As an emergency medical technician (EMT) and outdoor emergency care technician, I see patients when they are in their most vulnerable state. I may be called for everything from a hangnail to a fractured femur with fractures of the vertebrae in the back and internal bleeding. They may also have vague, yet uncomfortable symptoms such as shortness of breath and nausea to name a few common complaints.
Here is what stinks about shortness of breath and nausea. While some medications can help, nausea doesn’t usually go away easily. Sometimes, I just wish that I would vomit, so the sensation goes away and my stomach feels a little better. In cases of people with shortness of breath, it is challenging because unless their oxygen saturation is below a certain percentage, you aren’t supposed to provide oxygen. Then there are some patients with some more serious injuries that are obviously life-threatening and time is of the essence. The way I care for the patient is the same. In their mind, it is an emergency, so I am called to do whatever I need to, within my scope of practice, to ensure they are properly cared while I am their provider.
Due to my extensive medical history and list of chronic illnesses, I too have been in that very scared and vulnerable position. I have been in a situation where I nearly passed out on to my friend from low blood pressure caused by dysautonomia and the paramedics didn’t take my complaints seriously. In fact, they made me ride on the bench seat of the ambulance unrestrained and they made me walk into the hospital when I could barely even stand. I stumbled a few times and nearly fell down the stairs. Fortunately, when I got to the hospital, the doctor took me seriously and got me the fluids I needed to stabilize me. But I will never forget how those paramedics treated me that day. It was a disgrace to the profession.
Chronic illnesses are unpredictable, so sometimes they complicate things and procedures go wrong. Imagine my surprise when I woke up in restraints on intubated and on a ventilator after a supposedly routine PICC line placement. I have been in those same situations where all I wanted was for someone to hold my hand and reassure me that everything was going to be okay. That is something that the very best healthcare providers of any level can do; reassure and calm the patient while dealing with the issues at hand. It takes a lot of practice and it is something I work on with every patient contact.
Pain in various parts of the body are another very common compliant. Because I live with the most painful medical condition known to modern medicine, I try to take others pain as seriously as possible, because no one wants to be in pain and I always want to be able to fix my patient’s pains, even if I know I can’t. Being in pain sucks and by living with it every day, I know firsthand. As an EMT, my ability to provide or assist with pain relieving medication is very limited. Over the years of living with chronic pain, I have learned various deep breathing and meditation techniques that draw the mind away from pain. I always try to have my patients take deep breaths and I usually try to distract them with something like a conversation about their family, hobbies, or favorite sports teams to name a few. If it is a young child, a small toy usually helps too.
I guess because I have seen both sides of illness and injury, it has shown me the best and worst of healthcare providers. No one is perfect, but when you are my patient, you will be treated the way I would want to be treated, because I have probably been in your shoes. I’m not perfect, but I will provide you with the best care I can whether I can see your complaint or not.