My Life in EMS – Chapter 3

Jan. 02, 2016

R. Papa Nyk Lindsoe

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Great New Year to Everyone.

Let’s hope 2016 is better than 2015, and 2017 worse than 2016.

    Working as an Orderly in a city hospital in the early 1960s was an adventure in learning. If I wanted to learn something, either the student nurses or the interns stopped me with a not so polite inference that it wasn’t in my job category. In retrospect, I think the student nurses were more aggressive about it. If they saw me helping a single intern they were dreaming of setting up housekeeping with. God forbid I should ever sit at their table for a meal or coffee.

Now don’t get me wrong, I had opportunities to get noticed. I was young, in decent shape, fairly good looking, and strawberry blonde hair. I got a lot of offers most of which were to buy my hair for wigs. I started out wearing it fairly long, but after a drunk decided a handful was a good handrail I cut it.

The ER was exciting, especially on pay day weekends when government checks came, and there was a full moon. Drunks, fights, accidents, and just plain morons filled the ER from sundown to sunup. You could even tell when we had heavy snow by the pregnant women in labor coming in. Snow storms in January could equal population explosion in September.

Interspersed between the poor old black man with epistaxis (Don’t swallow, please don’t – you have to spit the blood out!), and the young white kid who broke his arm trying to run down the up escalator, came the ambulances.

As I recall, at the time I started working in the ER, the hospital was owned by the city of Minneapolis (Minneapolis General Hospital), and it had six ambulances operating within the city limits. As I mentioned in the last chapter, they were International Harvester Travelall conversions of varied age, and condition. Four were kept parked in the two door, two deep, ground level garage under the Men’s Ward, the others either in the shop or parked in the courtyard when not in use, which was rare.

One of the first things I learned about the ambulance service was the term “Gomer-mobile.” It’s a rather derogatory term which, considering our new “politically correct police” is probably no longer heard, but we’re talking fifty years ago when there was real freedom of speech.

“And just what is a ‘Gomer-mobile?” you ask?

There were basically two types of “Gomers.”

The first being the chronic alcoholic who, having run out of money couldn’t afford to get a drink. This usually occurred within two to three days before retirement, disability, and/or assistance checks arrived. Perhaps they had received their money but had robbed – preying on the weak is not a new phenomenon.

Depending on individual addiction, an alcoholic may have onset Delirium Tremens (DTs) within 24 hours of the last drink consumed. This is a potentially life threatening condition which, left unchecked may cause a plethora of symptoms ranging from being pale to a major coronary emergency. Chronic alcoholics know this, and often seek relief even before onset by getting to the nearest ER for medication.

Unless a person lived (many were homeless) within walking distance to the nearest ER, transportation was necessary, BUT if the person had no money, how was he/she to hire a cab, ride the bus or even pay someone to take them? Easier to call the city hospital taxi aka ambulance service aka “Gomer-Mobile” for a free ride.

This practice was so inbred into the community, and the hospital that there was actually a list of routine stops set up to pick up repeat patients. All they had to do was call in, give their name and the ambulance would know where to go. All, this and no computers!

I joke, but mean no disrespect. Alcoholism, like any addiction is a serious illness requiring continued medical and psychological care.

Once the ambulance brought the patients in, it was my job to get the males undressed, take their vitals and clean them up for the doctors and nursing staff. It wasn’t unusual to discover infected sores and wounds, fleas, maggots and other critters on them. At first I was grossed out, but the more I cared for them the more I realized they were human just like me. I actually got to the point I was on a first name basis with some of them. Some I took to the morgue.

The second type of Gomer was, and maybe still is the hypochondriacs, and the lonely attention seekers. Realizing these are generalizations, I want to make clear my position that they, as with addictions ARE viable mental health issues. The primary difference being the level of emergency care required to treat. The problem for the emergency care worker is differentiating between actual physical issues, and those “imagined” by the patient. Whatever the case, the patient was, and I’m sure still is treated with respect and dignity by all emergency personnel.

Medical slang for a patient who “has lost–often through age–what goes into being a human being” (quote from Samuel Shem’s “The House Of God”). Typically an old demented non-communicative patient. Stands for “Get Out Of My Emergency Room”. Urban Dictionary, Web

Illness anxiety disorder, sometimes called hypochondria or health anxiety, is worrying excessively that you are or may become seriously ill. You may have no physical symptoms. Or you may believe that normal body sensations or minor symptoms are signs of severe illness, even though a thorough medical exam doesn’t reveal a serious medical condition.” Mayo Clinic, WEB

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