Expectations.

"Holy shit—she's having a baby!"


I couldn't help but laugh; what is this, a bad movie? Get me some towels and hot water! And ring Doctor Swanson, immediately! 

The way-too-excited MPD officer went sprinting past me; admittedly, I was a bit weighed down with the medical bags, but even if I wasn't, I wouldn't be barreling full-speed down the sidewalk.

I approached the gathering crowd, dropping the bags next to the blurry figure that I assumed to be my patient. I rubbed the 5 a.m. sleep out of my eyes; slowly, the shape in front of me materialized into a twenty-year-old girl, writhing on the ground.

She was on her third pregnancy, with her due date exactly one month from now. Contractions were approximately one minute apart, lasting about one or two minutes each. (Um, this may be getting… complicated soon. Time to go.) I didn't need to be showing off all her business in front of God and creation, so we placed her in the ambulance as fast as we could. After a quick set of vitals and a cursory examination, we were off.

The radio report was quick: age, due date, vitals, no crowning or broken water yet. Seeya in five.

All the way to the hospital and into the OB ward, she kept time like a metronome. Every minute, her body would tense up, followed shortly thereafter by a pained look of exhaustion. The elevator doors opened, and I'm sure that the look of relief on my face was evident to the OB nurses standing down the hall—the last thing I wanted was for three people to get in the elevator, and have three-and-a-half come out. 

My relief quickly turned to surprise when instead of moving to get us into a room, the nurses ambled over with knowing looks on their faces. One marched right up (munching on Skittles, I think) and began scolding the patient.

"R————, are you serious? Again?"

The patient answered with her face shoved into the pad of the stretcher, her awkward positioning and constant movement making her end of the conversation barely intelligible.

"No, this time it's real, I swear! I hurt, real bad!"

"You've been smoking that rock again, haven't you?" It was phrased as a question, but we all knew that it wasn't.

The patient denied it several times, but to no avail. All of a sudden she went limp, the signs of her pain and obstetrical discomfort vanishing before my eyes. She resigned herself to rolling onto her back and scratching her very pregnant belly, as she half-listened to the continued berating from the head nurse. Her expression of anguish was now replaced with a bored look as she asked for pain meds. 

"My stomach really does hurt pretty bad, um… just not right now. Can I have some stuff to take home, in case it hurts later?"

Dammit… I've been had.

—————

"Yeah, I think we ran her about a month ago. Before you came here. She was just like that, too."

I looked over at my partner drearily as we made up the stretcher for the last time. Normally I would have been mad, but I was just too tired to care.

"That might have helped me identify her as a crack-addicted faker, instead of a woman who was actually having a baby."

"Yeah, I guess so. My bad, dude." The last sentence was thrown over his shoulder as he wheeled the cot out to the ambulance.

Finally given a moment's reprieve, I flopped down into the nearest chair. I yawned and looked around the ER, thinking of everything I had brought here in the past twenty-four hours.

Let's see… over there was the middle-aged guy whose heart rate was around 220. He was maintaining surprisingly well, nonchalantly telling me that he had gone into cardiac arrest "a coupla times" in the past year. 

Somewhere down that hallway was the best place to isolate the young girl on PCP. Not only was she strong as hell (fighting off two security guards, two firefighters, and a nurse all by herself), but she kept screaming requests for Jesus to do unspeakable sexual things to her. It was, as the TV shows say, explicit language.

My eyes trailed over to the hallway beds. Looking at the clean, fresh sheets, I remembered the old man who we had placed there. There wasn't actually anything wrong with him; he was just too old to make it to the bathroom sometimes, and he had soiled himself earlier in the day. Instead of helping him, his family decided that they wanted him a) out of the house for a while and b) to be cleaned by someone else. 

So they called us. Without so much as a word, the family had slammed the door on us within seconds of carrying their father outside. The hospital staff told me that he stayed there for more than a few hours, because it was a huge process to get one of his family members to come pick him up. Apparently, it was "way too soon," and "too much of an inconvenience."

—————

The cold air caused me to inhale sharply as soon as the outer doors whooshed open. The tripsheet was completed; the ambulance was clean; and shift change was nearing. My eyelids felt about as heavy as my boots, and I poured myself into the front seat of the ambulance.

"Hey, man! Close that, it's too damn cold out."

I took one last refreshing breath of the wind whipping through the window and obliged. I sank back into my seat, and dozed off as the sun came up over Northeast D.C. 

It's not always easy, and it's not always fun… but at least it's never boring.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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