Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Don't Take the Ambulance

It’s a little late, but Happy New Year. I’d planned to post on Monday, but I was at the hospital Sunday night through Monday morning with an elderly family member who is fine now.

I did learn one very important thing Sunday night. Don’t take the ambulance. When we called 911, the fire fighters arrived first. They were courteous, eager to help, and professional. Then the EMS people came. Actually, they didn’t. We waited and waited and waited. (The fire fighters were volunteers, who were home with their families, got the call, met at the station, and came out. So a chunk of time was involved.) And still we waited for the ambulance. Turns out that they got lost. M’kay...this does not bode well.

My relative needed to be carried to the stretcher. EMS1 told the fire fighters to help his partner—he didn’t want to get dirty. His partner EMS2 was not happy, and yelled. (The fire fighters picked up the patient without rolling their eyes. Very impressive.)

EMS1 mumbled that he needed to check the patient’s blood glucose, but he couldn’t find his glucometer. He checked every cupboard in the ambulance. But it wasn’t there. He asked the fire fighters if he can borrow theirs. They told him that they don’t carry one. (I’m not sure why he thought they would—fires don’t usually need their glucose levels monitored.)

I was asked to ride in the ambulance because my relative doesn’t speak English very well anymore. That was fine. Then, EMS2 asked the fire fighters if she could follow them, so she wouldn’t get lost. The fire fighters said, “Okay.”

On the drive, the ambulance driver EMS2 picked up her cellphone and made a phone call. EMS1 rebuked her—they could get in a lot of trouble for that. EMS1 got hot and turned on the air conditioning. My relative complained that she was very cold. I told the EMS guy, who put a thin blanket on her. It didn’t help. After I told EMS1 three times that she was very cold, he finally sighed and turned off the AC. Then my relative complained of nausea. EMS1 handed me a barf bag and told me to take care of her—he didn’t like vomit. At this point, I considered advising him to find a new job. But I didn’t.

Thankfully, we made it to the hospital. Though things didn’t fair much better there. While my relative did receive very good medical care at the hospital, they lost her glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and medications (all things that they told us we had to leave with my relative when she was admitted).

The morale of the story is don’t call the ambulance, get someone to drive you to the hospital. Okay, that’s probably not wise. I’m sure that most EMS workers are conscientious, knowledgeable, and competent. Here’s a better morale: If the ambulance takes more than thirty minutes to show up, it’s probably better if you don’t wait any longer and drive yourself.


  1. That's unbelievable! My brother just had a very similar experience, He was up in NYC visiting friends, fell on the street and broke his kneecap. An ambulance came, and they were AWFUL to him. One of them told my brother he deserved it for drinking (when my brother hadn't even been drinking). I've heard a number of stories like these. It's sad. And also anger-inducing.

  2. What an ordeal! When I called an ambulance for my mother, many years ago, the firefighters arrived first, but the ambulance came right after. But the ambulance workers were professionals and probably helped my mother survive. I'm sorry you didn't have the same experience.

  3. Several years ago one of our elderly congregation members was in an auto accident just outside the church parking lot. The ambulance did not take long to arrive, and transported him. However when he finally looked through the bag containing his clothes etc, his wallet was missing a $100 dollar bill that ostensibly no one knew anything about.

    When I had my heart attack, my wife drove me to Kaiser in record time. Had she called 911 I would have been taken to the closest hospital, I would have been billed an exorbitant amount, and still would have need a transfer to the Kaiser hospital.

  4. That's awful! I'm sorry that happened to your family, but I'm glad to hear your relative is okay now. I've heard similar stories. It's just very sobering to know these are possibly the type of people who might be responsible for saving your life. :P

  5. Oh wow I can't believe that people can be so callous.

    Glad to hear your relative is better now.

  6. For the military my husband had to receive EMT certification and ended up doing a few ambulance ride-alongs. Having helped him study for his test, I was shocked by how LITTLE he had to know to get his certification.

    EMTs are not doctors. Their job is to monitor your vitals and get you to the closest hospital where they can dump you off onto someone who does know a thing about medicine.

    Also, most medical insurances don't cover the cost of an ambulance which can be upwards of $1200.

    I think if you're breathing and conscious, you should drive yourself or find someone to drive you.

    Sorry you had a sucky experience in any case.

  7. Sorry your experience was so bad. When Mom went by ambulance a couple of weeks ago the firemen and EMTs were all great, professional and actually seemed to know what they were doing. Besides the heart problem they were there for, she also had a broken femur that was healing and other physical problems, so getting her onto a gurney was not an easy task, but they did it in a kind, caring manner.

    We followed in the car, but knew she would be getting good care on the way to Kaiser. They even had a glucometer with them!

    In one of the recent hospital-bouts I talked with a lady who had a son who was an EMT. She said the only way to become a fireman was to be an EMT first, so obviously some people are meant to be firefighters, but not EMTs. Luckily for Mom she got some good ones. (This is in San Diego...who knows how the system works elsewhere~)

  8. What a terrible experience. I know you're a very sweet lady, but that sort of behavior on the part of the EMTs should be reported to their boss. Such incompetence and lack of caring could cost someone his life.

    Not because of your dreadful experience, but the circumstances would have to be very dire before I'd call an ambulance. It's the cost. Unbelievably outrageous.

  9. Um, okay that's scary. I'm glad in the end things turned out okay. I've never had to call EMS (knock on wood) and if I do, I hope they are professional and swift.