Wednesday, January 26, 2011

STUCK: A Long Night In The Ambulance During Snowpocalypse 2011

Since the snow is once again billowing down on NYC I thought I'd take a second to recall my lovely experience during the original Snowpocalypse 2011.

It started coming down heavy midafternoon and Brooklyn was already completely blanketed head-to-toe in white (omit gentrification joke) by the time I got to work at 6.  There were no plows out, barely any buses or cars and only a few scattered people here and there. Our first job took us from Brooklyn Hospital to Fulton and Kingston, which on a normal day isn't bad but during the arctic death blast turned out to be quite a trek- didn't want to drive too fast because it took me about 3 blocks to come to a full stop, but I didn't want to stop either because that meant maybe never starting again. PLUS every three to five minutes the back of the bus would jacknife around and try to pass the front. When we get there, a solid twenty minutes later, the radio's crackling with units responding two a double shooting not far away, one of the victims is dead and the other's critical. Our patient though is upset because every time the wind blows in her face she becomes short of breath.
Are you short of breath now?
No! Ze wind she is not blowing!
Do you want to go to the hospital?
But of course! I could not breathe!
The hospital, mind you, was around the corner, but she wanted to go to another swankier one across town. That didn't happen. When we dropped her off at the crummy around the corner hospital the shot guy's homeboys were just getting there and running rampant around the ER looking for their friend, who was resting in peace under a sheet in the resus room. When they found him they erupted into a barrage of curseouts and revenge promises and we left outta there, turned onto the completely snowed in Atlantic Ave and immediately almost got stuck. But we didn't, barely, and made it back to Brooklyn Hospital.
Meanwhile- the radio is nonstop with units getting stuck. I mean- EVERYONE was in a snowbank somewhere, completely snowed in and once they came up on the air to report getting free it was usually on a few minutes before they were stuck again. This meant, besides the huge backlog of jobs building, that paramedic units were getting assigned lower priority jobs and EMT units higher priority jobs, just because the dispatcher was forced to hand out jobs to whoever might be available at the moment.  Total disaster, in other words. Meanwhile, not a plow in sight.
We got stuck on Fulton and St Felix for like ten minutes, dug out, got stuck again a block further, dug out, got another job, took us about twenty-five minutes to get five blocks away for a kid that bumped her head in the PJs and thennnnnn lord have mercy they sent us to Red Hook.
Now, for those of you that don't know Brooklyn, if downtown Brooklyn is on some Day After Tomorrow Code Three disaster status you KNOW a backalley boondocky spot like Red Hook is gonna be all the worse. We got detoured by a jacknifed tractor trailor and ended up winding along Van Brunt Street, which runs by the dockyards. Then we hit a non-moving line of cars, tried to turn off down a sidestreet and got really really really stuck. A couple neighbors came out to help us dig snow along with a happy little Pakistani guy who was stuck behind us and an ornery Mexican that came down the wrong way and got stuck in front of us.  Finally we dug out, backed back onto Van Brunt and got stuck again. This is when the wind picked up and started bullwhipping icy snow into our faces, thank you very much.
My partner, who was in the back doing her hair while I jolted the bus back and forth trying to lurch us out, puked. Then she cursed out almost every element in the natural world and went back to doing her hair.
It was getting on towards midnight. The radio was still crackling with units getting stuck. I added our names to the list and gave up. We'd moved a half a block in two hours and were only deeper entrenched than before. I had some cold coffee and two chicken wings and three quarters of a tank of gas.  The snow was up to the doors. I tweeted. I gchatted. I laughed. My partner woke up around 3 and started cursing again and went back to sleep.

The radio never stopped chattering with units and they're stuckness except now none of them were getting unstuck, they were just holing up like we were. For a while people were updating, cuz EMS is really update-retentive about crap, you always gotta account for yourself if you're somewhere too long or they start coming for your wig. But during snowpocalypse it just got relentless and the dispatcher  started coming up on the air with this whole "OK, Units, I know you're stuck. If you're still stuck, don't update, I know it. Just be quiet. If you get unstuck just hit your button. I don't need the updates. Thank you." And then it'd get real quiet, cuz frankly that's all that was happening. Then of course every couple hours some horrific exchange would go down- a unit would get to an Abdominal Pain and find someone lying dead in the street instead and then all the units trying to back them up would get stuck on the way and then they'd get stuck and be screaming on the air like some horror show... it was not fun.

I think the first time I saw a plow it was after midnight, and- surprise surprise, it was stuck.
I slept from dawn till 8 when some firefighters trudged up to our happy little embankment and informed us that we were stuck.
Oh crap really?
Looks like it.
Well gee.
You got a supervisor you can call or somethin'?
We trudged the five blocks to their rig and they gave us a ride back to our base where we dried off, coffeed up and then i jumped into an SUV with this old Jamaican cat that was going to help out our other unit.
Basically nothing was plowed that morning except Atlantic Avenue, some of Fourth Avenue and a few of the major throughway streets in Bed-Stuy. A few. We were lucky enough to fall in behind a jeep full of Mexicans with shovels who happily jumped out every time a car got stuck in front of us and dig them out and then whizzed past them laughing. That's the only reason I made it home at all.

Made it to bed sometime that afternoon and woke up to hear the Mayor blaming EMS for our shoddy response time.

Monday, January 24, 2011


 It was daybreak and the daytour was giving me a ride home. We were just pulling off from the ER bay when a dude came running up to the ambulance. Now...when people come running up to ambulances about 90% of the time it's to either ask directions or tell us about how their friend's like sooo totally drunk could you just like take her blood pressure or whatever. So, excuse us if we don't get really excited when folks come tapping on the window. Anyway, it was still dark out and we couldnt quite tell which of the 2 this guy was until he said "Yo, some old dude just got fucked up over there!" Still...this could mean sooo many things, but we rush on over and sure enough, there's a car sticking out of a building and an old dude crumpled on the curb next to it. And yeah, he was pretty bad, because as we were approaching I first thought he was just a pile of random debris, so still was that old dude. Usually when you mistake people for inanimate objects it's because they're dead, but this guy actually took a breath just as we started going to work on him. So he wasn't dead, but he was an absolute complete damn mess. The bystander's description actually turned out to be pretty accurate. I'd thought he had been in the car and either been ejected or stumbled out when it crashed. Usually when people are ejected though they're like, across the street or in a tree somewhere, not right right there. What actually happened was the guy'd been on the far adjacent corner, minding his, when a carload of drunken patygirls barreled on through, clipped him and sent him in a massive acrobatic airborn spin across the street and onto the curb. To hear the witness tell it, the guy'd done like three pirouettes and a butterfly kick on the way ("Yo, his legs went up like this and they kinda did one a these and then he rolled up and over" like it was all in slowmo...).
Anyway, then the car had swerved and smashed into the wall, the gaggle of hoochie mammas all hopped out at once, clucking away apparently, took one look at the patient and screamed, simultaneously "YOU KILLED HIM!" and clackity-clacked off towards Flatbush in a perfume flavored huff. The driver, a really irritated looking dude, was standing there talking to 911 on his cellphone when we rolled up, trying to make it sound as little his fault as possible ("No, the guy musta been drunk! Walked right into my car!")

We call for backup, put the patient in the back and take a look at what we got. The left tibia is pretty much shattered, his left arm is pretzeled and there's an open wound where the bone broke, and he's got more than a few ribs that are in many many pieces. Also, he's got a buncha little cuts and bruises and whoknowswhats going on with his head. We have him boarded and collared and nothing seems to be actively bleeding anywhere, although there's blood EVERYWHERE.
He's coming around, which is wretched for him in the short term but ultimately is a pretty good sign. What's not good is that as we're getting ready to go the genius that hit him decides he has neck and back pain and needs to go to the hospital too. I've been in this situation before, and it sucks. Since there was no other ambulance on scene, it means we can't leave without technically abandoning a patient and opening ourselves up to colossal lawsuits, getting fired, all kindsa stupidness.
We come up on the air, tryna express the urgency of the situation without cursing, and then get back to caring for the patient while we wait for another unit to show up.
At this point i remember I'm off duty. Not only off duty, I'm wearing some a spiffy all white suit (for a change) that miraculously has remained bloodstain free up to this point. I've always said if some mess goes down while I'm not on the bus you probably won't be seeing me leaping across the street to stick my fingers in the muck. It's not that I don't care about my fellow humans- I wouldn't be doing the job if that were the case- it's just that without any equipment there's really not much I can do for you. CPR...that's about it. Anyway, here I was in my civies, off the clock, and yet I had a bus full of medic goodies to play with. What struck me though, as I was reaching over the crumpled up old guy to put an IV in, was how different it felt, being out of uniform and dealing with all this mess...It seems like a small thing, or it did, but the mental space that wearing those techpants and button shirt and having that heavy belt on put you in is thoroughly somewhere else from the I'm-just-walking-down-the-street-in-my-nice-white-suit mental space. Like, a whole other planet. The physical act of gearing up, clocking in, checking out the ambulance, carrying around that chattery little all serves to ground us into that realm of service- a singlemindedness that I've spoken of before that can be so cleansing when it climaxes in the thick of a brutal job.
Without all that, i felt naked.
The other unit finally skidds up and we speed off. The dude's talking and conscious by the time we roll into Belleview. The sun rises. I help the daycrew clean out the back of the bus. scrubbing away blood, picking up shredded clothing and bandage wrappers. I wonder, as we made our way back to Brooklyn along the East River, what life will be like when I'm done with this job for good and no longer spending half my week intimately wrapped in the ridiculous and tragic beating heart of the city around me. I think I'll miss it.