I did not expect to work on New Year’s Day, but here I am driving while my partner is in the back of the ambulance with the patient on the gurney.
It was our fourth call of the day. The sky quickly grew dark, especially during the winter season. Both my partner and I grew exhausted, even though we grew accustomed to the demands of the job.
It was challenging to locate the patient’s address because my GPS stopped on the main street. I scoured the poorly lit street looking for an address or mailbox. None matched the patient’s address. I steered the ambulance onto a long dirt road, but it turned out to be the patient’s neighbor.
I was getting close.
We arrived on yet another dirt road thanks to the patient’s guidance. There was no mailbox or address sign, nor were there any lights to indicate a home. The ambulance’s high beam was the only source of light. The grainy texture of the gravel echoed in the night as we drove deeper in, and every pothole swayed the ambulance from side-to-side.
I was skeptical.
There was no way a house could be in the middle of nowhere, I reasoned. We expected the patient’s family member to be home, but there were no lights visible. Not at all.
As we continued, I came to a halt in front of a wooden-looking gate. Initially, I thought it was a fence, but it turned out to be the patient’s front gate. I got out of the car to inspect the house. We called from the gate to see if anyone could open it for us. Nobody responded. The patient insisted that we open the gate ourselves. As so we eventually did and prepared to offload the patient.
It was difficult to maneuver the gurney on wet, mushy gravel, but there was no other option. I was steering the gurney from the front, while my partner pushed from the back. Tumbleweeds and trash cans were in the way, but clearing the path for the gurney was no problem.
There was an old, inoperable RV with a broken window on the gated property. Trash cans, both full and empty, were scattered about the premises, as were bottles, bags, and debris. There was a ramp leading up into a plywood shaft. The home appeared to have previously been a mobile home – it was my best guess anyways. There was a dim light in the house, but no one seemed to be there.
Before we went up the ramp, someone had to check the scene. We regularly inspect patient’s house to determine whether or not the gurney can be accommodated and to identify any potential hazards. Being the one in front, I was the lucky person to assess the scene. Using the flashlight on my phone, I went up the ramp. The air felt different. I could smell the mold and rot through my mask. As I entered, I was welcomed by a dark hallway straight out of a horror movie. A disgusting scene of trash, random home appliances, and piles upon piles of soiled clothes littered everywhere. An ominous empty room full of waste and garbage was on the right, and a damaged duck-taped door was on the left. There were foul wooden furnitures towards the front door, but it was still enough room for the gurney.
We decided to go in.
The light rain made the ramp slippery but holding the damp wooden railings helped. We pulled the patient through the entryway and into the hallway. I felt the wooden floor bend and begin to creek beneath me. It was unsettling to haul the gurney with the patient through, and the dampness from the rain did not help.
An old woman opened the duck-taped door. She greeted us and explained how she has vertigo, making it difficult for her to walk around. She introduced us to the main area. As I stepped foot through the door to look around, the pungent and odorous smell made me almost puke. What was supposed to be a kitchen had a messy pile of food, bottles, and even more clothes on the center table. The opened cupboard was stocked with ready-made noodle soup and canned food. There appeared to be several other rooms that seemed to be full of the same soiled debris. The walls were tinted a greasy yellow, and old 1970s pictures of the couple hung throughout. Dog food was placed on paper plates, and feces were collected in a large, open gray container.
When entering a patient’s home, it is critical to be respectful and mindful of their space and belongings. I cleared the narrow walkway for the gurney and went back to help my partner move the patient.
It was not easy. We had to steer the gurney around tight corners, collapse sections of the gurney to fit through, move debris, and rearrange the furniture. It was far from easy. When the gurney became wedged between the kitchen table and a drawer, we had no choice but to call for help. It would take about 30 minutes for another crew to arrive and assist. Until then, we persevered and eventually made it around the corner.
An open room was on the other side of the kitchen. To the left, it was a landfill with personal belongings, shoes, household items, and trash. A makeshift bed with a mattress supported by a stool and a bulky lounge chair was to the right.
In the background, a small Vizio TV with a Christmas fireplace played. Despite their circumstances, they strive to instill some decency.
With limited space to work with and the chair in the way, it was difficult to move the patient over to their bed. After improvising, we eventually transferred the patient without incident. We gave the family member the patient’s health documents and obtained a signature for our ePCR.
My partner and I ensured the patient was comfortable before leaving. We maneuvered the gurney out of the kitchen, around the tight corner, through the duck-taped door, into the dark entryway, down the slippery ramp, and out the wooden gates.
I was concerned about them. Living in such conditions can be harmful to their health. While the patient was eager to get into bed, the elderly lady kept apologizing for the mess. Despite her vertigo, she was eager to help and was grateful for our assistance. Even though their circumstances were not ideal, I was happy and glad to be of assistance to them.
We noticed light coming our way as we left the property. It was the other crew to help out. We thanked them for coming even though we managed to help the patient get to his bed on our own.
I looked at my partner, and my partner looked back at me. We knew it was a tough call. One that tested our teamwork, communication skills, and professionalism.
After finalizing our report, we drove home, tired as can be.
As I backed my partner up, there was a loud shattering sound. We turned on the side floodlights to find how we ran over a green glass bottle. I pried out the glass bits that were stuck on the tires.
We drove home, exhausted, hoping the tire would last the long trip.