It's nearing the end of our shift, and Bronson is psyched: Today is going to be his first ambulance rotation since starting paramedic school a few months ago. He's going to be riding with paramedics at one of the area hospitals, performing such skills as EKGs and starting IV lines.
Meanwhile, I'm disappointed to have to be doing an overtime shift with a new person — Bronson and I had agreed we'd do it together. I hate new partners. They're tedious: the long silences during down-time, working clumsily together, all that boring small-talk.
Bronson says I might get lucky and see him in action. In class, he's been practicing his IV skills on a mannequin, and he can't wait to get the chance to try it on a live patient.
I warn him about something I've noticed he's been doing: During our last call, he advised the patient, a diabetic, a little too much on what medications might work better for him. I told him I didn't think it was a good idea to advise patients about anything medical. We're EMTs, not doctors, and I'm getting sick of Bronson thinking he's an MD just because he's taking a paramedic course.
"You think you're Dr. Flores or something," I accuse him.
He looks at me like I'm crazy. "Who's Dr. Flores?"
"Dr. Raja Flores."
This is not computing.
I give him what my mother would call a very snotty look. "Top oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. One of the finest cancer surgeons in the country, if not the world," I say.
Bronson looks at me like I've flipped. "How is anybody supposed to know that?"
I shrug. "They should. You should, since you're a doctor and all."
He snaps, "That's the problem with you."
"What's the problem with me?"
"You make these oblique references nobody knows anything about. I pity your husband."
"And you think you're a doctor because you're taking a lousy paramedic class. Your wife never thinks she's a doctor, and she's a top ER nurse at the best hospital in Brooklyn." I poke him in the chest. "Something you, my friend, will only aspire to."
He sighs. "You're really upset that I'm not doing the overtime shift, aren't you."
"Exactly," I say, and sigh. "Just don't get any delusions of grandeur, Dr. Fumblefingers. And next time you schedule a rotation, let me know ahead of time."
Sure enough, later that evening I'm working with someone I can't stand. Sure enough, we get called to back up paramedics on a cardiac arrest.
We arrive first on-scene to find an 80-year-old woman with a past cardiac history complaining of chest pain radiating to her left arm. It's a classic heart attack. I tell my partner to give her some oxygen and get on the radio to ask for the ETA of the medics.
All of a sudden, the doorbell rings, and in walk the medics with our paramedic student in tow. Bronson starts to strut when he sees me, even as he tries to pretend he doesn't know me. I decide to get even with him on our next shift. For now, I observe as he asks questions of the patient, does an EKG on her, and prepares to start an IV, just like a pro. He ties a blue elastic band around her upper arm to temporarily impede her blood flow, then asks one of the paramedics for an 18-gauge catheter. He starts inserting the IV catheter as the medic advises him to go easy because the patient has delicate veins.
Tragedy strikes. Bronson pushes the needle too hard and the woman's flesh swells around the catheter. He blows the vein.The woman howls.
Bronson is crestfallen and glances at me, expecting me to gloat. But how can I? I feel like a mother watching her son graduating from junior high. He's taking the next step up in his career, and is looking very impressive. "Don't worry, rookie," I tell him. "Everyone misses sometimes.You'll get the next one."
The paramedics take over, successfully start the line in the woman's arm, and push the appropriate drugs, while me and my irritating temporary partner assist in the speedy transport of the patient to the nearest hospital.
En route, Bronson catches my eye. I can see he's nervous around the medics, eager to do everything right. "Thanks," he whispers sotto voce.
I smile and whisper back, "No problem, kiddo."
Ms. Klopsis is an emergency medical technician who works on an FDNY ambulance in Brooklyn.This column details her observations and experiences. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients.