My Life in EMS – Chapter 2

R. Papa Nyk Lindsoe

Never fear, Flash is here!

Yep, that was my non de plume when I was an orderly in the ER of Minneapolis General Hospital back in 1963! I was proud of it too. Not only could I move fast but my hands were “the fastest I’ve ever seen” according to one doctor. Actually speed wasn’t always necessary, accuracy was more of an asset, and that took me awhile to learn.

When I applied for the job as an orderly, there were two openings, one in the ER and one in Male Medicine – the infamous “Men’s Ward.” Now, I don’t know if anyone remembers them but at one time hospitals were built with wards only – no two bed or, God forbid a private room. To me that was like saying, “Dude, don’t get sick or you’ll end up losing your clothes, your privacy and possibly your anal virginity in the MEN’S WARD!” Thank God they assigned me to the ER where I only had to deal with puking drunks who played grab ass and psychos, both patient and staff. I also got to play janitor, bodyguard, maggot cleaner and bather amongst other fun tasks.

There were occasional moments of excitement like when this one drunk decided he didn’t like me so he jumped off his gurney and punched me. As usual, I reacted pretty fast and he landed on the floor. Of course my supervisor, Olive Lindbergh heard the commotion and came running. Without a pause she yelled at me. Umm, hey lady I was defending myself!

“You should have called for help.”

OH, must have missed that part in the manual. Was I supposed to do that while he was hitting me in the face or after? Hey wait a minute, there was no manual.

Umm, lady I have a right to defend myself with or without verbal accompaniment. Can I help it if I’m called Flash for a reason?

She got even two days later when the ambulance brought in an old drunk who had been sleeping in a basement window well for several days. His legs were in pretty bad shape and when I started to remove his socks they moved. I mean they moved by themselves or maybe it was the wiggly little white things on his ankles. Rephrase, in his ankles.

OK, nineteen year old kid, relatively new to the world is undressing a rather malodorous old man who’s down on his luck and needs help, but his socks moved! When I finally got them off and saw maggots in his ankles I almost lost it. I had no idea what to do so I calmly screamed “Nurse!”

In less than a second my buddy, Ms. Lindbergh was by my side asking me why I was yelling.

“His socks moved. His ankles are full of maggots and I do not have a cellphone because they haven’t been invented yet.”

“Calm down Flash (She said my name with such crisp disdain), just get a basin and clean them out” says she.

“With what?” Says I.

“A spoon.”

“A spoon? You want me to use a spoon on a man’s ankle like I’m eating a bowl of cereal – scoop it up?”

By now I’m wondering if the Men’s Ward wasn’t a better idea.

“Do I use a sterile spoon?”

“No, just get a clean one” she says as we walked out of the room. “Call me when you’re done and I’ll have a doctor look at him.”

I’m thinking. OMG, I get to use a real medical tool to work on a patient. I’m on my way to becoming a neurosurgeon.

By this time I’m starting to feel sorry for the guy. Hell, down on his luck, sick, probably going into DTs soon and a future neurosurgeon is going to dig into his ankles with a spoon. If I were him, I’d be out the door and down the street about now, however, he was incapable of doing that.

Once I finished cleaning the guy up, I called for the nurse who sent in one of the Interns working the ER that night on rotation. He didn’t say a word to me. He looked at the man, asked him a question, got no response then walked out without looking at, or commenting about what I had done. Next thing I know I’m wheeling the poor guy up to the Men’s Ward where he lasted a few days before dying. Don’t think I ever knew his name – wonder if anyone did?

Now don’t take this as a condemnation of all doctors but this Intern was better suited to be working in a slaughter house than a hospital. He had no bedside manner, no leadership skills and the disposition of garden slug. Happy to say he was an oddity – most of the interns, residents and instructors were decent, caring people.

I think my biggest problem getting used to working in the ER was all the student nurses flitting around. Talk about a bevy of beautiful girls in white looking for Dr. Husband. You could almost cut the tension with a butter knife. Being an orderly I was safe from the onslaught. I was well beneath their level of interest I guess.

Back to my homework. In my next post, I go on my first ambulance ride in a 1959, low-boy Harvester Travelall ambulance. It’s the one on the far left in the pic.

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