I grew up in a culture where drinking alcohol was expected. I began drinking at the age of 15. My first experience was memorable. My best friend’s dad threw a beer party and I drank 5 pitchers of beer by myself. I was sick for two days and for the first time in my life, wished I was dead. My seven brothers tried their best to keep me intoxicated day and night. I tried hard to keep up with them, but after a few drinks, I usually ended up unconscious. I was growing weary of being broke, hungover and reeking of cigarette smoke. My career as an alcoholic was an utter failure.
By the time I was 20, my habits began to change. Though I still went to bars and played pool with friends, I started drinking only soft drinks. I went to bars because that’s what everyone did. I thought one day, just maybe, I’d find the woman of my dreams….in a bar.
I’d been working in a plastics manufacturing factory for a couple of years. My dad tried to encourage me to follow in his footsteps, but plastics manufacturing just wasn’t my thing. I knew it broke his heart a little when I told him that.
My dad and I were very close. We’d been driving to work together for 2 years. He worked as an estimator, while I worked in the raw materials warehouse. It wasn’t the most exciting job, but it was a job. It gave me a paycheck and I learned to manage the inventory of the warehouse, which was an accomplishment for a 20-year-old without much life experience.
I remember sitting in our kitchen one day, talking with my mom when she told me there was a new EMT class starting up. She encouraged me to look into it.
Was my mom trying to get me to follow in her footsteps?
My mom had been a volunteer EMT for a few years and enjoyed it a lot. For some reason, she thought I would too.
So I went to the first class, thinking it would be nice to have a little medical knowledge in case I was ever confronted with an emergency. I had absolutely no interest in working on an ambulance.
There were about 15 students in the class. I got registered and took a seat. The instructor, a lanky man named Bruce had us introduce ourselves then explained his expectations and rules for the class.
He was a warm and intelligent man with a wonderful sense of humor. Bruce would become one of my role models for disaster preparedness and he would leave the world soon in the most ironic way.
He loaded a movie in the projector, dimmed the lights, and asked us to take out a pen and a sheet of paper to jot down some notes. The movie was an instructional film on how to do a surgical cricothyroidotomy. We watched as the instructor explained the steps involved, then demonstrated on a live goat, how to perform the procedure.
I’m not sure to this day if one of the goals was to weed out the squeamish or not, but it struck me as a bizarre way to begin a basic EMT class.
No soft entry for us. No warm and fuzzy discussions about becoming a caring member of the healthcare community. No introduction to the skeletal system.
“Here, let me show you the right way to cut someone’s throat open….and please try not to vomit on the person next to you.”
I was enthralled.
The wheels in my head spun at warp speed.
“Are you kidding me?
We actually get to do this stuff…
and it’s legal?”
The EMT class met 3 hours a night, once a week for 9 months. I devoured the material and did well on the written and practical tests. Bruce saw my potential, but I still had no interest in ever working on an ambulance.
In those days, you were allowed to be certified as either an ‘ambulance’ or a ‘non-ambulance’ EMT. The ‘ambulance’ designation was for people who wanted to work or volunteer with a fire department or rescue squad. The ‘non-ambulance’ certificate meant that you passed the class, but had no desire to work on an ambulance.
When I registered for the class, I opted for the ‘non-ambulance’ certification, which meant I didn’t have to do any ride time on an ambulance which suited me just fine. All those red lights and sick people seemed way too hectic for me.
As the class began doing their rides with the fire department, I heard some of their stories, which, to be honest, sounded kinda cool. I became a little jealous and started wondering if I’d made a mistake.
I talked to Bruce about my dilemma. I asked if it was too late to re-consider my ‘non-ambulance’ status or at least do a couple of rides. Turns out, there was no dilemma. If I wanted to ride, he could arrange it. I’m pretty sure that made him happy.
I went to the fire station and met the Chief, who was a nice guy named Roger. He gave me a pager and took down my phone number, checked his calendar and told me the day I would ride. All I had to do was show up at the station as soon as I could get there when the pager went off. Since my grandmother lived two blocks from the station, I arranged to stay at her house when I was on call.
Little did I know that my first call, a few days later, would make me question whether I wanted to ride on an ambulance ever again.