Wednesday, November 1, 2006

"A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs." ~ Henry David Thoreau

One of the biggest differences between police/fire dispatching and ambulance dispatching is that ambulance dispatching is more personal. We dispatch a lot of "scheduled" calls - calls for patients going to doctor's appointments, dialysis treatments, visits to a hospital for some sort of treatment or test, and even trips home on holidays or other special occasions. These were things that I never knew about when I was across the street at the Norwich Police Department dealing with the nameless and faceless people who called for things like barking dogs, illegally parked vehicles, loud stereos, domestic violence cases, etc. Certainly there were some names that repeated themselves and were recognized (frequent fliers we call them) but they were no where near the number that I have encountered in my current job.

The road crews become attached to a lot of our patients, especially patients who have multiple transports sometimes either daily or at least several times a week. They get to know the people, the stories of their lives, their families; they know when they're having a good day or a bad day; and they come to care about them as more than just patients. When a patient succombs to kidney disease or cancer or whatever ailment they had, the crews that have transported and treated them grieve at their loss and sometimes even request a day off to attend a funeral. If that isn't personal, I don't know what is.

As part of our system of keeping track of our regular patients we have a write-erase board in dispatch/scheduling on which we write the names of patients that we either no longer transport, are in the hospital and not going to their regularly scheduled appointments, or are deceased. Sometimes the left side of the board that lists the patients who are in the hospital is empty and other times it's full; the right side of the board that lists the deceased is - sadly - full of names.

Unlike the road crews, I have no faces to associate with the names but those names have become as familiar to me as those of my friends and family. Even though I've never met a single one of those patients, I feel like I know them to a small extent and it saddens me to see a new name go up on the deceased side of the board.

A couple months ago we took on a new patient (who shall remain nameless in deference to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) who had what I thought was a very cool name. I conjured up the image of a very dignified man with ruddy cheeks and a beaming smile who was quick with a joke and a laugh, a man who was well-loved by his family, and who had a kind word for everyone. Shortly after we began his transports, he was admitted to the hospital and stayed there for a very long time. A couple of times he was scheduled to be returned to the nursing home that he was residing at but each time his transport would get cancelled and he would remain in the hospital. Still, he wasn't horribly old and I always thought he would eventually come out of the hospital and resume his normal dialysis treatments. Sadly, that was not to be the case.

Not even halfway through my shift today, Baby Liz told me that my favorite name on the admit board had to be moved to the deceased side as his obituary had appeared in the newspaper this morning. The man with the cool name had died on Monday having never left Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. Now maybe it was because I hadn't been feeling too good all morning or maybe it was because I was feeling a bit snoggily around the edges but when Baby Liz told me that he had passed away, I actually began to cry a little bit. I guess it seems silly to shed tears over a man I had never met, one whose name I knew only from the spreadsheets or computer, but I was very saddened at the news of his passing.

Out of curiosity, I looked up his name in the obituaries in the hopes that there might be a link to one of the many memorial pages that are on the web these days and sure enough, there was - complete with a picture of a man with ruddy cheeks, a beaming smile, and what looked to be a twinkle in his eye behind the glasses he wore. He looked like a loving husband and father, a beloved grandfather, and a man who had enjoyed his life to the fullest. In short, he looked just like I had pictured him to. The family has posted quite a few pictures in the "slide show" section of his memorial page and it looks like he had a done a lot of traveling in his life and that he'd had a fine time doing it. The pictures show what looks like a life well-lived and well-loved. No doubt his wife of 44 years will miss him greatly as will his children and grandchildren and I'm sure his memory will live on for a very long time in all of their hearts.

I only knew his name but maybe that's all I needed to know. I only know a lot of their names. And I guess if I'm going to be in this business for any length of time, I'm going to have to get a thicker skin ...


  1. Anonymous9:00 AM EST

    Well said Linda. My Mom often runs into the same type of attachment being a nursing home nurse. I have seen her cry many times in my lifetime over the loss of a patient that she may have been caring for for years. I can even remember certain Christmases that my Mom would sign out a particular patient who had no family and bring her home to enjoy the holiday with us. You're right....if that's not personal, I don't know what is.

  2. Anonymous9:39 AM EST

    I had the same experience working in the mental health field. Perhaps even with some of the same patients. And when they need a higher level of care or in the case of teenagers get shuffled about as the system is apt to do..

    Recently I had the experience of seeing one of "my kids" listed as being an alleged perpetrator in a beating death. This of course struck me as a family member was a victim of the same thing. To feel on both sides of the fence like that..

    No need to feel like you need a thicker skin. It takes a certain type of person to be able to do this line of work (the helping services) and those people need compassion. Developing a thicker skin will only dull that compassion. And who wants that?

  3. I'm with Anonymous - who needs to dull their compassion in exchange for thicker skin? Linda - you just keep on being the type of person you are - we're running darned short on folks like you anyhow. As one of the "road crews", I've mourned lost patients, and have even attended a couple of funerals. Will I stop - heck no! I will continue to get to know the folks in the back of my "bus", and pray for the best!


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