Ambulance 87, take the response. Maplewood Nursing*, on the second, for shortness of breath.”

Patrick* and I worked every Tuesday together and had become good friends. He was about my height, but maybe 30% bigger, and he liked to play hockey in his spare time. We lit up and responded out to the Maplewood.

Normally the Maplewood is an easy place to get in. They are more concerned about the residents getting out. We simply push the alarm-disable button outside and then walk right in. Getting out requires entering a code at an alarm panel, but the code is posted next to the keypad. I guess the theory is that the dementia patients won’t notice it.

All that changes at 8:00 PM. They lock the doors, and you have to use the intercom to get in.

We rang the bell as always. One of the night staff came to the door. I’ll be charitable and say she didn’t speak English as a first language. I’m not sure she spoke English at all. She stared at us, and cocked her head. Two men in uniforms with EMT patches on their sleeves, stretcher, portable oxygen tank, ambulance in the driveway still blinking its lights. Whatever could these guys want?

Patrick yelled through the door: “Let us in!”

She paused, looked at the keypad, and then punched the first number. <BEEP> She looked back at us for a minute. Second digit. <BEEP> Look, pause, <BEEP>. Look, pause, <BEEP>. The whole time, Patrick was yelling, “Just open the door, we can do the alarm,” and pointing to our button.

She punched the numbers so slowly, the system had forgotten the first one by the time she reached the end. She frowned at the keypad, stared at us for a few seconds, and started again. <BEEP>. Look, pause, <BEEP>. Same result.

Patrick was starting to get red. “Just open the damn door!”

She took one more look at us, and walked away.

A minute later a fellow employee arrived. Same language handicap, same lack of a clue, same result.

By now Patrick was livid. He was jumping up and down, pointing at the crash bar, and screaming, “Just open the F***ING door!” I thought he was about to break through the glass with his bare hands. She finally got the hint and pushed the emergency exit bar, but she stood in the doorway blocking our way. Patrick and I stormed in. He checked her out of the way, and we started for the elevator at a trot.

The offended employee ran after us, shouting, “Lucy! Loooooocy!” I have no idea what she wanted, but as the elevator doors closed I looked at Patrick and in my best Ricky-Riccardo accent said, “You got some ‘splainin’ to do.” We both cracked up laughing.

When the doors opened on the second floor, we could hear Mrs. Jones* struggling to breathe. We stopped giggling and went immediately to work. She’d been in severe distress the whole time we’d been negotiating the back door. Five precious minutes wasted because these folks couldn’t understand why an ambulance crew would want to get into a nursing home!

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