Profaning the Semi-Sacred

Friday, April 22 2005

There was a TV commercial some years ago for, I think, shampoo, in which a sultry actress breathed, “If you want someone’s attention… whisper.”

If you want the undivided attention of an EMT, borrow his pen. We’ll watch you like a hawk.

Pens are semi-sacred to EMTs. Since “semi-sacred” is a strange status indeed, let’s differentiate and define it by comparing it to, say, something sacred: the stethoscope

Stethoscopes are sacred, but since absolutely everyone knows this, there is never a problem with stethoscopes. Run calls with someone for a few months, day in and day out, and they may, if you ask, let you borrow their stethoscope, for a moment, to look at. Don’t put your fingers on the bell end of it. Don’t touch the nubbins which go in their ears. Do wipe off any fingerprints you leave. Use it? I’ve known husband-wife medics who take exception to swapping stethoscopes.

Put your stethoscope on a chair and in even the most crowded report room that chair is “reserved”. You will certainly get dirty looks when you return from wherever to claim your chair, if the Paramedics find they’ve been standing for a mere EMT – but they won’t have moved your ‘scope.

Note to newbies: This applies to EMS Report Rooms, a later subject. Leaving your ‘scope unattended anywhere else does not indicate “reserved”. It indicates “free stethoscope”, and yes, the culprit will if caught be treated much as a horse thief in the Old West, but still – they’ve done unspeakable things to it in the meantime, like, using it or something. Ewww.

It is an emergency indeed if someone calls out for a stethoscope and a medic will give you the one ’round his neck. We’ll look through a bag or two first, for a spare stethoscope to toss to you, or yell, “Forget it – we’ll do lung sounds in the unit”, meaning, “I, who have a ‘scope, will do it then, or you, when you find your own damn ‘scope, may do it.”

So that’s sacred. Here’s semi-sacred.

It must be remembered that most of our equipment is issued. There is very little room for individual expression. DTs tried wearing a bandanna with skull-and-crossbones once, but it was frowned upon. And while TV tells us that doctors in Korea wore monkey suits and bathrobes, we, alas, must stay in uniform and wear sensible shoes.

We can’t choose which brand of BP cuff to use and anyway that’s just plain dumb – who cares about BP cuff brands? Which brand of expensive item, like, say a Zoll or a Lifepak? Not our call. We use what we got.

Ah, but They Don’t Issue Pens, Do They?

Now, here’s a piece of equipment we can express opinions about, because we’re in a position to do something about it. And opinionate we do!

A pen whose clip holds it point-down is frowned upon by some – leakage into shirt pocket – but others in EMS say, no – leakage is minimal, while the point-up position means the ink runs to the back of the pen and it’s not ready to use. And why use shirt-clips at all when you can clip it to your belt? Some say that since shirt-clips keep it next to the body, in cold weather the ink stays loose, and what’s the freezing point of a Gel pen anyway?… it goes on.

You can find an EMT in the CVS or Office Depot comparing pens in the aisle. Next time you see someone peering at each and every pen, while avoiding the mechanical pencils and wincing at the Bic Value Pack (!50! Non-Retractable Pens!), that person is probably in EMS.

By the way, the Papermate FlexGrip has a rubberized exterior which not only allows it to snug into your scissors-penlight-pen holder, keeping it from falling out while you’re upside-down in an auto wreck, but the rubber is antibacterial too. Just thought I’d share.

So, what are the odds that someone who puts that much into choosing a pen will simply hand it over? And why, if an EMT is wearing socks and underwear, do they not also have a pen? What kind of a health provider are they, anyway? No pen!

Prepare, O Penless One, for scornful looks from your colleagues. And give it back when you’re done.

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