An officer meets us as we walk up to the apartment building. “She’s in that apartment. Watch your step as you go in, there’s blood all over the place. Looks like she bit her tongue. We’ll have a green sheet for you in a few.”
We were called here for a 5150 but it’s looking like there’s more going on than someone who voiced suicidal thoughts. Once an officer hears a person say they want to kill themself, they have to write up a Form 5150 – it’s on green paper so we just call it a green sheet. Basically the 5150 is a tool used by law enforcement to hold an unstable person for 72 hours during which time they are psychologically evaluated. More often than not they are not “suicidal” – they just said the wrong thing at the wrong time or PD has nothing else to hold them on so they get the person off the street using the 5150 because it’s less paperwork for them.
Walking into the apartment I see two more officers standing in front of a slim woman in her forties. She’s sitting on a chair in front of a closet with blood dripping down her chin – enough to saturate her shirt. She has ligature marks around her neck which are consistent with the belt that is sitting next to her. Looking in the closet I see the closet rod is broken in the middle.
The officer lets me take it in before he gives me the update. “Hey guys, this is Sandy. She’s been going through some pretty rough times and she tried to kill herself today. She drank a bottle of wine and put a belt around her neck and tied it to the closet rod. She hung there for maybe ten seconds before the rod broke. When she hit the ground she bit her tongue pretty bad. The blood freaked her out so she called 911.”
As I kneel down to examine Sandy I see the bottle of wine on the side table – it’s a Mondavi Pino Noir; not the usual crappy two-buck-chuck that they sell in the local liquor stores. Sitting next to the bottle is a Riedel Vinum wine glass. Riedel is known for being shaped so that the wine lands on your palate just so, and you pay for the privilege – a single glass can cost $25 or more. Well, she gets points for taste even if she can’t calculate load bearing stability very well.
“Hi Sandy, I’m going to be taking you to the hospital to get you checked out. Can you open your mouth so I can see what’s going on?” Sandy nods her head and opens her mouth. Pulling out my flashlight I see that she’s nearly severed the end of her tongue – it’s being held on by less than a half inch, yet the bleeding has slowed to a small trickle. I pull out a sterile piece of gauze and tell Sandy to pinch her tongue with her fingers as we walk out to the ambulance.
Once in the rig I can assess Sandy a little better. She checks out fine aside from the tongue and a minor abrasion to the chin. My only real concern is if the attempted hanging caused any damage to the throat that could cause airway obstruction issues or if her tongue were to swell to the point that it blocked her airway. Admittedly these are big concerns, yet I don’t find anything that would make me light up the rig and drive fast.
Sandy’s not much for conversation – partially because she’s holding her tongue (literally) and the reality that if not for the closet rod breaking she would be dead right now. We start driving towards the trauma center – I don’t plan to trauma activate her but I want her in the trauma center where they are prepared – in case the swelling causes any issues over the next hour or so.
I dim the lights in the back and tap away on my laptop as we take a quiet drive to the ED. I’ve watched partners in the past who will talk to people on a 5150 to try and figure out where they went wrong and offer advice. I have mixed feelings about that as it’s not necessarily our function in the medical community. Although I’ve probably taken more psych classes than my peers I feel it’s my job to treat the physical condition and understand the mechanism that led to the injury – so as to give as much information to the nurses and doctors that will continue to care for the patient. I feel it’s inappropriate to play Paramedic Psychoanalyst.
I’ve transported more people on 5150s for voicing suicidal ideation than I can even count – one man was even placed on a hold for texting it. But this is a different presentation. Sandy wanted to end her life so desperately that she put together a plan and acted on it. The carpenter that installed the closet will never know that had he put a third closet rod support in the middle, as he should have, a woman would be dead right now.