We were held up in the ER for a while the other day, crossed the sacred 40 minute threshold that sends little alarms up and down the system computers, pissing off captains who send angry messages to lieutenants who in turn send angry and/or passive aggressive messages to us. But since we’re in the ER, we don’t get the messages, which come in on our onboard computer, so then heated lieutenants continue to get messages and fly over in their SUVs, full of wrath and indignation. This particular lieutenant came up on me all a-foaming and frothing as I was walking back to the unit to give an update.
WHY, he demanded, HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE ER FOR SO LONG!?
clearly he didn’t want an answer, because no one who asks a question in all caps really expects anything but a blank stare. I presume. Because if you really wanted to know something, surely you’d ask it in a mature-type way, using your inside voice and whatnot. Surely.
WHAT EXACTLY IS SO IMPORTANT THAT YOU HAVE TO BE IN THE ER FOR FORTY MINUTES?!
As it happened, we’d found the patient unconscious and ODing with no blood pressure in an apartment full of men that claimed to know her but didn’t have any information on her and told multiple glaring lies about how she ended up that way before disappearing completely and then locking us out as soon as we removed her to the ambulance, so we ended up spending a good chunk of time trying to explain the situation to some skeptical young doctors that didn’t seem interested in such complications, and my partner was only now wrapping up the paperwork.
But that wasn’t an answer that would get me very far, because what does any of that matter in comparison to the almighty power of numbers? The brass in EMS, in a sickly trickle down sort of way described above, is obsessed with numbers. Numbers make the EMS wheel turn. Period. You find occasional lieutenants here and there that still hang on to some interest in what’s going on with the patient or whether or not one of us is traumatized or burnt out, but when someone with a light blue shirt is getting worked up, it’s usually got something to do with blipping alerts on computer screens downtown and the corresponding tirade of messages from superiors.

ARE YOU GOING TO ANSWER MY QUESTION?! OR SHOULD I JUST GO AHEAD AND WRITE YOU UP RIGHT NOW!?
and honestly I was so surprised by how upset he was I really had nothing to say for a second. But then I just told him No, I didn’t like his attitude or how he was addressing me and so I wouldn’t be answering his questions. As he got all red and puffy another lieutenant swept in, one of the ones that seems to give a damn about a thing or two, and dismissed the first one sayin “I got this” and then the whole situation pretty much fizzled out: my partner finished his paperwork, I put us back in the system, life went on.

I said it on twitter and it stands true still, on a job with so many reasons to get worked up, I have no interest in giving time or energy to a person that can’t control his temper over numbers. None at all. We who deal with actual people have to work every day to land in that delicate balance between caring too much and not caring at all. We all slide back and forth along that spectrum throughout our lives and careers and the best medics I know aren’t the ones that cry for every patient (they burn out quick) or the ones that smirk and roll their eyes at every patient (they’re already burnt). They’re the ones that know how to measure out their compassion evenly, quietly, justly, sometimes with crass humor or a kind word, and without going overboard so they can do what they have to do and walk away at the end of each shift leaving the job and all its pettiness, hilarity and tragedy behind them when they go.