By Crystal Wallin, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P, Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance
He’s clearly still a man of military background. That much is clear from the moment my boots top the last step and enter the doorway to the living room. Knocking with my free hand, I call out “paramedics” and an answering voice I do not recognize calls from the depths of the rear of the residence, “back here!”
Making my way down the hall with the footsteps of my partner behind me, I round the last corner to the restroom. And there they all are. The gentleman of the home is seated in a wheelchair, one foot on the floor. His sole leg leads up to the seat of the wheelchair, where the other leg ends just above the knee. The sparkle in his eyes is in no way diminished or dimmed, and he regards me with quiet composure as I take in the situation. There are people in turnout gear and boots, there is a clipboard held by a young woman who begins to give me report, unbidden and concise.
“Patient was transferring himself from the commode to his chair when the chair rolled out of reach and he slid to the floor. He was able to use his good leg and hands to assist himself to the floor without falling but was unable to maneuver himself back up and called for help after a short time. Patient denies injuries, is refusing transport. Here are his vitals” and she reads off a very normal sounding set of numbers with corresponding categories.
Throughout this, we regard each other. I’m watching for chest rise and fall, symmetry, pupillary size and evaluating skin color and condition. He is continuing to watch me with those measuring eyes. I thank the clipboard holder and reach out my hand. Introducing myself and gesturing back towards my partner, I receive a warm, firm shake in return. It is close and warm in this neat restroom at the rear of the residence and I tell the responders they can go, most likely clear but to give me a few minutes if they don’t mind. A hearty “sure, Crystal” and the two responders who still know me grin and say they’ll wait outside to catch up. I’m not often on the trucks now, and the lady with the clipboard looks at me again. But she leaves without further comment and they all go down the hall with my partner.
A safe but polite distance from the patient, I ask him if there’s anything else going on that the report didn’t catch. He smiles with one corner of his mouth and assures me that the only other thing going on is his chagrin at hosting so many strangers in his bathroom. He tells me he always locks the wheelchair but forgot this time. He does not have a pole in the bathroom as he does in the living room and bedroom, which are assistive to him in times such as this. He will be looking into getting one. We make our way back down the hall to the living room, past the military plaques and awards and neat photographs I saw on the way in.
He allows me to get a couple sets of vitals and we talk about the items on his walls. He is not very forthcoming beyond a few sentences of explanation and so I do not pry. He signs my computer signifying his refusal of transport after we discuss his right to transport as well as his right to refusal of such. I reiterate that this refusal does not mean he can’t call back later, and to please do so if anything changes. He grins a full grin then, tells me he appreciates all of us but he can take care of himself.
I nod in genuine agreement, in the middle of this pin neat and spotless home of a man who bears the remainder of a life of service greater than any I will achieve in this lifetime. I remind him that should anything change, we are happy to come again, and I thank him for his service. He nods at me and says, “we all do a part, you know that, I am sure”. I will think of those words often in the months to come, as his quiet example and message stay with me.
We all do our part of service, many of us. It is a privilege and an honor to have the opportunity to care for those who have served in a greater capacity. Success is often measured by today’s standards in quantitative units – big house, sleek car, size of paycheck.
Maybe it’s as simple as quiet self-possession in the twilight of a career of service to something greater than oneself. A crossword puzzle book on the end table and a crockpot bubbling goodness in a small kitchen. A sleeping cat in the corner chair and a spotless bathroom at the end of a hallway that is filled with reminders of an earlier life.
I went out into the bright sunshine and heat, caught up with the responders and laughed about the way I’m straddling the fence between ER nurse and working paramedic. Heard about kids and sports and met the new responder, complimented her on the report and exchanged pleasantries. Soon both agencies wheeled our respective apparatus/trucks out of the quiet retirement mobile home park towards the next call for service.
A former supervisor of mine said it best.
People helping people, that’s what it’s all about.