Monday, April 26, 2010

Asleep at the wheel

Being a paramedic on my 3rd recert and having been a full-time EMT and firefighter before that I have worked a 24/48(1 day on, 2 days off) or a Modified Detroit(1 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off, 1 on, 4 off) or some variant of that for most of my adult life. It was not new to me as my dad was a career firefighter as well, it's our way of life. Also I am married and have three children, two of which are still in grade school. So as you can imagine sleep can sometimes be hard to come by. Especially when on a double or even a triple(72 hours) shift. As a result of this I have developed the ability to sleep at will, anytime, anyplace. And I mastered the skill of power napping between calls. Places I've been found sleeping include: couches, beds, chairs, floors, my own car, someone else's car, once a kitchen floor, the passenger seat of the ambulance parked in the apparatus bay, found by the oncoming crew(mega-rough night, 22 transports in a 24 hour shift, my personal record), in front of the computer, in front of the TV and I know there are more, I just can't think of them now.

Sleep deprivation does amazing things to the mind, and often hilarity ensues. I once read a study that said sleep deprivation works on the human mind in almost an identical fashion as alcohol. The study showed that people who were sleep deprived had very similar reaction times and decision making skills as someone who was intoxicated. Kind of scary isn't it.

I was working with Mike, kind of a big burly teddy bear. You know the type. Big guy, talks tough, gruff and short at times, but really is a big gentle bear, wouldn't harm a flea. We were getting our booties handed to us in a bad way. We were on call 17 for the shift and it was 3am. We had just gotten to sleep and I suddenly heard talking on the radio. I had not heard the tones and we were about to miss a call or get a second tone. That's embarrassing to say the least, not to mention bad for PR and life safety(note: this is not something I can ever remember happening to me and I was not about to let it). I jumped out of bed and ran to the rig, opening the bay door and sitting in the passenger seat.
And I waited.


Waited a little more.

I jumped up and ran into the day room where I could hear Mike snoring away. "MIKE!!!" I yelled, "Get UP NOW!!, WE HAVE A CALL MAN!!!"
Mike jumped up choking on his own saliva, eyes popping out of his noggin and intellectually said "WHA? HUH?"
"Call Man, let's go!" He and I ran into the app bay and hopped in the rig, he fired the ol' beast up in time to hear the short report for the other medic unit. The call was not for us. Mike slowly leveled his very irritated gaze in my direction, anger oozing from his pores.
I said the first thing that came to mind. "Great drill Mike, Let's get some sleep buddy."
He got out of the ambulance and slammed the door and stomped off to his room and locked the door, all without saying a word.

The scariest one ever, I woke up in the bad part of town. Where we go to ODs and assaults. When I say I woke up I mean my first conscious thought was, I'm standing in the cold next to my ambulance in the middle of the night. Where am I? I looked at my partner and asked him as much and he shuddered and told me, then said "Dude, you drove us here."

We work in an area that covers a city but we respond all over the county and cover several volunteer fire departments. Sometimes we have up to an hour for responses. So my partner, being the blessed woman that she is, would let me sleep on the way to calls and wake me up when we were close. The other part of that deal was that I did the extra paperwork that would normally fall to her. This night I happened to be working with another partner who we'll call Deb. Deb was a part timer and a fairly level headed EMT and had been in the trade for a while. She could be relied upon(sometime I'll tell the story about how I accidentally super glued her fingers together). So she knew about my arrangement for sleeping on the way and had no problem with it. In our a response area there is a river that floods frequently. We normally know about it ahead of time and take precautions. This particular day, due to rainfall and high tides it had flooded and we did not know about it. So I was dozing on the way like normal and Deb, unaware of the flood state came careening around the corner and found the road to be covered in about 4 inches of standing water. Since she was going 40mph and had no stopping time we drilled it. I was asleep and was rudely jostled awake by the sudden speed decrease, it felt like the ambulance was stood on it's nose. Deb screamed, I screamed, and there was water all over the windshield. I knew what had happened, oh yes I did. She had gone into that great big river we are always rescuing people out of. In my suddenly adrenaline, enhanced, synaptic firing I knew I was dead. The spot where I imagined we were, the river runs 12 feet deep. And before I could stop it my fears exploded from my mouth. "You B----! You killed us!"
The water flowed off the windshield and we could see, the ambulance picked up speed as we left the large puddle. I then recognized the road and where we were. I could hear Deb giggling. I looked at her, heart still pounding and feeling all jittery from the adrenaline. Deb giggled again. She looked at me and said "What was that mister paramedic?" Fits of mirth and more giggling. "What did you just say?" luckily we were on scene soon and I didn't have to hear much more about it until later.

To this day it is still a saying around the station.

"You B----! You killed us!"


Ambulance Driver said...

LOL, good story.

I feel your pain about the sleep deprivation. I worked a 48/72rotation for eight years, and once worked thirty-two 24 hour shifts in a row.

I've been so tired driving that I hallucinated things in the road.

Sevyrr said...

I used to work the dreaded 48/72, it sucked. My record for days at work was 27 but a handful of them were 12s and the rest were 24s.