Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) Andrea Amuzzini and Chanel Belim have to be ready for anything every day, they told the Gazette during a visit and ride-along in their ambulance on June 6.
Ambulance 13 usually covers Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain (their base is E-13 police station there), West Roxbury and Dorchester, but they will cover any situation that needs them. The ambulance is usually driving around, patrolling, even when EMTs were not on a call.
Patrolling works better than sitting in a garage, Amizzini said, because they can usually reach a destination faster. On the odd chance that they would take too long to reach someone, an ambulance from a neighboring district would come in.
The Gazette’s ridealong took place on June 6, from the start of the shift at 7 a.m. to about an hour before the shift ended at 3 p.m. While the Gazette was present, Ambulance 13 was called for six events. Most were transports: elderly people with complaints; a teenager who missed a psychiatric appointment and started trashing his room; and two cardiac events. The locations included Jamaica Plain, the South End, West Roxbury and Dorchester, with transport to hospitals in the LMA and other areas.
The EMTs’ focus is to stabilize patients for transport. They do perform a first assessment so emergency room personnel have a better idea of how to triage a patient. The big questions: Is their condition life-threatening? Can the patient answer questions about their symptoms accurately?
While the Gazette did not see any traumatic accidents or immediately life-threatening injuries, the EMTs reinforced that there is no “typical day.” Every day is different, every call is different, every patient is different, and they must ready for that, they said.
The first call came in at just after 7 a.m. An elderly man wasn’t feeling well. He blamed it on some bad lasagne, but his caretaker said the symptoms started before the potentially poisonous pasta.
Belim was friendly and warm with him. When helping him onto the gurney, she got him to turn around slowly by pretending to help him “dance.”
She sat in the back of the ambulance during the ride to the hospital, asking him questions. He correctly identified the day as the anniversary of D-Day, but said the current year was 1914, not 2014. He declared his love for President Barack Obama. Belim kept him talking and comfortable for the whole six-minute ride.
Amuzzini, the day’s driver, explained to the Gazette that she tries to be “conservative” with the siren. Riding in residential neighborhoods, the lights are usually enough to make motorists notice her, but sometimes, the siren is necessary, especially when multiple ambulances are riding in convoy—which happens every time there is a call for a “cardiac event,” she explains.
EMTs and paramedics, who are more highly trained EMTs, both answer those calls. This is so paramedics can work on the patient if necessary, while the EMTs drive both trucks. And if things get really bad, she added, both trucks pull over and all four professionals can focus on the patient.
“You might have an idea of what you’re walking into, but you have to keep an open mind,” Amuzzini said, explaining that all she gets before arrival is what dispatch is able to get from a possibly distressed 911 caller.
“You can’t depend on anything,” she said. “You have to rule things out [yourself]. Every call is different.”
Later in the morning, Amuzzini and Belim picked up an older woman, who complained of back pain after a recent discharge from the hospital. It turned out that she had stopped taking her diabetes medication after getting good blood sugar results for several days in a row.
“But that’s because of the medication,” Belim explained to her. Her patience and kindness toward the patient was reminiscent of kindergarten teachers.
After a kind but short and no-nonsense lecture about the need to take medication as prescribed, Belim and the patient spent the rest of the ride to the hospital talking about the possibility of dressing cats for portraits.
The two cardiac patients treated during the Gazette ride-along were suffering from chest pain. Having histories with their hearts, they both called ambulances for medical attention. One was an intravenous drug user, which made the EMTs’ job of giving him an IV much more difficult. Both were conscious when they were delivered to their hospitals.
As for the call about the out-of-control teen, the police responded first, so by the time the EMTs arrived, he was calm and was helping clean up his room. He readily accepted a ride to the hospital for his appointment.
Belim didn’t get breakfast until 10:30, on her second attempt. Their shift started at 7 a.m. and did not end until 3 p.m. Breaks are taken hastily between calls, so running to get food is always a gamble: Will she have time to order, pay, pick up her food and eat before she has to go out again?
Amuzzini said that EMTs often have to return to pick up their meals after a call interrupts them. She packs her lunch instead, eating it in the truck or back at E-13 police station, where EMTs have a break room.
Belim is not Amuzzini’s regular partner. She’s picking up extra shifts to cover a recent vacation. She’s also planning on going back to school in the next year, so she wants to pad her savings, she said.
Belim told the Gazette she got into this job by accident. She had many hours of working for the city and was preparing to go to police academy, but found that it would take too long for her to graduate.
EMT-ing would allow her to keep her City hours with a shorter training schedule.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had. It never feels like work,” she said.
Amuzzini’s regular partner is Kelly Cronin. She had that day off, but spoke to the Gazette last month.
“I like helping people. It’s the one thing that has always made me feel good at the end of the day,” Cronin said.
The most traumatic thing Cronin and Amuzzini have to deal with, they quickly say, is not physical injuries—that they are trained to deal with; they know “how to fix it.”
“It’s the neglect of elders, or the abuse of a child,” Cronin said.
“Those are the things that affect you, that stay with you,” Amuzzini added.
Amuzzini told the Gazette that after working for the IRS for several years, when it came time to return to the workforce after staying at home with her kids, she “wanted to do something with a bit more meaning.”
“At the end of the day, it opens your eyes to what’s going on out there,” she said, noting that it makes her appreciate what she has in life so much more.