Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Some years ago a televison producer did a survey of a “real life” show that sent camera crews along with emergency responders on various 911 calls and then followed through the first aid and transport to the hospital or whatever. They did car crashes, fires, violent quarrels, persons unconscious and so on. When the producers got the results of their survey to see who was watching the shows, they were startled to find that their most faithful watchers were pre-schoolers! (Don’t ask me how they did their survey, since most of these little folks could neither read nor write.)

These little guys were carefully noting what to do, remembering all the safety tips about handling dynamite or storing gasoline or preventing choking, though they were too small to ever perform a Heimlich Maneuver on any being bigger than a cat and not heavy enough to do chest compressions. Sometimes they COULD dial a phone and even knew their address. They CAN push OnStar in one of those communicating cars. Or sometimes a neighbor will sense trouble and request a welfare check, whereupon the ambulance crew might find a tiny mite next to his unconscious or even dead mother, a glass of water next to her head and a blanket unevenly pulled over her.

I can barely remember being the age when I was confident of my ability to cope with any emergency (when I wasn’t having ghastly nightmares) and officiously instructed others what to do. There was a right way for everything and people ought to do it, I thought. A comforting idea. Maybe this was exaggerated in part because I was born in 1939 and grew up hearing about the patriotic derring-do of soldiers, all failures and most tragedies being muted by newsreels and on the radio for the sake of an illusion of Churchillian omnipotence. As an adult it took me some effort to get over the grandiosity of thinking I could fix things and immediately plunging in to set the situation right. It was a handicap to a ministry, where humility and caution are far more helpful. But the same qualities were very helpful when I was an animal control officer and obligated to intervene.

So when someone sent me a blog entry about the results of an ostrich attack (death by disembowelment), I was eager to see what the emergency responder did and whether it worked. (They transported the bodies and the police shot the bird in self-defense, which resolved the danger.) This has turned out to be the doorway to a whole array of blogs written by emergency responders in the most vivid prose. As it turns out, they are more likely to be dealing with poor, old, addicted people than ostriches, so a social element enters into it. Some of these bloggers are very right-wing, law-and-order people -- just as I was as a little child -- but I probably have too much exposure to bleeding-heart liberals already, so it's a good corrective. If I saw what they see, dealt with what they must handle, and was as frustrated by stupid regulations as they are, I’d be a lot more like them.

In addition to blogging and partly due to POD technology, many of these people are selling books either composed of their blogs or along similar lines. If I had the money, I'd create me a library -- or at least a shelf -- of these books even though my days as an emergency responder are over. They're great story material and some are better written than most best sellers.

One of my shortcomings as a blogger is not linking enough, so I’ll link with some of my regular check-ins below. But it’s quite possible, once a person has found the first one, to blog-hop across a dozen of them, all various in tone and content. Some read like the most hard-nosed noir novels, especially the ones in the South where the tropical creepy-crawlies abound and people stay up through the relatively cool dark nights, getting into trouble. Or the ones in the city ghettoes where the dispatcher tries to urge caution and waiting for backup as two guys venture into collapsing buildings without enough information. On the other hand, there are episodes of enormous built-in comedy when dealing with naked people, over-amorous people, and the inevitable people who get their big toes stuck in the bathtub faucet for lack of anything better to do.

But there are also serious entries about procedures, equipment, and workshops that mean some people are taking their role professionally and striving to become ever more competent. Most moving to me are the stories about teamwork in which medics, cops, and bystanders collaborate to save an impossible situation. Painful to read are the ones that try to express the exhaustion, sordid working conditions, mocking, and contempt that come their way, especially in down times when they’ve tried to find some quiet corner to catch a few winks or eat a sandwich in a smelly, worn vehicle.

Perhaps the National Animal Control Association will trigger some of these kinds of blogsites for animal control officers, or maybe they’re out there and I just haven’t found the right links. The public rarely knows what really goes on in their “nabe” unless they hang by the scanner listening to dispatchers (and even then they don’t really see and smell the scene) or live in a place like a village or a reservation where nothing happens unobserved and one's neighbors might be the interveners.

This is probably the reason why so many of our laws and regulations are inhumane (like closing down the feeding of street people or evading emergency services in ritzy hospitals or denying various services to illegal immigrants or children) or simply unrealistic (like trying to legislate obsessive/compulsive old alcoholics out of keeping too many animals). The newspapers like happy-talk about sexy singles or athletic retirees. The television wants something really exceptional with a visual dimension they can play over and over, like a plane crash.

Our picture of the world has developed a serious distance from the reality of the world. Hopefully bloggers who “tell it like it is” can bring us back to our senses as well as teaching us what to do in situations we hope we’ll never face. After all, only a small number of us have OnStar and all they do is call 911. A three-year old could do that.

(I couldn't make these link, but maybe the URL is better anyway.)

Paramedic Blog (phillydan.spaces.live.com/PersonalSpace)

1 comment:

Bitterroot said...

Very interesting overview, as ever!