Though I have found a lot of joy in the things being a paramedic has enabled me to do, I found out today that I can find equal - if not more - joy in things that I can opt not to do.
We were dispatched for the "sick call," which was updated as we were halfway there to an ominous sounding "diarrhea, use caution." No further explanation other than that. My partner and I looked at each other with wide eyes, each betraying some deep-rooted fear arising from an inkling of what this call might have in store. This can't be good.
We arrived to find firefighters already on scene, clustered around the outside of the building and doubled over, arms covering their noses and gagging. At first it looked as if they were playing it up, exaggerating in some sort of juvenile stunt, but as we approached closer it became clear that their faces were serious and solemn. One of them walked slowly to my window as I rolled it down. "Just follow the trail," he said. "...And you'd better put your masks on."
With our courage up and masks on, we entered the building.
Down the dimly lit hallway there was a long path of feces on the floor. The amount was staggering in both the distance it traveled and the magnitude in which it did so, brown clumps and streaks pointed the way towards some yet unknown horror. We scrunched our noses under our masks, recoiling at the growing odor as we walked slowly on each side of the droppings. The path lead all the way down the hallway, around a corner and into an open apartment door. Reluctantly, we followed.
It was everywhere. On the walls, on the floor. On the toaster oven and everything else that was strewn about on the floor. The small room was in ruins, stifling in the thickness of it's presence and odor, we coughed and gagged through our green masks as we struggled to (and not to) take it all in. There was an old man, skin and bones, disheveled and wild in an almost ghoulish way, emerging from the depth of the mess. He was ragged and limping, his hair standing up straight as if terrified and struggling to escape their roots. A castaway on an island of filth, the man seemed to reign king over his own detritus, and he growled unintelligibly when we attempted to communicate with him.
Though it didn't appear as if the man was in any apparent distress, it was clear that we would have to remove him from the apartment and let the police lock it up until both parties could be washed clean. It was a simple social-services call, and we had a job to do. Barefooted, the man trudged through his apartment, pacing in wild, erratic circles as he shook his fist in protest. He, too, was caked with the foul stuff.
Somehow we were able to coax him onto our stretcher, and with extra blankets galore, we insulated him from the rest of us. "Let's make you really comfortable, sir," I said as I piled more blankets on.
Back down the hallway and up towards the fresh air, I smiled quietly at my partner. She glared back at me, and through our faces were partly covered by the masks the messages were clear: "You're going to BLS this one aren't you," she said with terrified eyes. I said nothing, but continued to smile.
At the ambulance we got a set of vital signs, avoiding and isolating the filth as best we could. They were stable. The man was without complaint save anger at his extraction. Slowly I crept backwards out of the ambulance, into the daylight and away from the increasingly foul-smelling patient compartment. "Let me know if you need anything," I said to my partner, winking. She glared at me some more as I closed the door.
The ride to the hospital was pleasant as I listened to the radio with the window down. The wind in my hair and a good song playing, I tapped the steering wheel to the beat and whistled the tune.
For those of you who will undoubtedly consider me rude for passing this call to my partner, let it be known that I was not without suffering of my own. While attempting to get the patient on the stretcher and carefully trying to avoid contaminating ourselves, my glasses became dislodged from my head and fell to the floor. Though I grabbed them up right away, they came in contact with a particularly dirty area of the carpet and became spoiled almost immediately. They were only $3.99 from a gas station, but I had these glasses for some time and they had served me well. Contaminated as they were, I just couldn't feel right putting them on my face again.
And so they were laid to rest in the biohazard bin:
RIP, my trusty shades.