening had left sometime during the second day, and in his place was a new driver. A nice enough woman, I'd worked with her enough to know that her EMT skills were not that great, but she was a good partner, and knew enough to know what her limits were. We got along well, but she didn't drive that well. Normally, she was slow, seemed to hit every pothole in the road, and often got lost once off the main roads. On a day when the roads were mostly covered with an inch or more of snow/slush/ice, the slow driving was a plus, the potholes were non-existant, and it was hard to get lost on the back roads when a huge county plow/dump truck with a flashing yellow light was leading you in and out.

It was evening when we got toned out. I know we hadn't eaten dinner yet, but it was dark. The call was for the possible stroke. 'This better be an 80 year-old woman who is fucking paralyzed on one side,' I growled. (Most times, 'stroke' calls are really strokes, but for some reason, they send it BLS rather than ALS, since 'there is nothing that ALS can do for a stroke.' No really...I swear...but that's a rant for another time...)

We get to the road leading to the development, but it hasn't even been touched since the snow began (it had stopped by now). There is a small plowed-out area at the end of the road, mainly just the place where the plow was pushing all the snow from the main road across the street.

Oh, did I mention this road we STRAIGHT UP A FUCKING HILL????? So help me God, it looked like it was straight up. Slow Driver pulls across the street (the ass-end of the ambo is sticking out into traffic) and says to me, 'Where do I park?' Mind you, there is zero road shoulder.

'Just pull into the clearing as much as you can to get us off the main road,' I tell her. What does she do, but pull practically straight in, launching the ambo's front tires into the pile of plowed snow. I told her, 'That's not what I meant, exactly,' but it's too late, we're stuck. She tries to back out, but all she's doing is digging holes with the tires. We decide to leave it as is, call for a back-up just in case, and slog up the hill (dragging the Reeves, the O2 bag, and the aide bag). I'm wearing my bunker pants, and the snow is packed in up to my knees, which ironically, is lower than the level of the snow I'm slogging through (I could have sat down without moving much). We finally get up to the house, and knock on the door. A middle-aged woman answers, with a 4 inch thick pile of folders and papers in her hands.

Now knowing this to be a complete BS call, totally exhausted from dragging my ass and all the associated crap for a real stroke up a huge fucking hill with snow up to my hips, I nevertheless attempt a smile. Slow Driver is at the bottom of the stairs with the O2 bag and the Reeves, since the stairs are about 10 ft off the ground, and are coated in ice, and the landing up top is even worse. 'We're with the ambulance, Ma'am. Did you call 911?'

'Why yes I did, but that was 20 minutes ago. What took you so long?' I want to say Two feet of fucking snow, bitch. But I don't, and she goes on without really waiting for a response from me. 'Well, you see, 2 nights ago while we were eating dinner, I experienced some slurring speech, fuzzy vision, and some tingling in my right arm. But it only lasted about 15 minutes, and then went away. Yesterday afternoon I had the same thing, only it lasted a little longer, maybe 20 minutes, right Frank?' Frank, who I assume is her husband, is a little squirt of a man, and stands behind her, nodding emphatically at all she says.

'So why did you call us tonight?' I ask, forcing my eyeballs not to roll back and stare at my brain.

'Well it happened again tonight, for about 10 minutes so I figured I would go to the hospital. I brought all my medical records too.' This she says proudly, as if it will be a huge boon to the hospital that all these papers will be around. Because, you know, no one in the ER knows how to get your damned records from the computer.

'What time did this happen?' I ask. Meanwhile, we are still standing outside. She hasn't invited us in, and normally a patient or family member will step back from the door to allow us to at least access the light of the house for a proper assessment. But she stands directly in front of the door, blocking what little light is coming out, and not allowing me to come in. At least I have the warm air coming from the house. Poor Slow Driver is stuck 10 ft below me, on the snowy walk. The temperature is dropping, and the wind is picking up. The roads are not going to be nice soon.

'About 3 hours ago,' she replies. 'Frank, get my coat.' Frank scurries to get her coat, and hands it to her, along with her keys, cards, and cell phone. She hands me her 'medical record' while she pulls the coat on, and then steps out, oblivious to my caution about the ice. Somehow I make it down the steps carrying the aide bag and her medical records, which she takes from me the minute she's on less slick ground. I point towards the ambo at the bottom of the hill. 'That's our ambulance,' I tell her. Slow Driver has already headed down the hill to work on getting us un-stuck, and I struggle down the hill, dragging the aide bag and now the O2 bag (Slow Driver left it so she could high-tail it down). The patient has set off at a pace worthy of Sir Edmund heading down Mt Everest, and is down at the ambo before I can get halfway down the hill. I finally make it down, and find that Slow Driver had been digging more holes with both the back and front tires. I check with dispatch to see where our back-up is, and fill out the paperwork. The back-up that arrives is an ALS unit, whose medic is less than impressed to see an upright, walking talking stroke patient. I explain that we got stuck, and all the woman needs is transport. He rolls his eyes and they take off.

So, now we are stuck. Slow Driver has dug holes so badly that the entire weight of the ambo is now supported by the snow packed in underneath it. And remember, this is not new-fallen snow. This is snow and ice plowed from the roads, so it is hard and chunky. I am in turnout pants, with snow packed up to the knees, rubber turnout boots, and my job shirt. There is no hat, there are no gloves. I take out the shovel and Z-hook from the side compartment, and attempt to remove enough snow to at least allow one set of tires traction. No dice. I go back to the front of the ambo to get rid of the snow behind the front tires. Still nothing. I try not to snap at Slow Driver's inability to do anything but gun the engine when she tries to rock it out (not that rocking an automatic transmission is the easiest thing to do). I'm standing to the side during one of her attempts to gun it out of the space when I hear the knocking of metal on metal. Sure enough, we've thrown a chain. But only half a chain, since the side in by the dualie is stuck fast. Maybe I can get it off when we get out and I have a bit more room.

Luckily, about 30 minutes after our patient left with the ALS unit, a county plow comes up and takes pity on us. He comes at us from the front, piling up a good bit of snow to protect the ambo, and pushing the ambo backwards out of the snow. He also gives us some heavy-duty zip ties to hold the chain on, swearing that it'll work. We thank him profusely, and head on our way home.

The trip home took at least an hour. Mainly due to the stops we had to make to replace the zip tie after it broke. We are crawling at about 10 mph, well below the 25mph you are required to use when driving on chains. I am hungry, cold, and my hands are wet and frozen and dirty. About 10 miles from the station we run out of zip ties, and have to just pray to make it home.

Once back at the station, we find a lovely thing has happened. The chain has caught on the sheet metal that comprises the wheel bed for that wheel, bending and pulling it up so that is caught on the chain that covers the rest of the wheel. We can still drive, but it just continues to bend the metal. We put ourselves out of service, and call the mechanics, one of which come out to the station to see what he can do. Unfortunately, our air line in the station is compromised, and the engine is out on a run, so there is no way to run the air jack to raise the ambo on that side to pull the wheels off and cut the metal. He manages to get the chain off, and heads back to headquarters, where we will meet him shortly. The metal sheet is touching the tire, and there is not enough room to get leverage to cut it off or bend it back.

The engine gets back, we tell the captain we're heading to HQ, and slowly head out with no chains. The problem is fixed there (the metal is cut off) and we find out we aren't the only ones experiencing issues. The truck tried to get down a road in a development known for tight roads, and not only slid and hit a couple cars, but was stuck and had to be towed out. The ambo at HQ went on a call with the medics for a heart attack, and there were no plows available to get them down the small side road. The patient ended up staying dead because they had to walk a quarter mile down the road in knee high snow with the cot. The young EMT I was mentoring had a hard time with this one, as she was riding on the medic unit at the time. She couldn't wrap her head around the fact that he was already dead when they got there, and regardless of how much CPR or drugs they pushed in the guy, he would likely have stayed dead. The fact that it was her first death didn't help. What did help was that they went on a labor call not long after, and they helped deliver the baby at home. Circle of life and all that.

We get back to our station, and put ourselves back in service, now with only half a wheel well on one side. The chains go back on, and I get ragged on by the engine crew for throwing a chain and allowing my ambo to get dinged up from the chain banging around.

Yeah, the blizzard was much more exciting than the un-hurricane we went through later. That was just boring.

1 comment:

TDB said...

Don't worry, bad winter drivers can happen any where. I live in Alaska and we get quite a bit of snow every winter hear and every year it is the same thing. Accident after accident because people are not careful. The positive is most people use studded tires or special winter tires rather than chains (too many deaths from people putting chains on tires). I remember one week last April where we got over 12" of snow one day and 15" the next day (nothing closed, not even the schools) it was insane trying to drive in that because it was so deal and heavy. It is times like that that I consider a 4wheel drive jeep rather than a front wheel drive car.