A first-timer rides along with San Francisco EMT crew

A first-timer rides along with San Francisco EMT crew

By Kayla Batom, Marketing Communications Assistant

Recently, I had the opportunity to ride along with our crews for a 10-hour shift in San Francisco. For someone with no experience at all with healthcare or EMS, the prospect of doing a ride along was very exciting, and it was all so new to me. It was a wonderful chance to gain some insight into what a normal workday for some of ProTransport-1’s EMTs looks like.

The day of my ride along was unusually sunny and warm for the city. When I first arrived at Station 84, there was some confusion as to why I was doing a ride along. No, I wasn’t an EMT in training, and, no, I wasn’t a marketing student with a pronounced interest in EMS. I was there for the experience and to take pictures, I explained, hoisting my camera. Once they realized I was from ProTransport-1’s Marketing and Communications Department and was there to get a little taste of what they do every day, the mood changed. Lots of jokes about being on best behavior and which best-looking individual should pose for pictures.

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I met the crew I’d been assigned to: Christian and Joey. Both were relatively new to the company, particularly Joey, who’d only been with ProTransport-1 for a month – about the same as me.

While waiting for my crew to get their first call, I joined in a game of kickball with the EMTs and paramedics. I was enjoying myself but at the same time I was impatient, waiting for Christian’s radio to go off with a call from dispatch. Honestly, I hadn’t been expecting downtime at all in my excitement, but it happens and you’ve got to be ready to head out at any minute. Only 20 minutes later my crew got their first call and I ran to grab my backpack and camera. I hopped into the back of their ambulance, Unit 273, and off we went.

The first call took us to Kaiser. I trailed behind Christian and Joey as they wheeled their gurney through the pristine, sterile hallways. I lingered outside as they entered the patient’s room, not wanting to get in the way. As soon as they stepped into the room their demeanor completely changed. They were trying to get things done so they could get moving – paperwork filled out, patient vitals taken – but at the same time they were engaging with the patient and making sure he was comfortable, joking with him and making sure he was ready for his transport. They were also very kind to the patient’s family member as she watched the proceedings. Soon all the paperwork and preliminary duties were out of the way, and Christian and Joey wheeled their patient back through the hallways and out to the ambulance, stopping at times so the patient’s elderly family member could catch up.

One methodical, careful drive that lasted about two minutes later and we had arrived. The call was right across the street. Christian and Joey began the process to unload their patient and wheel him safe to his destination, and I took the time to snap some pictures of the rig parked on the steep San Francisco street.

After that quick first call we got to take a lunch break, where we ran into a couple of other EMTs on their break. They get a 30-minute lunch break each shift. We were walking back to the rig when another call came in, and it was back to Kaiser. I took some pictures as they went through the process of unloading the stretcher, laying paper down, preparing it for a patient. There’s a checklist for almost everything they do that must be followed to the T. Christian and Joey were nice enough to bear with me taking pictures, although it must have made them feel awkward. They joked about being some of the newest EMTs yet already becoming the face of ProTransport-1.

Again, with this patient, Christian and Joey were endlessly patient and accommodating. They talked with the patient’s daughter as her mother got ready, outlining her needs and asking about her welfare. Nurses came over and handed me paperwork to pass on to the EMTs, which served the dual purpose of making me feel useful.

This patient’s home was of the typical San Francisco variety, which meant lots of stairs. It also meant the EMTs had to break out the stair chair. They transferred their patient from stretcher to stair chair, and, step by careful step, carried her up the stairs into her home. Each patient pickup and drop-off was a long, methodical process. There was no sense of impatience or haste, they took as long as was needed so the patient felt safe and comfortable.

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As we left, Christian wound the rig through crowded streets. It was nearing commute hours and the roads were filling up with cars. I was staring out of the back window – we were in parts of the city that were completely new to me. A third call came in.

We arrived in the emergency parking garage thirty minutes early, so Christian and Joey were looking forward to a short break before starting the transfer. When we walked through the doors we were greeted by the patient and his son in the hallway. There were a couple of moments of confusion as the patient’s son spoke rapidly in Russian to Christian, demanding and gesticulating, until a nurse could come over to translate. All were wearing surgical masks. Joey disappeared for a second and returned sporting a mask, handing one to me and Christian. Just a precaution, he explained. He liked to do whatever the nurse was doing.

It took Christian and Joey some maneuvering to get the patient, who was lying down in his stretcher, on to the ambulance stretcher. Driving to the patient’s home, Christian realized that it was an apartment with a great deal of stairs. There was more careful maneuvering to get the prone patient into a stair lift and strapped in tightly. They disappeared for some time and when they returned, Joey informed me that there had been quite a few more stairs than had been listed.

We made our way back to Station 84 through heavy commuter traffic. Christian and Joey were in high spirits, looking forward to relaxing a bit at the station, eating food they’d brought from home, even just being able to sit down. We’d just rolled up the ramp into the large, cool garage of the station when the radio went off again with a fourth call. Christian made a loop around the parked cars and ambulances, down the ramp and out again.

Christian said it was our last run and it would be short. When we returned from the call they would probably have downtime until the end of their shift unless dispatch was short crews and they were needed to fill in. He also told us about his patient from the previous night, picked up from the same hospital and dropped off at a single room hotel in the Tenderloin. He said the living conditions had been somewhat depressing. But, “they were playing music in the street, having a dance party right outside,” he laughed.

When we arrived at General, Christian realized that the patient we were about to pick up was the same patient he had dropped off the night before and wondered aloud, “Why is he back here?” He was genuinely concerned. Somewhere down the line, incorrect information about the patient had been given. The patient’s weight was far more than what the crew had been told, and their unit was not equipped to transport him. Dispatch was going to send a larger bariatric unit and the crews would switch rigs. They would also need another crew to provide a lift assist since the patient was too heavy for two people to transport.

Christian and Joey weren’t sure how long the ambulance switch would take, so we went outside to wait by Unit 273. This really highlighted for me how many moving parts were in action – they must sync up perfectly for it all to get done. The smallest bit of error and everything could get thrown out of whack. The crews need to be adaptable and willing to improvise in case things don’t go according to plan.

The bariatric unit soon arrived, and the switch was made. Christian and Joey fetched the bariatric stretcher and we went back into the hospital to fetch the patient, and they started the transport.

Christian hadn’t been exaggerating when he described the patient’s living conditions. The hotel was downtrodden, sparse and dirty, and the two front desk people were behind walls of glass. A friendly group of transient people were planted on the sidewalk in front of the lobby, talking and joking. It was, overall, a very eye-opening glimpse into a life very different than mine.

It had been a long day for me, but normal for them. As I left Station 84 to drive through a dark city, I was tired, but content. ProTransport-1’s crews work long hours, doing important things, and no two days are ever the same. It’s a job that requires a lot of good in a person. Patience, adaptability, genuine concern for other people’s well-being. I’m very glad I got the chance to tag along and see them do what they do.