My Life in EMS – Chapter 4
So many years have passed, it’s hard to remember when specific events actually happened. The emergency room was almost always busy with everything from kids with the flu to multiple gunshot victims. It was rare for me to not get off a shift without being covered in blood, and other nasty stuff. I was so happy when I got my first car – 1946 Chevy coupe, six cylinder, stick on column, hole in the floorboard about the size of a basketball right below the steering wheel. A little plywood covered with Masonite board, a non-slip mat and caulk sealed that baby up just right. I finally had my own wheels!
I think my boss thought my having a car was great too – she didn’t have to let me leave work on time to catch the bus.
Up until 1964, the ambulance service was operated by my employer, Minneapolis General Hospital, and served only the city. When Hennepin County took over the hospital, they inherited the ambulance service, and expanded it to cover the entire county, except for some areas covered by North Memorial Hospital which operated its own service. It was at this time I began being asked to ride as an attendant on transfers when the service was short a person. It was kind of cool, and the ambulance personnel all knew me so it was easier me to help out.
I didn’t know it at the time, but George Nass, the ambulance service supervisor, and Kenny Eskedahl, assistant supervisor had been watching, and evaluating me as a potential ambulance driver. I started to suspect something was going on when I was suddenly required to take an Advanced Red Cross First Aid, and the new Red Cross Cardio-pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) courses offered at the hospital for ambulance, police and fire personnel. At that time, this was these were premiere rescue training programs for emergency personnel.
I have to admit, I had to struggle with CPR. I couldn’t seem to get the air volume in my lungs that I needed to meet the patient inflation criteria. At this time, we didn’t have the Resusi-Annie trainers yet, so we were using flow-meters to gauge how much air we could take in, and breath out into a patient. I passed the criteria for babies, children, and young adults but barely made it with adults. It was unnerving for me because I didn’t understand what was wrong. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that we discovered the problem. I was having recurring episodes of bilateral spontaneous Pneumo-thorax of unknown etiology. (Will cover this more later.)
Obviously, I finally passed the courses, and received my certification. At Kenny Eskedahl’s insistence, I then took the instructor’s training for both courses, which I also passed. I was the first, and only ER Orderly, Red Cross and CPR instructor in the county, and I wore the patches to prove it! I was proud!
On my 21st birthday, George Nass came to me, asked me if I was interested in becoming an ambulance driver. I, of course had to think about that for about, oh I guess a millisecond before saying YES! He laughed, then told me all I had to do was the Civil Service Examination and get a Chauffeur’s license, and he’s put me on. By the end of the week, I had taken the exam, gotten my Chauffeur’s license, and marched into his office ready to go.
I had to quit my orderly job, then be hired onto the ambulance service. Apparently, George was confident I’d make it because all the paperwork had already been signed by him and my old boss.
Next on the agenda came, wait for it now, hold your breath – you ready? The uniform! I was sent to the uniform store down on Hennepin Avenue and North Third Street in downtown Minneapolis. When I get there, I’m expecting to get the ugly grey shirts and slacks, but turns out I was to be the poster boy for the new county uniform which was tan shirt with brown epaulets and pocket tabs. The pants were dark brown and we hat hate with badges.
This picture shows the majority of us in the new uniform. I’m in the back row, second from left in short sleeve shirt. George Nass is in the front row, far right in a suit.
As you can probably tell, I was the youngest man on the crew. They were a great bunch of guys.
Another interesting point about this picture is that we were posing in front of the old ambulance garage with the bi-fold doors. Wasn’t too long after this picture was taken, the county moved us to the old city morgue, three blocks away from the hospital while a new emergency room and garage were constructed. Ever sat down for a meal decked out on a post-mortem table? I have – it’s creepy at first.
This brings to mind a case I was involved with. I believe it was on a Saturday, around noon when we got a call to the Augsburg Publishing building on 4th and Portland, as I recall. As was usual for many calls, we didn’t really know what we were actually going to, but they wanted us Code 3 – lights and siren. As I was eating my lunch, tuna salad sandwich, I shoved the remainder of it in my mouth, and rushed out the door chewing as I went.
After a short few blocks, we arrived on scene to be met by the Fire Department Rescue Squad. As we started to grab our medical bag and stretcher, a firefighter stopped us saying, “DOA (Dead On Arrival), you won’t need those.” He then led us down to the basement, and into a room where there was blood all over the floor. The source of the blood appeared to be a machine attached to a chute from the floor above.
As we entered the room, a second firefighter looked at me, and asked what I was chewing, I said a tuna sandwich. He threw up – not sure whether it was the scene or the sandwich. I swallowed, and followed the other firefighter to the machine which turned out to be a baling machine. The chute carried paper trimmings from the printing shop on the first floor to the baler which baled it then, by use of claw like grabbers, the bale was forced out to be manually removed, and stacked.
Apparently, what had happened was the missing man became entangled in the baler, and baled. No one ever figured out how it happened but he was baled then torn to shreds by the claws which were trying to force “his” bale out when his body became stuck. Obviously, there was nothing we could do for the poor guy, and we couldn’t remove the body as it was a coroner’s case, so we left. We never did hear what caused this man’s death.
It’s important to remember that my experiences in EMS began in the 1960s – things were different back then. Training, equipment and support were almost stone age in comparison to 2016, but one thing will never change – humans. We are humans with emotions, strengths and weaknesses. We will see, and do things that will unsettle the average civilian, but what’s the alternative? Someone has to do it!