I am 911
Crystal Wallin, Division 3, College freshman #ws17e-s1d3

The dispatch information is pretty vague, really. “7 year old female, abdominal pain.” The trouble with abdominal pain is that it can literally be anything from a gas bubble to an ascending aortic aneurysm ready to burst and end a life in moments. As I put down the textbook I’m reading for school, throw the radio strap over my shoulder, walk to the garage, hit the door open button and climb into the passenger side of the Ford Crestline, my mind is calculating. My partner walks out moments behind me, unplugs the ambulance from the shoreline and climbs inside. Activating the mobile data terminal with a tap on the screen, I mark us en route as he updates our dispatch center by radio, “302 is en route”. Dispatch comes back with the address once more, repeating the information of 7 year old female, abdominal pain. Nothing further. Sometimes the initial page is the short hand version of the call, with further details once we’re on our way. Not this time.

My mind continues to run down the possibilities, as always. I spend my time much quieter than normal, there in the passenger seat to the calls where I’m up for care. Our company rotates each call; you’re the driver, then the paramedic up for care, then driving, et cetera. I’m a joker, a talker, but on the way to some calls I’m prepping. What could be going on, what details do we have, do we need any additional resources, what’s the neighborhood like, are we familiar with egress, what’s the most likely scenario, what materials will I likely need first, and what else do I need to keep in the back of my mind? My partner on this call is most always quiet, so our trip is pretty much crickets the short distance to the residence.

Fire meets us curbside. Fire responds with us to the calls in the city, they’re our first responders, our friends, our right hands, and an extended member of our public service family – just in a different uniform. The third branch of our public service family, law enforcement, isn’t on this call. They’ll come if we ask, but this doesn’t appear to need their assistance at this time. As always, reflexively, I read the body language of the fireman who meets us. He’s relaxed, shoulders loose, arms swinging, face easy and open. I ask him what the scoop is, as we walk toward the rear of the residence at his direction. He doesn’t have a lot of information, but the gist of it is that there’s not much obviously wrong on the surface of things. My partner has the cardiac monitor and bag and I purposefully don’t carry either on this call. Normally I would of course, but a 7 year old with a painful belly is gonna need me to not be scary, loaded down with foreign stuff.

We round the rear of the house, and there they all are. The rest of the crew off the apparatus, the captain with the clipboard and demographic information neatly recorded. They haven’t gotten a set of vitals just yet. Mom is there too, verbose and chatty and I politely introduce myself to her, get a snapshot of what’s happening today that made her call 911. I get a long version of, the little girl has pooping issues and today her belly is hurting. Once I have that info, I turn my attention towards my patient.

Her long dark hair is in need of washing, and hangs in lank curls. Big dark eyes look up at me from a wan face with big old dark circles underneath. Two piece jammies sport Cinderella and Arielle. One grimy hand grips a tiny Troll doll. She sitting on the uneven wood of the porch that’s tacked onto the back of the house like an afterthought. Everyone on scene is looming over her from the end of the porch by mom. All of us in our navy uniforms with various patches, radios crackling with traffic from the other units in the city carrying on their business. I hand mom off to my partner with a nod, and switch off my radio. I walk over to the little lady, and crossing my legs, I plop my 39 year old self down next to her. Her eyes widen – she hadn’t seen this part coming.

“Is that from the Troll movie?” I point with my chin at the doll in her hand. Looking at the doll, a faint smile crosses her face, “yes”. I stick out my hand matter of factly, still looking at the doll. “I’m Crystal, have you seen the movie yet?” She smiles a half smile, “I have it”. I feign astonishment, “What? I haven’t gotten it for my kids yet. I have 3 girls at my house, they would be jelly of you”. She giggles. We’re friends now. I ask her quietly about her tummy, angling my shoulders so the bunch of men over by mom aren’t part of our little girl club here on the porch. She tells me it kind of hurts all over, it just started, she’s afraid because she has pooping problems. I assess her briefly after assessing the Troll guy, much to her giggles. I offer a piggy back ride to the ambulance at the curb, after pinky promising her no needles. She stands up and is able to straighten for the ride, which of course I wanted to see. I walk a few steps toward the men, then “remember” the ride, turning to her and squatting down. I’m able to see her ambulate to me without hesitation. We head to the truck, mom and fire and my partner trailing us. We discuss recent kid movies, and I work in a few questions about last meals eaten, last poops had, and she answers them without hesitation as she gets back to the finer points of Over the Hedge. Walking, I hop skip a couple times, then ask if it hurts her tummy. She says nope, so I know there’s no pain with palpation/bouncing. These are all good findings.

When we get to my truck, I put her down and ask if she can climb the big steps inside, or if she’s too little. She proudly says “watch me!” and in she goes, no pain with climbing. I help her onto the cot, let her do the seatbelts as mom joins us. I show her my radio mounted on the cabin wall, ask her if my funny Velcro blood pressure cuff can give her arm a hug. I show her the light in my pulse oximeter, let her pick which finger to put inside the light. She’s interested beyond her fear. I empower her with choices, which should we do first, this or that, so even in this strange new environment full of cabinets with God knows what inside – she feels in control. It doesn’t matter what we do first, just that we do all of it. And we do, on her schedule. She hates ear temperatures so I check mine first, show her how, let her check her own, watching that she does it right. She does – she’s a smart cookie. I tell my partner then that we’re ready for transport, and we head off to the ER. I give radio report, take a second set of vitals, and visit with mom, all while re-evaluating and playing with my patient.
When we get to the garage at the receiving facility, it’s time to start segueing into goodbye. She’s newly apprehensive of the ER, so I confidently introduce her to my friend the nurse, my friend the doctor, et cetera. They are practiced at putting kids at ease and I know she is in good hands. A quick signature from mom for release of health information to billing for insurance, a cot change, face sheet scanned and we’re out the door into the sunshine ready for the next tones, the next patient, the next opportunity to make someone’s scary moment into a time when the uniforms made the day just a little better.

What do I do differently from everyone else? Easy. I’m a mom to six, a female paramedic in a combination urban setting/rural setting of a complex coverage area. And I love people. I love them with a glance, I calm them with a smile, I assess them with a piggyback ride, I open my heart a little bit to let the sun shine in. Cinderella jammies, farmer coveralls, factory hard hats – backyards, ditches, sunshine, three a.m. or noon, newborns squalling or time of death pronounced in a kitchen – I have a front row seat to the human experience.

I am 911.
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