1 : the establishment or starting point of an institution, activity, or idea
2 : the beginning of something, such as an undertaking; a commencement: origin
3 : Inception; a movie released in 2010, directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Leonardo DiCaprio
There is one skill that is shared by Paramedics across the country and around the world: the ability to sleep – anywhere, anytime, even after seeing some of the most disturbing things imaginable. It’s an acquired skill that is necessary for survival and longevity in this profession. As we work our twelve, twenty-four, and even forty-eight hour shifts the “power nap” becomes a tool for staying sharp to handle the next set of challenges brought upon us by the call of the dispatcher on the radio. We have the ability to tune out the ramblings of the dispatcher and sleep while sitting in the front seat of the rig, sunglasses hiding our closed eyes, until hearing that magic call sign that is unique to our unit. Then we snap awake to hear the instructions of the dispatcher as we’re sent to the next call.
This isn’t quality sleep by any means – it’s a light sleep in which the mind wanders, decompresses, and explores, freed of conscious direction. With the constant cycle of adrenaline and boredom throughout the day, the body takes this time to process toxins and stimulants through the kidneys and liver to attempt to return to a metabolic equilibrium. The byproduct of this kind of sleep is vivid, chaotic, and sometimes insightful dreams.
After the week I’ve had and the last call that took almost three hours to complete all I can think about is closing my eyes for just a few minutes to recharge. I’m on my fourth day in a row; twelve on followed by twelve off for four days puts me at the end of my endurance level anyway, and the last call pushed me over the edge.
I’m in the rural corner of my mostly urban county. It’s a suburban area with farms, quiet neighborhoods, and vineyards. A big rig full of grapes left this area headed towards one of the big wine processing plants. The freeways were slick from the rain as the big rig was cut off by a minivan, causing it to jack-knife on the freeway. The freeway was instantly covered with literally tons of grapes. Multiple secondary accidents happened within seconds of the first one. My partner and I were one of many units that arrived on scene to try to make sense of an accident stretching across more than a hundred yards of fruity smelling freeway, with multiple patients and injuries ranging from shoulder pain secondary to seat belt straps, up to life threatening internal injuries requiring a helicopter ride to a trauma center.
We found ourselves pushing gurneys through mounds of grapes, doing multiple rapid assessments, triaging the worst injuries for immediate transport, calling in additional units, coordinating a landing zone on the freeway and finally leaving the scene with three patients with minor injuries – we were the last ambulance out of there.
We arrive at the ED and I spend an hour doing three sets of patient care reports. I’m exhausted, wet from the rain, and all I can smell is grapes, which is actually refreshing compared to the normal EMS smells that assault me on a regular basis. As we arrive at the post back in the rural corner of the county I put on my sunglasses, turn down the EMS radio and stare at the rain drops on the windshield as my eyes slowly shut.