I Got Attacked – A Paramedic Speaks About Public Trust

I received a letter from a paramedic who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons of keeping his or her employment status. They also want to speak freely because what he/she says in the letter may unfortunately be controversial in the current political and media climate. I’m going to post the letter mostly using that person’s words with some of my own edits for brevity, flow, and grammatical correctness (sorry). I may have edited it a bit, but I think their message is important to get out. You may think so as well.

“Hey CK, I’m wondering if you’ll put this out there I know you’ve not been having much luck coming up with things to post lately and are always looking for help. So I thought that you might like to post up this message for me.

The other day my partner and I were attacked on a call. It was morning on a nondescript weekday and we caught what was the second call of our shift as we were returning from our first right-off-the-bat, not-enough-coffee first call of the shift. I’d like to emphasize that this second call happened before either of us had reached sufficient levels of caffeine intake and that neither of us were at our best when this happened.

Anywho, we responded on the ‘emergent-but-not-that-emergent’ call for the 50-ish male patient having a seizure in a nice neighborhood on a residential street. The house was well-kept and the driveway was well marked. There was nothing out of the ordinary, no triggers for any alarm, and no reason to have any anticipation of any danger over and above one’s normal ‘just arrived on scene’ awareness level.

As we grabbed our bags, the patient’s wife opened the front door and said “We think he’s had a seizure. He’s in the bathroom. He fell and hit his face on the window frame and he’s in there with our son. He’s not acting himself. Please hurry” or words to that effect. She seemed to be appropriately concerned but not fearful. I entered the home first, walked three steps to a hallway entrance, turned the corner and was grabbed by a half-naked large adult male who was yelling about… something… This person who I assumed to be our patient appeared to be completely in fight-or-flight mode and apparently believed I was either someone who he should fight or who was actively impeding his flight. There was nothing to do but drop my bag and attempt to stop the man from hurting me. Retreat did not present itself to be an option. I grabbed his arm and called my partner’s name with my voice raised. He rounded the corner and grabbed the man’s other arm. Luckily the two of us, plus the patient’s adult son who had been attempting to corral the patient as we were walking up to the house were enough to stop him from hurting himself or the fragile paramedics. After some quick verbal coordination, we were able to move him to the bedroom that was right behind us to the queen-sized bed. We backed him over it, which conveniently took his legs out from under him, and were able to put one medic on each arm and the patient’s son on the legs. That way we had the patient laying on his back with no one laying on the patient’s chest, abdomen, or head to help prevent positional asphyxia.

I’d like to say that this was entirely planned, but the chaos of the take-down may not have ended that way if the patient had been in any other area of the house, if he had gotten a better drop on me perhaps with a punch or a head butt, or if the three of us hadn’t had been able to overcome him physically. As it was, my partner unfortunately got bitten by the patient hard enough to break skin during the initial process. Luckily it didn’t get infected, but for the whole rest of the shift I was watching him to see if he started developing a taste for Braaaaaiiins…

As we were getting the guy under control we were lucky to have a cooperative and calm family. We talked to them the whole time, and they talked back to us. We let them know that we had no intentions of harming the patient and that we only needed to get him calmed down and protect him from harming himself. They described to us that the patient experienced a full-body seizure, his first and only ever, and that he had become this way a minute or two after he had stopped seizing. That explained his presentation. The patient’s pupils were so dilated that they looked like big black pools in sitting in the whites of his eyes and we figured that the poor guy was postictal after seizing and that the fight-or-flight reaction was just a symptom of his brain needing to reset itself.

Unfortunately, the patient wasn’t calming down and was getting harder to control. We were doing all we could do to control his movements without hurting him and we needed help… help which wasn’t coming because we don’t receive any other resources on calls coded ‘emergent-but-not-that-emergent’ as this ‘simple seizure’ was supposed to be. Nobody knew we had been attacked and nobody had been dispatched to assist us. Luckily, my partner was able to get a hand free to get on the radio. He called for police assistance, which we later found out the dispatcher assumed was a request for non-emergency lifting assistance. While my partner had attempted to be subtle and professional with his radio traffic, the dispatcher apparently didn’t notice the patient screaming in the background or the hint my partner stated where we needed help NOW. It took four total radio calls to get dispatch to actually take notice that we were in a bad situation, with me finally yelling at them over the radio “DISPATCH! WE ARE ACTIVELY FIGHTING WITH THIS PATIENT. EXPEDITE LAW ENFORCEMENT!” after what was probably only a few minutes but actually seemed to be hours.

We found out they still never relayed that information to the responding officer, who walked in a minute or two later calmly expecting a simple lifting assist.

This is Ck here. May I just say that the letter writer’s radio system is probably lacking? In a subsequent Facebook conversation with the original letter writer, he/she clarified that they needed to switch radio channels to actually speak with dispatch, a process that has become cumbersome for them since the FCC-mandated radio switching process. Especially while attempting to restrain a human. They also have a dispatch system that is entirely plain speech, which contributed to the confusion in the process of calling for help. Apparently in the heat of the moment, saying something that sounds sufficiently professional over the public airwaves as a request for emergency help is difficult and can come out unclear. This is why I’ve always advocated for still having at least some radio codes still in place. While codes seem outdated, I believe that saying “Dispatch Code-X” or something to that effect is way easier than saying “Dispatch, I would like some assistance please when you get the chance but I don’t want ask for that assistance in a way that will alarm Mr. Large Dangerous Person while asking you.”

Anyway, that isn’t the point of the letter. The writer continues:

The patient ended up being ok. Our protocols allow us to chemically restrain a patient and after we got sufficient help on scene we were able to administer an appropriate benzodiazepine. He calmed down after a few minutes and turned out to be a very nice guy when he was in his normal state of mind. For the record, my partner doesn’t taste very good and the patient was extremely apologetic for the whole incident. We forgave him because there was no need for any hard feelings.

However, the most disturbing thing that happened on this call was a statement made by the patient’s son after I called for police assistance. He was very nice to us and appropriately concerned for his father, but when I emphatically requested the police he said “Um… please not the police. We don’t want them coming in and shooting him!” I replied “No Sir, we have good cops here. That won’t happen. Don’t worry”

My concern is: Our town is far from Missouri or New York. We have never had any incidents of any type like that in our jurisdiction that I’m aware of. We really do have good cops in our town and most people, I thought, know that.

But something has happened to scare the normal citizen and turn their opinion of the cops in a different direction.

I’m a medic, not a police officer, so I say this not as a member of their ranks but also not quite as a normal citizen. I know the cops in my town and in my area. They’re all good people. Sure, they’re people just like you and I are and no single human or group of humans is perfect, but they sincerely try to do good things in a good way for the community. None of them want anything but the best for anyone. However, through actions committed by others that they are not responsible for they have become representative of larger problems, either real or perceived, and that fact is affecting people even in quiet neighborhoods in smaller towns far away from any of the protests, riots, or the events that have preceded those protests and riots.

This is a large problem. People need to feel they can trust their police officers. Society needs to have police officers they can have faith in and those police officers need the faith and respect of their community in order to do their jobs. We are all people and all lives matter. The officers in our community have done nothing to tarnish their own badges that I know of but are still being judged by the real or imagined actions of people far away from our town. During this call I had no knowledge of being in danger and walked right into the house to be ambushed. In that instance I had to make a decision to defend myself, my partner, and the patient from harm. Luckily this call went well. There are so many ways that it could have gone wrong and someone been permanently harmed that I’d like not to have to think about. We were lucky that the family trusted us when we arrived and helped us instead of assuming we were harming their family member and harming us. We are lucky that the patient did not land a sucker punch on my head and injure me as I rounded the corner. We’re lucky he wasn’t armed. We are lucky that the un-planned take-down and restraint went well and that we collectively had the strength to accomplish it. That’s a lot of luck to rely on in a situation with no time to think and a whole lot of potential negative results on the line.

To my brothers and sisters in law enforcement, it is time to once again re-earn the trust that you deserve. It isn’t fair, it shouldn’t be necessary, but we need you to be the bigger people and help our communities trust you again. I don’t know how you’re going to do that, I’m not a cop, but I will pledge my support for you every step of the way. I respect you all for what you’re asked to do.

The original letter writer told me that he/she didn’t know how to end the letter to convey the message that he or she wished to express, but I think that they did just fine. The jist of this is, we support our brothers and sisters in law enforcement. Most all of us do. We respect any legitimate grievances that need to be aired but will not support irrational fears that condemn good people who truly care based on bad reasons, bad information, or lies.

I’m Chris Kaiser of the Life Under the Lights blog, and I support good police officers who do good things. I also am completely floored that I would ever have to make such a statement and that it wouldn’t be simply assumed. I don’t know all of the facts about anything that’s going on, and neither do you, but nobody gets to blame unrelated, innocent people for things that didn’t happen anywhere near them based on partial information that they’ve learned about via biased and incomplete reporting.

Society needs and deserves to be able to trust their police officers and police officers need and deserve to be trusted by society. This is a fact.

The best way to do this is to be open, honest, straight-forward, and friendly. There is no need for false panics or false divisions.

All lives matter.

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I’m very glad that I have astute readers who send me good letters. Y’all make this blogging thing easy. Keep writing, I’ll post most of them. If you’d like to make my job easier and make your voice heard, you can e-mail me or post a message on the Life Under the Lights Facebook Page. I’ll most probably put your opinions up here like I did in this post about EMS provider suicide or this post about two very frustrating situations that left a medic worried about his job. Thank you.

  • We use “Signal C” as a code to relay a crew in distress. Takes a second for the dispatchers to confirm it, but it sends the nearest engine, battalion chief, fire investigator (who are sworn LEO’s) and makes an officer in distress call to Memphis Police.

    The arrival of all those resources is quite… Dramatic.

  • retired ems medic

    The radios should have had a trouble button to eliminate the need to key the Mike and talk. Maybe the dispatchers need to be rotated out to the streets to get out of the mode of just getting the calls out and only half listening to the radio.

  • hawk4080

    Wow. That was a total waste to read.

    • I somewhat agree, though I assure you I didn’t set out to waste your time. I probably should have broken this down into two separate points as the second point was the one I most wanted to emphasize. My bad on this one, I’ll do better next time.

      Thanks for the feedback. If you’d like, I’d be happy to post some of your writing up in the future so that there can be some quality content here some day soon.

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  • Barefoot in MN

    It’s a good point – that people are becoming needlessly afraid of their own local LE’s — but I hope you will not wait for “the media” to notice this post. Send it to them — by e-mail, by comment on their web sites, & by printed hard-copy snail-mailed to each of their many offices that might have even a small part in responding or considering it. Publish it as a letter to the editor in your local papers, or use it as a basis for such a letter. Please. For a variety of reasons, “people” these days are neglecting to think objectively about what they are inundated with by the MainStream Media; it’s an uphill battle but our patients need us to tackle it. It’s the MSM who are promoting this culture shift from trust into fear. They are able to change that —- let’s see if they are willing.