When Someone Says “Call an Ambulance”

…The following actions are not acceptable, or should only be taken after the requested ambulance is summoned:

-Calling your boss or the dying person’s boss.
-Calling the local non-emergency doctor.
-Calling your friend who went to med school for advice.
-Running across the street to see if maybe they have some medicine that can help.

All of these are plenty well intentioned, but they do no good. Worse, all of them have happened to me when I’ve needed an ambulance.  My first thought upon examining this grim reality is that I need to step it up when it comes to choosing who to surround myself with.  Well no, my first thought was “Holy fucking shit,” but my second thought came pretty quickly after.

Then I realized, the people making the calls in this situations weren’t people I chose to have around anyway.  I’ll tell three stories worth telling.
You see, I have brutal asthma. Nasty stuff. Before you start with your well-meaning advice, please, I’ve tried the diets, the home remedies, the detoxes, and enough medicines to fill a pharmacy. But that’s not what’s important here: point is, I’ve got it and it’s dangerous.

One time in college I was running out of breath and my friend carried me to the reception desk on his back for help. He set me down and screamed, “Call an ambulance!” (This was before everyone and their kids had cellphones.)  Front desk guy dialed some numbers, said some things urgently, and I felt relieved to know that help was on the way.

But help wasn’t on the way. Idiocy was on the way. Well, no, idiocy was already there. Death was on the way.

A man named Doctor Brown, the campus physician arrived on the scene, clearly dressed and ready for drastic medical action, what with his suit and tie and accompanying clipboard and also bag of nothing.

He told me to sit up straight, breath slowly, not talk, and proceeded to flaunt the fruits of his years of medical practice: he waved the clipboard at my face, creating a slight breeze. It felt nice in the way it feels nice to suffocate in a comfy chair rather than rolling around on a bunch of shattered bottles. Functionally, however, it did nothing.

My friend, all this while, had been saying things we both wished someone would listen to. Things like, “He has asthma,” and “He needs to go to a hospital!” and “Give him oxygen or something!” The three smartest things said came from the mouth of a 20-year-old — proof that you don’t need a medical degree to occasionally outsmart a doctor.

After much time and flapping, Dr. Brown asked how I felt. I answered that I thought I might die. The doctor threw up his hands and asked indignantly, “Well what do you want me to do!?” I replied, “Something medical.”

It turns out that an ambulance had not been called when my friend cried out. Despite the scary scene that was going on, despite the fact that I was, you know, unable to walk under my own power, an ambulance hadn’t been called. I was literally powerless to do anything about this. I was low on oxygen, what was I going to do? Stand there and demand my rights? Ask to speak to the manager? I’d be dead by the time the manager arrived.

I was driven by a regular van to the hospital and taken to the ER, where sadly, the urgency was only kicked up by the most modest of notches. A nurse took my blood oxygen level with a pulse oximeter, and when it read 72, she didn’t alert a doctor. Instead, she got a different oximeter because she was convinced that one was broken. No one sees the wizard, not no way, not no how! And apparently, no one has an oxygen level of 72. The second machine showed a 71.

In the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses shall every word be established.”

-Somewhere in The Bible

My nurse must have been patiently looking for the Biblically recommended second witness, because she sure took her sweet time wheeling out one machine and slllloooooowly wheeling in the other.  For those who don’t know what a good oxygen reading is, it’s generally said that under 90 means you need an oxygen mask.  In one hospital, the oximeter had an alarm that would start going off at 83.  And there I sat with my reading in the low 70’s receiving no medical attention.  The lack of urgency was appalling.  Well I mean, hey, I arrived in a van driven by someone who could have very well called an ambulance, and he seemed like he thought everything was fine.  Why would they have acted as if there were any emergency, especially when I — now without my power of speaking — couldn’t say anything to the contrary?

Finally, I took some breathing treatments, had medicine and water plugged into by an IV and had an oxygen mask slapped on my face. And wouldn’t you know it, those somehow did the trick!

If only my friend and I had thought to ask for a trip to the hospital to begin with! Oh wait, we did. And some fucking guy at the counter could have gotten me killed. Thanks, you fucking guy!

Part 2 tomorrow.