On the Language Thing

Sunday, February 27 2005

The EMS field was to me completely unexplored territory when first I entered in mid-2002. I didn’t even have a CPR certification. Since then there have been classrooms, labs, books, books books. From where I sit at the computer I see no fewer than 39 EMS textbooks and 8 scribble-filled notebooks. I have in the course of time read all of them, some several times over. Some I am still studying from. In this, DTs is no different from his EMS Brethren – everybody who graduated from my Paramedic class had to do the same.

In order to do the Job more effectively, though, we all had to augment these books with “outside references” – EKG interpretation, for instance, is one field where you can never study enough. So to those 39 add in well over three dozen “outside” reference books, and Pocket References Galore. Although the classes are over, the books continue to accumulate.

So it’s no wonder, when all is said and done, that those folk who have to their own satisfaction “made it” to their level of choice (Basic, Intermediate, or Paramedic) are usually quite finished with book larnin’ and very glad to throw down stuff by Brady and, if they are of what passes for firehouse literary persuasion, pick up something by Koontz or Steele.

Those in the House who are not of literary persuasion – by far the majority – Look At You Sideways when spotting you with a book in hand. But everyone in the House is always doing some sort of training, some sort of recertification. In the Station, then, not so much reaction. DTs with a Book: Acknowledged.

In the Private Sector, however, from the Sideways Look there are three typical follow-up actions:

If said book is merely an EMS “fun” book, such as Manhattan Medics or Into the Breach, no words, or a grunt. Also expect this reaction if you are reading, say, Garfield’s Word Search or Highlights. As long as it’s not a Textbook. (DO read the two italicized books if ever you get the chance – they’re both excellent!)

If said book is a textbook, one is usually asked if a test or recertification or “upgrade” is in the works – typical banter.

If, as has lately been the case with DTs, the book is Medical Spanish or Spanish for Law Enforcement or an English-Spanish Dictionary – prepare for incredulity. Your EMS brothers are much too polite to roll their eyes, circle their ears with a forefinger, laugh outright, or… what else is it they always do, lemme think…

Books, books and more books. Away with our books, then! Especially language books, because:

“They’re in America – let ’em learn English.”

“Their kids probably speak English – let them translate.”

“Let the hospital deal with it – normal saline never hurt nobody and a splint’s a splint”

“The detailed history can wait until the ER.”

“They Point and You Patch.”

“If they were unconscious you wouldn’t get verbal info, so just pretend…”

All, to my way of thinking, baloney. We don’t tell obese patients, “Lose the weight, then we’ll talk about getting you onto the stretcher”. Rather, we in EMS work out. I see no difference between accommodating a patient with my muscle and accommodating them with some added study. Either way, I’m investing time in myself.

It all distills into What Makes Us Better At Our Job? And one never knows when the extra bits will come into play.

For example, I had to leave my driver at the scene of a wreck last duty. Her Spanish was better than mine, and the medic needed her help with a patient who was a fly out. My patient was a “load and go” as well, due solely to mechanism – both patients were ejected from the car, mine straight into the arms of angels – not a scratch or broken bone anywhere. Better safe than sorry and my X-Ray Glasses have yet to arrive from DC Comics.

Here too, Spanish was it. No Spanish = No communication.

Nobody needed to speak to the third occupant.


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