“Wait” by Ron Riekki
By Ron Riekki
One of the EMTs talks about a medic walking into his ambulance company to ask for directions. The H.R. person is there, gives him the directions. Before he leaves, he happens to mention that he’s a medic. She tells him to hold on, would he like a job?
No job interview.
Hired on the spot.
There’s an EMT shortage. A medic shortage. A nursing shortage. A doctor shortage.
The EMT heading our mandatory every-two-year recertification class says she talked with another instructor at a different school, mentioned the shortage. He said, hold on, you know how many students we’re graduating every other month? A ton.
There’s a bunch of EMTs in our recert class. She asks the class, how many of you are renewing your EMT license?
Everyone raises their hand.
Then she asks, how many of you are working as EMTs?
Only a few raise their hand.
She asks what the other people are doing.
They’re working for a chemical company, going to school at Berkeley, working in hospitality, a bunch of other things.
Why aren’t you all working as EMTs?
Because I don’t want to get paid what a fast-food worker gets paid.
The EMT next to me says that he can’t believe the number of drug addicts where he’s stationed. The amount keeps growing, he says.
The EMT next to him says that he can’t believe the number of shootings where he works. Nonstop, he says, shootings nonstop.
I tell him about walking into the prison for an EMT job. They usually ask you a bunch of medical questions to see if they want to hire you. The only question they asked me was, What would you do if a prisoner jumped off a top bunk and he, on purpose, tried to land head first, with his head tilted to the side, to try to break his neck?
I gave the standard answer of BSI, PPE, C-spine. A short, simple answer.
They reacted like I’d just graduated from Stanford Medical School, like I was a genius. Good answer, they said.
I got hired on the spot.
The EMT next to me talks about how the drug addicts are getting desperate. How they’re getting to be better actors. It’s like someone is training them, giving them acting lessons, teaching them the signs and symptoms to legitimate diseases and trauma so that they can get fentanyl. It’s like total desperation, he says. He told one guy he wasn’t going to get any pain meds, so the guy jumped out of the back of the ambulance. Tells of one woman who got in her tub and gave herself second- and third-degree burns. For fentanyl.
You carry fentanyl?
Yeah. And they want it bad.
An instructor tells us about carfentanil being out there now. How it’s 18,000 times stronger than fentanyl. Killer, he says. This’ll kill you. He points to the word carfentanil up on the screen in front of us. 18,000X written after it.
This job’ll kill you, the EMT next to me says. I’m burnt, he says. The hours. I’m burnt. I just don’t care anymore. He looks me straight in the eyes to emphasize what he’s just said.
I just got done talking with a medic just minutes before him. He tells me how much he likes his job, but says it so deadpan that I don’t know if it’s true or not. But I think it is. He tells me he was just overseas, contracted through the military, teaching guys with guns how to do first aid, how to stop bleeds, in hopes that at the very least they’ll put more time into the first aid than into the guns. He talks about how he likes to keep people alive. He says, someone gets shot, what are you gonna do for them?
Exactly. Like skin. Right? That’s the way you want to think. Someone has an injury, you want to know how to treat them? Try to think what they were like before the injury. You want to supply them with what they’re missing. If they have a hole in them, do they usually have a hole there? No. So let’s get rid of that hole.
I ask, People were getting shot over there when you were there?
Oh, yeah, he says. We had one guy who got shot and didn’t realize it till three hours later. He got shot and went back to work and with his job he had to keep his arms down close, tight to his body. He was naturally blocking the hole, so the blood couldn’t get out. He raised his arm and, suddenly, he saw.
I ask what country he was in.
The EMT next to me motions to the room we’re in. There are long boards and traction splints for us to practice with. The thing about the training that I don’t like, he says, is it’s nothing like this out there. You can’t get people ready for what’s out there.
The other EMT says, yeah, that he responded to a mass stabbing. Multiple people stabbed. The guy who did it, shot. Dead. The EMTs walk in, to get to the patients. Walk passed the dead guy. Right next to the body. And suddenly they start telling for the EMTs to get away. The dead guy could have a bomb on him. So they get out of the scene. The problem is that they should have said that sooner.
It’s chaos out there these days, he says.
Chaos, says the other EMT.
Nothing you can do. Just plug up the holes.
Ron Riekki’s books include U.P. (Ghost Road Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press). Riekki co-edited Undocumented (Michigan State University Press) and The Many Lives of The Evil Dead (McFarland), and edited And Here (MSU Press), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (MSU Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book).