Off Duty

The phone shatters the darkened peace of the bunkroom. “Medic 9 and Ambulance 9, to Well Known Bar for the unconscious asthma attack,” says the dispatcher.

We plow through the foggy night, headed down to the water’s edge in our red and white disco bubble. A fire engine emerges from a side street and joins us, turning our pair into a parade.

Outside our destination we find a group of eight, all waving and talking at once. There’s no sign of an uncoscious patient. “He had a bad asthma attack.” “He couldn’t find his inhaler.” “He passed out!!!” (this one shouted at us.) Eventually the group shoves one member forward, waving an albuterol rescue inhaler. It seems he is the HE we’re looking for. He’s found his inhaler.

We wave off all of our backup. This won’t be a respiratory arrest. Four firemen and two EMTs saddle up and disappear back into the fog from whence they came.

One member of the crowd, perhaps a decade older and a beer or two more sober, leans in close to me and states quietly, “It looked like anxiety to me.” While he is talking, I hear another member of the crowd address my partner. “I’m an EMT for [the competition.] It was a bad asthma attack, but I talked him through it.”


Another day, another city. “Medic 9, respond to Kwick-E-Mart for an overdose. Patient will be in a car at the pumps. PD requesting.”

Two police units surround an old subcompact parked interestingly at the Diesel pumps. We pull into the other side of the island as an officer talks to the passenger, now outside the car. The second officer points to the driver as we dismount.

He’s uncouscious and breathing less than four times a minute, still seated behind the wheel with his feet on the pedals. My partner starts him off with an intramuscular injection of Narcan while I get the stretcher out. We hold our breath waiting for it to take effect. Instead he stops breathing altogether.

My partner grabs his shoulders, and I grab his legs for a rapid extrication. We need more room to work on him, and we need it now. In the tight space between the car and the gas pump we cannot walk around the stretcher, so we hand him back to the firefighters. As his feet pass me, I notice he’s wearing a pair of Magnum duty boots.

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