Memory of an Ambulance Attendant
I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about a call I ran ten years ago. It was for a twelve-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted over the course of years. Her parents had been trying to immigrate to the United States to get her away from the situation and get her the help she wouldn’t have in Mexico. As soon as she and her parents received their approval letter to enter the country, they traveled to Santa Ana, California where they have family to stay with and obtain their permanent address. About a week later they were in the emergency room, getting the help their daughter desperately needed.
In the emergency room, I received report from her R.N. while my partner introduced us and secured our patient on the gurney. Her parents were driving separately, so they gave their hugs and see you soons and left. We loaded her into the back of the ambulance and we were off on our two-hour drive from an emergency room in Anaheim to a pediatric psychiatric facility in San Diego.
En route, I ask her the questions that came standard on our run reports, took her blood pressure and pulse. As I was finishing my report I asked her if there was anything I could do to help her get more comfortable.
“Yes,” she replied. “ Can you please lean me back?”
“Absolutely!” I did and settled into a comfortable silence.
After a few minutes, she relaxed and nodded off. I took that time to read through her hospital chart. There was a note stating she hasn’t been able to stay asleep for longer than two to three minutes at a time due to severe nightmares. They have been increasing in severity over the last few months. No child should have PTS, I thought angrily.
I remember having those nightmares haunt me. I was about her age when I was sexually assaulted. I took ten years, but I was finally able to banish them.
Less than two minutes go by and she starts tossing and turning and talking in her sleep, telling someone to stop and get away from her. She woke with a start. I told her everything was okay and she was safe. “You’re in the back of an ambulance,” I say.
I gave a gentle squeeze to her forearm. She began to relax and nods off again.
Less than two minutes later, it happens again. And again and again for the next hour. She would nod off briefly and her nightmare would keep her from sleep.
I ask her if maybe she wants to try listening to music. She nodded. It couldn’t hurt, I thought.
Unfortunately, that was the day for pediatric psych patients. Our last patient was a fourteen-year-old boy who had tried to commit suicide after his parents kicked him out of the house after finding out he was gay. He asked if we could play Lady Gaga because “she’s my queen, girl,” snapping his fingers while telling me this.
Telephone starts filtering through the back and she starts drifting back to sleep. The song ends. She’s still asleep. Good. For the last half hour of the transport, she stays in a deep, uninterrupted sleep. It’s only the shrill sound of the ambulances backup alarm that wakes her up. It doesn’t scare her. She blinks a few times and looks at me with a huge smile on her face.
My partner walks around and opens the back doors, asking if his driving left everything on the shelves. She nodded her head vigorously and giggled.
We find our way to admitting where her parents and the receiving nurse are waiting. I give my report to the nurse and add our patient slept soundly for about thirty minutes. She paused, deciding if what I said was true, then nods in approval. To our left, my partner is helping the girl off our gurney. Mom, Dad and daughter hug, the smile still on her face.
I get my signatures, walk over to them and give my goodbyes. Her parents walk up to me and envelop me in a hug that rivals a Boa Constrictors squeeze, thanking me then letting go.
Their daughter walks up to me and gives me a hug with the same ferocity as her parents. I tell her not to give up and she’s got this. Her smile grew bigger as we turn and go our separate ways.
As my partner and I walk out, I couldn’t help but think that everything was going to be okay after all.