Grumblemedics, you know them. You’ve seen them. Heck, you may even be one. Whether they’re a Grumble Pee or a Grumble Bee, there’s an apparent glut of them in the profession and I’d like to know why. See, to me, EMS is the greatest job in the world. Sure, there’s the great pay and benefits, but there’s also the great hours, plentiful time off, and comfortable ergonomic working environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been just left with a warm-fuzzy feeling after a shift…

Ok, so that could have been an exaggeration, I know that there are things in this profession that just plain ol’ stink. But I gotta tell you, EMS really is my favorite job. I really can’t imagine doing anything else. While there are times in my career that I’ve wondered if it was an abusive, co-dependent type of relationship, I realize that I would not want to be anything other than a paramedic.

So why does it seem like there are so many Grumblemedics? Could it be the long hours with little chance of getting a day off? Could it be the fact that we must get up at all hours of the night to take care of someone in better shape than we are? Tangent: The other day another crew transported a person with a chief complaint of “Dry Feet”. When they asked him if he really wanted transported, he said “Yeah! I got dry feet!” Or, the one last night where a woman had an NSAID pain patch fall off at 4am and called us because she thought that she was going into withdrawal. End Tangent.

OK, heck with the ending the tangents. There are a whole heck of a lot of calls that can be filed under “They called us for THAT!?” Why do people do this? Why? I mean, I’ve been called for things that I wouldn’t even take an aspirin for more times in my career that I can count (And I know that’s more than ten because I have ten fingers and if you think that I’m going to take off my boots after working in them for all of these 24 hour shifts you’re nuts). Why do people call us when they have a muscle cramp? Why did the guy call me when he got a fish hook in his finger? Why do people who happen to be type 1 diabetics drink themselves into a stupor and then call me first thing in the morning to wake them up? Seriously, I once spent a few months going to some guy’s house every shift bright and early in the morning to squirt him with a little D50 and he’d sign the refusal that would send him on his way. It ended when we began putting him on the cot and starting to drive to the ER before we sugared him up. He’d wake up in the rig just as we were backing into the bay doors and be mad at US for transporting him. Sorry guy, but you obviously need more help than we can give you.

So, there may be times in my career that I’ve been a Grumble Pee, but that might be expected. Heck, if I worked in a factory I’d probably be complaining about the lack of adequate ventilation and the fact that I couldn’t sit in the crew lounge and watch TV for a few hours of my shift. We all complain about things we can’t change or our own perceptions of injustice. I would guess that any profession has those things that the people in the profession just hate. Heck, would any of us want to work retail during the holidays? They don’t even get to jab strangers with sharp objects or have their own keys to the leather restraints.. Now THAT would suck.

You know what my absolute, all-time, worst pet-peeve is in EMS? No? I’ll bet you don’t care either but this is my rant and you can’t seem to stop me. My biggest, all-time, worst pet-peeve in EMS is: People who don’t call us when they need us. Yep, I would gladly take a hundred 3am “lost condom” calls rather than have one potential patient have that occult MI and lose any percentage more of heart muscle than they have to because they didn’t want to call EMS and bother us. You see, I work in rural EMS these days where people are nice, and they don’t want to bother their local EMS service with getting up out of their chairs, and they don’t want to bother their neighbors with having to look out their windows at the pretty flashing lights, and they really don’t think that the fact that the left side of their body is numb is any reason to be alarmed. These non-calls that should have been calls bother me more than any of them, and we all grumblemedics are somewhat on the hook here.

If you’ve read any of what I’ve written, you’ve probably seen my statement that “PR Saves Lives”. It means that the more positive Public Relations an ambulance agency has, the more people trust them, and the more people are apt to call them when they truly need them. I haven’t seen studies on what an effective PR program does in reducing so-called “nuisance calls”, but I have seen recent studies that say like 60% of patients having heart attacks make their first call to a friend or family member upon the onset of their crushing chest pain. I’m here to tell ya, I’m jealous. I want to get that call.

So maybe grumblemedics like I probably will be about an hour from now when someone calls me at 3am for something that I would take pepto-bismol for need to remember that we are blessed to do this job, and that EMS professionals need to approach this business with the heart of a servant. Because that’s what we are. We aren’t here for our health, we’re here for everyone’s health. Sometimes people get scared and call us because they’re scared and it is our job to make them feel better by telling them they don’t have to be scared anymore. Sometimes we need to haul them in so someone with a whole-heckovalotta medical education can tell them that same thing. I decided a long time ago that if I ever got to a point in my life where I had to call the ambulance just so I could get some human contact because my real chief complaint was loneliness that I didn’t need some punk kid with a pulse and a medic card judging me.

Us grumblemedics need to realize that the nuisance calls are never going to go away. We’ve got to realize that there are, however, ways to combat them:

  • Check your Ego at the Door: You serve the public. Not the other way around. You are blessed and dang lucky to be the person that this person asked to take care of them in their or their loved one’s hour of perceived need and you best not forget it, because your mental health is at stake, and their life could be too. The best EMS people approach this job with a servant’s heart.
  • Evangelize EMS: You want the general public to know how to properly use EMS, right? Then what have you personally done to help teach them. Get out there and get the word out. Don’t hide in your station, or in the parking lot you’re posting in. Get the message out about what you’re there for, what you’re capable of, and how friendly you are while you are doing it.
  • Everything is PR: Every single, solitary thing an EMS person does affects the publics’ perception of them, their service, and the profession in general. Really. When you meet up with another crew for breakfast in the morning and talk about how wasted you got last night at the bar don’t think that the people around you aren’t listening. When you swear in public don’t think that the kids who are looking up to you in your shiny uniforms with your neat big truck aren’t filing that away. Take your public image seriously. Exude professionalism at all times because it saves lives. The more comfortable everyone is with your professionalism affects how apt they are to call you first, call you fast, or call you at all in a life or death situation. That can make all the difference for a lot of potential patients.

There’s a lot more that every one of us can do, but I’m tired here and I still have the last 8 of my 24 to do be
fore I have to get up in the morning and do 8 hours with my other full-time job and then do a 4 hour training with my volunteer department. Hey! I have an idea!! Maybe if there weren’t so many grumblemedics and the public took a more positive view of our value to society we could maybe squeeze some more pennies out of them at budget time and get paid better so we wouldn’t have to have so many freakin jobs and work so many hours to feed our families! Yea, wouldn’t that be great!!

As always folks, comments and flames are welcome. Public commentary is most appreciated, but I may always be reached privately at:

  • Great post. I've still got a few more months until I hit the streets as a paramedic, but I've just been hired on at the service I not only wanted to do my internship through, but also where I also plan to work after I get my gold patch. We'll see how jaded I become after a few of the senseless calls, and how humbled I am by the real ones who waited too long to call 911.

  • I agree, great post. PR is everything. I learned a long time ago that perception is reality. It's not what you do that matters. It's what others think you do. Even if it's a BS call give them the best attention and care, then try to educate them.

  • I agree, great post. PR is everything. I learned a long time ago that perception is reality. It's not what you do that matters. It's what others think you do. Even if it's a BS call give them the best attention and care, then try to educate them.

  • I agree, great post. PR is everything. I learned a long time ago that perception is reality. It's not what you do that matters. It's what others think you do. Even if it's a BS call give them the best attention and care, then try to educate them.

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  • Excellent article. I got quite a laugh out of your tangents, I can relate completely. I’ve found that the 24 hour shifts I have that are busy, where no time for a nap here or there is an option, the “dry feet” calls @ 3 am take every part of me to not be annoyed by the time we arrive on scene. It’s a fault of mine that I recognise & have tried to work on over the years. While en route to the call, at times I have to remind myself, “Deep breath Joann, …. Deep breath.” I do love being a paramedic & working in the pre-hospital environment, even though I sometimes question why I enjoy such a thankless, underpaid career. Lol.

  • To answer Joann’s question to herself “I sometimes question why I enjoy such a thankless, underpaid career.”. There is always that one call, you may only get it once a year or less. I had 2 in 2 days.
    Out of town transfer for a pt that is basically going home to die. I read the chart and then I walked into the patients room, introduced myself and asked him one question… are you allergic to morphine? I got a no, which was good. I tracked down the doctor and got an order to give him morphine 2-4mg every 2-4 hours. it was an almost 5 hour transport. He has cancer and the doc gave him 3-4 weeks. I wanted to make sure that during the transfer, if he started having any pain whatsoever, that I could make him comfortable. And I did.
    From what the family told me after the transport, the company that brought him to my city, basically tossed him around in the back of the truck; were very rough with him all around.
    When we got to his house 5 hours away all my partner and I got were thank you’s from every person in the family, including the patient. And a phone call came in to my supervisor as we were driving back to town.
    The next one was only a 3 hour transfer, but pretty much the same thing. He was going for cardiac surgery that wasn’t available at that hospital and the RN told me that he periodically went into unsustained runs of VT. Had him on the monitor, he was semi fowlers on the stretcher, I leaned my hand on the top of the stretcher and tapped the monitor and at the same time I told him that I heard that his heart likes to do funny stuff and scare everybody. I said, ok, I know all about this, so no funny stuff on this monitor for the next 3 hours, deal? He shook my hand on that and said “deal”. There was no funny stuff. He slept the whole way. When we got there, the wife asked for our names, and again, a phone call came in on our drive back.
    I have never had two in a row like that, they are usually a year or so apart, but it felt good to walk in the office at the end of my shift as my boss is sending an email to the head honcho letting him know that we represented the company in the best light and that the customer was more than satisfied with the service they were given.
    I know the thank you’s don’t come in that often, and it can be discouraging. But these two patients were inspiring in more ways than one and those 2 thank you’s will keep me going and doing my best as a paramedic and as a member of this organization.

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