Dreamland Paramedics…

So there I was, on shift and driving around in what we call our Interceptor vehicle. It’s a marked SUV outfitted with lights and sirens that carries a full compliment of ALS gear. We use it to quick-respond to 911 calls in our own jurisdiction and to intercept BLS ambulances with a single paramedic. It’s a cool ride and I was driving it around what looked like our town when a very cool lightening storm rolled in. Then a blizzard started up, and then it was sunny when I pulled into a parking lot of… a building I didn’t recognize. I think it was another ambulance station whose members were working on a male patient who was lying unresponsive in front of their front door… I parked, got out, and walked up to them. Their uniforms were white shirts, badges, with navy-style epaulets on their shoulders. They looked nice.

This alien ambulance crew said they had the situation under control, and even though I thought this was odd… since I was in our 911 territory, I didn’t argue… I did, however go in the building to find their commanding officer, whom they had said was inside. Turns out, their ambulance station was this awesome night club complete with a stage, people dancing, and a good-looking crowd. I found the ambulance manager at the bar and asked him what was going on… He started to run away but motioned for me to follow. I ran after him, chasing him around the building, which turned out to be a huge place containing staircases, long hallways, and some epic leaps across chasms. There was even a part where we ran up a wall, Spider-Man style, where I had to grab on to steel cables and slide down them to get back to the floor. If I were really asked, I’d say the building looked… um… kind of like the Baltimore Convention Center where they hold EMS Today. I never caught up to the guy… in fact, I never went back to my vehicle because it turned out that I was actually in my old high school, I found some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while and we threw a party. We had a great time with lots of catching up, back-slappin’, laughing, and carrying-on. Then… and this is awesome, a bunch of people, a veritable parade of people I have had disagreements with over the years came walking in the room and I told them off quite eloquently. They all agreed they were wrong quite readily and invited a team of British Rugby players into the party who brought a keg of this really good beer. I had two or three glasses of the stuff. After that, I walked out of my high school and all the way to my childhood home where I could see my first cat, Katchoo, through the window as I was walking up the driveway.

And then… Doooooooo Doooooooo… this loud noise broke in to my dream from somewhere… I recognized it as a call and thought to myself… “I can’t go on a call! I’ve been drinking! Good thing I’m off-duty”.

But of course, I wasn’t off-duty. I was at work, and I woke up in my bunk-room to our dispatcher squawking about some lady somewhere with some pain in her belly. I stumbled to my clothing, still not fully realizing that I had been dreaming a minute before I was so rudely ripped from my slumber, and got dressed to groggily stumble out into the early-morning light.

I suppose at this point I should explain that this was a dream I was having while sleeping on-duty from about 2 through 3am this very shift. The dream colored the whole call for me. I must have been sleeping very soundly because while I’ve only gotten like 3 hours of sleep this shift, I feel fully rested and am writing this post at 0530 rather than attempting a triumphant return to my snug, warm bunk. I love having dreams like that… when I’m home in my own bed without the possibility of the radio waking me up. Dreams like that when I’m working tend to bleed into my reality when I’ve been ripped away from them to respond to a call. Sometimes like today, it’s no big deal other than the momentary thought that I’d made a HUGE error and quaffed some ETOH while on-duty (which I never have and never will). Other times, like when you’re having a nightmare about the Zombie Apocalypse and you get called to work a code in the middle of your epic chainsaw-intensive last-stand, the waking-from-dream thing can be detrimental. Ever had a dream about being attacked by zombie clowns and then wake up to work a code in a circus-tent? Neither have I… but it could happen.

Is this an interesting EMS post? No, not hardly. But for those of us that work our rotating 24 hour shifts and live, eat, sleep, and spend generally more than a third of our lives at work, it’s just one of the myriad things we find out about what this shift pattern and this job do to a person. Is it an occupational… hazard? I don’t know. I do know that it’s one of those odd things about working EMS that you’ll rarely find in other professions. I mean, how many times has your local hedge-fund manager had to wake up to manage some hedges and/or funds in the middle of dreaming about whatever it is they dream about?

I’d love to hear some of your stories on the same thing. I’m sure they’re out there.

Oh, and good morning everyone!

  • Christopher Updike

    Did you fall asleep with a Nicotine patch on again?!

  • Jerminski

    Too funny and all too familiar! Before I left my EMS job in AZ I had a 96 hour shift, 48 in rig and 48 in dispatch, on the last leg of my 96 I was laying in bed in dispatch room when FD tones go off for difficulty breathing. Our protocol is not to respond until called by FD/PD. I waited until the crew got on-scene to call FD and ask if they wanted us to respond. The dispatcher was not at all friendly about me calling them. There was no call, all the crews were in bed sleeping, that is until I called their 911 line and woke them all up!

    • Popknot

      JERM- I’m still working in AZ. Ha ha.

      Hearing tones and traffic I’ve woken up, got dressed, started the rig and gone 10-8 on the radio only to have the dispatcher ask me to call on the landline.

      “Rick, You did it again” she said. “There’s no call, go back to bed”.

      Happens about once a year.

  • vudumedic

    Well I can definitely say that there have been many a dream that I have Berenice town from. Yes I have spent the first five to ten minutes trying to separate reality from my dream and figure out what the h¿!! was actually going on. Is it an occupational hazard? Definitely. It is probably something we as healthcare professionals need to address. Lately there has been a lot of press about people who do jobs that greatly effect people’s safety (read air traffic controllers) and fatigue / sleeping on the job. Does most of the geberal public know however that the paramedic they call into their house and trust with life or death decisions may have been up for the past 22 hours? Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting every decision we make is going to be that drastic, but it could be. In 2003 the ACGME recognized that over worked under rested student doctors were costing people the lives and made changes to their policies. OTR truck drivers can only go for 14 hours out of 24. Is it time for us to make a decision as to weather we are healthcare professionals or not. Or maybe I am just crazy.

  • Jessykah

    If someone is unhappy with their 24-hour shifts you have the choice to step down to 12 hours (or 6, 8, etc) or find a new career. People need to stop trying to change things that work. I don’t personally have a problem with my 24-hour shifts – It works for me. There’s been talk that all agencies should be 12’s. Who makes this decision? People that aren’t in Fire / EMS ? People that have no interest in sitting down with more than 1 or 2 people and find out that there are lots out there that enjoy their 24’s as well.

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  • CK, I love it! I’ve been there, but I don’t dream quite as vividly. I wrote about one dream before, and Jerminski’s comment triggered a memory and a new blog post tonight. Links tend to dump my comments in the SPAM folder, but c’mon over to Notes from Mosquito Hill and search for ‘More on sleep’. The blog link should be in my Disqus profile; click my avatar.

    • Oh look, the link popped up in the Trackbacks. Just scroll down; you’ll find me.