In EMS, we often joke that “minding my own business” is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Generally, when a victim of violence starts out his story with those words, it means exactly the opposite. He was in fact sticking his nose in someone’s business and they took violent exception to that intrusion. So, it is with some trepidation that I start my story that way, but here goes.
I was sitting in the meeting room of an organization I belong to waiting for our monthly meeting to start. Another member who I had never met before was discussing one of several issues that were likely to come up later on and I was generally in agreement with him. Minding my own business, as the saying goes. Kevin, one of the directors of the club came over and asked me if I’d “look at” another member who wasn’t feeling well. Kevin knows what I do because of a preveious incident that I wasn’t involved in, but involved a close friend of mine. I wasn’t eager to do this, but then again, Kevin is a nice guy and I didn’t feel comfortable telling him no. Ironically, the other member I was talking with is a RN, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking him to come with me since he’s new and no one really knows what he does for work.
Kevin brought me over to another part of the room and told pointed out the ill member. I don’t know if Kevin told him anything about me, but I didn’t introduce myself, I just sat down and asked Rob what was going on.
“My back has been killing me for a few days and I’ve been taking Tylenol and Motrin for the pain. I think the medications have messed up my stomach.” As he said this he was pressing on his upper abdomen, right below the Xiphoid Process. Pressing hard.
So, I started to ask some questions.
“Is the pain sharp or dull?”
“Any trouble breathing?”
“Nausea or vomiting?”
“Break out into a cold sweat?”
Damn! At this point I felt his radial pulse which was strong, regular, and rapid. I also felt his forehead which was coolish and damp. Damn some more.
“Listen Rob, you really should go to the hospital for this. How long have you had this stomach pain?”
“All day. I don’t want to go to the hospital, this is an important meeting.”
“The meeting isn’t that important, your health is. I can’t tell you what’s going on, but it’s concerning enough that if you were my patient you’d already have th e cardiac monitor on.”
“I don’t think it’s my heart.”
“Famous last words.”, at least I said that to myself.
“Rob every time someone tells me that they don’t think it’s their heart, it turns out that it is their heart.”
Denial is more than just a river in Africa.
“Well, I go later if it doesn’t get better.”
“Rob, it’s not going to get better.”
“Let me ask you a couple more questions, but I warn you I’m about two seconds away from giving Kevin the high sign to call an ambulance.”
“Rob, compared to the pain in your back you’re having, how is the pain in your stomach?”
“The back pain is nothing compared to the stomach pain.”
Have I said “Damn!” yet? Well, I’ll throw in another one just in case.
“Does pressing in on your stomach like that help the pain?”
“I don’t think it does, I just think I want it to, but it doesn’t.”
At which point Rob stopped pressing on his stomach and started to rub his biceps.
“Are you cold, Rob?”
“Why are you rubbing your arms like that?”
And then he said…
“Because both of my arms hurt and my hands are numb.”
I managed not to shout out,
“Holy Fucking Shit!” ,
but it was a close thing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same thing. Call an ambulance. So, I mentioned that to Rob and once again got a firm no. He did, however agree to have another member drive him to the nearest ER, which was about 10 minutes away. Which also about how long it would take for the ambulance and fire department to get there and start all over again, because I wouldn’t expect them to take my word for what was going on. Far from ideal, but better than arguing with him for another twenty minutes. This is not what I’d do if he was actually my patient and this were an actual medical call. In that case I’d have my equipment, my uniform, a bunch of other people in uniform with me, and the big white truck with the blinky lights. All of which have some persuasive power that a guy in jeans and a T shirt doesn’t have. Sometimes you have to settle for the best you can get.
So, with some trepidation, I let Rob’s friend drive him away and hoped for the best.
Unlike a real call, I’ll probably get some follow up since I talk to Kevin from time to time and he’s friendly with a close friend of mine. I might even see him before the next meeting.
From now on I think I’m going to lie when people ask me what I do for a living. Maybe I’ll tell them I’m an account or some other boring sounding job.