Note: This is a repost. I’ve been a busy blogger and this post deserved a bump-up. Also, the “Fiance” in this post is now my lovely wife. Enjoy.
The other day I got off shift at 8am and had to be to work at my other full-time job at 10am. Since both of the jobs that I work at are about a half hour from my house in opposite directions it worked out that I had about a half hour to go home, perform the personal hygiene ritual, change uniforms, and get on my way to work again. So I did that, got home, fed the cat, and got all prettied up as quickly as I could. Then, without warning, on my way out of the house I noticed it: A pile of cat puke on my rug.
Yes, I like cats. I have one. She’s a keeper, regardless of her regurgitation issues. I think that I’m more of a man because I love my fluffy-wuffy lil’ Kitty-Witty. So cat puke on my rug isn’t the horror of horrors to me that it might be to some people. In EMS, we tend to get puked on by humans more often than does the regular population and that fact may have further desensitized me to the violent act of emesis perpetrated on my rug by my mostly cute little kitty. However, I do like a clean house and the cat puke on my rug is an issue that normally warrants immediate action.
But of course, that’s not what happened. And for those of you in a spousal relationship with another human being you know exactly what I did. You guessed it, I left the cat puke on my carpet and went to work. For those of you who are not in a spousal relationship with another human you may not understand the thought process here. Yes, as I looked down at the cat puke on my otherwise (mostly) spotless rug the thought that it must be immediately cleaned up did in fact occur to me; but the other thought that occurred to me was: “I can leave and go to work and when I get home, my lovely fiancé will have cleaned this up for me. She’ll think that the cat puked on the rug *after* I went to work and I’ll get off scot free!”
And so that’s what I did. Yes, I *could* have taken the five or so minutes it would have taken to clean up the cat puke but in my defense I’m a model employee and I need those extra five minutes of early arrival time at work to drink coffee and to tell everyone what a model employee I am. So if I would have cleaned it up I would have taken the risk of not being such a model employee. So you see, leaving the cat puke for my lovely, beautiful, and remarkably intelligent fiancé (who will probably read this, btw) to clean up was not something that I did because I’m lazy. It was something I did so I could continue to bring home the bacon for my family in the most productive manor possible.
That’s what I thought anyway, until I came home late that night after a hard day’s 10 hour shift off of a hard fought 24 hour shift spent saving lives and alleviating the suffering of the sick and injured and stepped in the same pile of cat puke on my carpet that I had courageously not cleaned up the morning before. True, she had put in a paltry 12 hour shift at the fire department practicing for the recliner racing 500 and had fed, bathed, and put our son to bed; but that didn’t stop my obviously well-earned righteous indignation to the pile of cat puke permeating my pile covered floor. She had decided (although she swears that she did not in fact see the pile of puke) that I should be the one to clean up the cat puke using some amount of flimsy logic that I have yet to understand.
So, to tie the above 646 words back into the title of the piece, “Cat Puke Chicken” is not the new special at your local Chinese Restaurant. It is the battle of wills that solidified between my fiancé and I as soon as my sock made contact with partially digested Kitty Kibble. We both subconsciously agreed to ignore the cat puke for as long as we could stand it in order to have the other person clean it up first. (See also: “Laundry Chicken”, “Last Sip of Milk in the Carton Chicken”, and “Couples’ Counseling”). This occurs a lot, unfortunately, in most relationships between other perfectly rational human beings. We know that we don’t like having cat puke on our carpeting; we obviously know that the cat puke should be cleaned up at the first available opportunity; and we also have continued doing the other things that we normally do to keep our houses from turning into slovenly hovels. In fact, while this has been going on I have cleaned numerous dishes, laundered, dried, and folded at least four loads of laundry, and have started (but not finished) three household improvement projects. I’m at least as good as a housekeeper as the next guy (Read: Not a good housekeeper) and I do indeed do my best to keep my family and myself from living in squalor.
So why, as two perfectly rational adults who um, chose to work in EMS, are we locked into this powerful battle of powerful wills? In a word: “politics”. Not the kind of politics that provide the revenue stream for the myriad of cable news networks, but the politics of household supremacy that truly affect our day to day lives. This isn’t Senator So-and-So bloviating about the fact that pork in the stimulus bill is in fact, not pork it’s me and the woman that I love and want to spend the rest of my life with deciding who shall be the designated Cat-Puke-Cleaner-Upper!! Pulse pounding stuff here.
And as with everything else, this got me thinking about politics in EMS.
Say you’re in a service way far away from anywhere where I work and you have a small volunteer squad that covers the areas that your service is not jurisdictionally bound to cover. Sure, your service would be glad to come if they called you, but somewhere back in history when the powers that be drew the political boundaries they decided that your service was not responsible to respond to the pleas for help that come from that particular geographic area. Suppose that your service just happens to be a small ALS service with two paramedic ambulances and a BLS ambulance on duty 24/7 and the other service was a BLS squad with volunteers coming from home and/or work. These volunteers are dedicated, caring individuals that want to do the best that they can for their friends and neighbors but work in a system where when a call for service comes out it takes about 20 to 25 minutes for the system to get an ambulance to the patient’s side. Say also that the service that you work for has your three ambulances and paramedics about 6 miles from their patients staffed and on duty but you can’t respond because the political system is such that you would be in trouble if you did so.
You may also relate to having that coworker in your EMS or Fire service that just isn’t up to par. They may be a basically qualified EMS provider through the state licensing body, but you still would cringe at the thought of that person responding to take care of anyone in your group of family or friends. They’re a provider that just doesn’t get it. Their care is substandard, their attitude is poor, and you can’t help but feel that the patients being “cared” for by this individual or crew aren’t getting the best medical care possible from your service. You’d want to say something, and normally would, but you’d become an outcast in your agency and would be looked down upon for blowing the whistle. Besides, even if you did the service is short handed and your management wouldn’t fix the problem anyhow because they need to staff the trucks.
Or maybe you can see that EMS in general is underfunded, underappreciated, and undereducated and you can’t shake the feeling that something has to be done to improve patient care industry-wide. You feel powerless to do so, but you’re angered every time you see a representation of bumbling ambulance drivers on TV, or see the local news completely mishandle a news story involving EMS, or especially when you look at your paltry pay check.
In all of the above cases, you’ve got cat puke on your rug and you’re hoping that somebody else is going to clean it up.
As EMS professionals, we know that there are myriad little political games that play out in each and every little jurisdiction a
cross the map. This service may not call this service for mutual aid because someone’s brother once stole a pumpkin from one of the other service member’s brother’s pumpkin patch. “Jim” may not provide good care, but you let it slide because he’s popular with the other crews. Sure, the local fire department gets a kajillion dollars more in funding than your EMS service does and runs like a tenth of the calls that you do, but that’s just the way it’s always been, right?
We need to step up as a profession and clean the cat puke from our carpet. Ignore the politics. Ignore the personal hurt feelings and the power plays. EMS is about the patient. It isn’t about you, or me, or that person down there. We exist solely to save lives and alleviate suffering in the people that we serve in the best possible way that we can. Nothing else matters more than that. So if you can see that cat puke on your rug, and I’m absolutely positive that you know exactly what I’m talking about no matter where you are, you probably have better things to do than be playing chicken. We all need to stand up and say that we are the Cat-Puke-Cleaner-Uppers and that quality EMS is our responsibility, no matter what little political games of chicken are going on. Our patients deserve nothing less.
(Fiance’s note: As of press time, the pile of cat puke on Chris’s floor is still intact solidifying into the fibers of the carpet)