A while back, one of my readers said he would like to hear about some of my calls when I was running EMS. We discussed our calls among ourselves, even though we were bound by those pesky HIPPA laws but if the Mayor was transported after a drunk driving accident, it wasn’t like we all didn’t know.
There were calls that bothered me, calls that annoyed me and calls that pissed me off. I remember them all but I decided to write about one that was incredibly memorable and sad.
In EMS, we have patients we run on regularly and they become known as “frequent flyers.” We get to know them well and form a sort of bond with them.
This is the story of Hope.
My partner and I got a call for “respiratory distress.” We got on scene and were led to a back bedroom. That was the first time I saw Hope. She was a twenty-six year old girl who weighed 852 pounds. My partner and I each weighed about a buck fifteen.
Because of her weight, she was bed bound and frequently had difficulty breathing. She kept apologizing for the “trouble.” I told her it was no trouble and we were there to help. I could see the embarrassment in her eyes when she took my hand and said “I’m sorry I’m so fat.”
I don’t know if I ever ran across a patient who had a sweeter disposition than Hope. Even while she was struggling to breathe, she said “you are so kind and you have such beautiful hair.”
I asked her parents how long she had been having trouble breathing. They said it had just started and then asked me if they could feed her before we left. They seemed to be more concerned about her getting to eat than being able to breathe.
Her mama was less than five feet tall and couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. Her daddy wasn’t much taller and looked like a toothpick. Hope was their only child.
Her mama took me aside and said they didn’t want Hope to be hungry. I told her that the hospital would give her something to eat but we needed to get her there before she got worse.
I knew that we were going to need help getting her to the hospital so I called dispatch and asked for any available crews to come assist. I also asked them to send the fire department. I knew she would never fit on our stretcher so I requested that one of the crews bring “Chitty.”
Chitty was our critical care ambulance. The cab was the size of an eighteen wheeler and the “trailer” was as large by half. The fire department had a “whale carrier.” Since it was a coastal city, large marine life would sometimes get stranded and the carrier was how they moved them. It was the only way we could get Hope out to the ambulance. We had to remove the standard stretcher mounts and slide her onto the floor.
She was naked, so I used my sense of humor to distract her from the indignity of being eyed and handled while she was being loaded and made sure that she was covered to prevent gawking neighbors from seeing anything.
After we got her loaded, she started crying and said “I don’t want to die.” I told her she wasn’t going to die on my watch. She said she had tried to lose weight and wanted to have gastric by-pass surgery but she weighed too much and then started apologizing again. I told her she had nothing to apologize for.
This was the routine for several months. I got to know her well and she was such a sweet child. She was the same age as my youngest daughter. We talked about music and movies and as soon as I would get her to the hospital, she would always say the same thing. “I don’t want to die.”
As soon as we got her in the bed, her parents wanted to know when she was going to be fed and again said “we don’t want her to be hungry.”
It was so heartbreaking when her parents talked about wanting her to not be hungry. Every time she was hospitalized, her parents would sneak buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken into her room. The nurses finally had to threaten them with loss of visitation rights if they continued.
I was on shift on Christmas Eve and had just dropped off a patient. I stopped at the nurses’ station to get some paperwork signed and one of them asked if I had heard about Hope. I said “of course. I’ve brought her here many times.”
The nurse shook her head and said “no. Hope died. She went into cardiac arrest about an hour ago and we couldn’t bring her back.”
She was down the hall in a room but I couldn’t bring myself to go see her. The nurses said her parents had asked for a few minutes alone with her, which of course, they granted.
When they went in to disconnect the machinery, one of them noticed something trickling from Hopes’ mouth.
While her parents were alone with her, they stuffed her mouth full of candy. They didn’t want her to be hungry while she was alive and they didn’t want her to be hungry after she died.