I may have mentioned this before. I don't like dentists. No, I mean I REALLY don't like dentists. The last time I went to the dentist, my pulse was still at over 140 an hour later. The time before that I passed out in the chair. I get palpitations if I just phone up to make an appointment. I get chest pain and break out in a sweat if I walk past a dental surgery, even if it's not the one I go to. In fact, as I write these lines, I can feel the dread coming over me in waves. I may have mentioned this before. I don't like dentists.
The call came in for a man collapsed, unconscious, possible allergic reaction. Easy. I can deal with that. I'm a highly trained, highly skilled, highly motivated paramedic. Most of the time. Then, I look at the address. Dr Payne's Dental Surgery, Filling Road, Phobiatown. Instantly I feel the colour drain from my face, my pulse double. The cold sweat starts on my forehead, and within moments has spread all over me. And I have to drive to the call. I'm on an ambulance, not flying solo in the car, and it's my turn to drive. To be honest, it's probably a good thing, otherwise I'd have panicked even more. At least I had something to concentrate on before we got there.
I hoped that the patient would have had the good grace to collapse in the reception area. Or the waiting room. I prayed that he would be well enough for my crewmate to say that I could wait outside and he'll deal with the emergency. I begged that it would be straightforward, so we'd be in and out in no time.
No such luck. None of my prayers were answered. Well, strictly I guess they were, but the answer was a resounding NO. On our arrival, I scoured the reception area and waiting room. He wasn't there. A frantic looking receptionist sees us and yells directions. "Up the stairs, turn right, turn left, 15th door on the right, spin around and walk in". I'm not sure that the "spin around" bit was actually part of the instructions, but I was doing it anyway. And there probably weren't 15 doors upstairs, but it was starting to look like it. Damned phobia! Concentrate!
We find Phil, a gentleman in his 50's, as if to taunt me he's still sitting in the dentist's chair, and he's not at all well. He'd just been given a local anaesthetic injection, and had reacted badly to it. His body had swelled, he'd come out in a rash and was vomiting heavily. His breathing had started to be affected, soon his blood pressure could plummet too. We'd need to treat him before even thinking of moving him. He needs oxygen, he needs a needle in his arm, he needs drugs. My crewmate checks and double checks everything as I hand him, and keeps a close eye on me at the same time. I'm paler than an ill-looking ghost.
Luckily, one of the driver's duties is to fetch whatever is necessary from the ambulance, including the carry chair. I take the minute or so outside as much needed respite. I regulate my breathing, try to slow down my pulse, and tell myself to stop being so bloody stupid. It's not me at the dentist! Once more I enter the building with the chair, thinking that at least this means we're about to leave.
Phil's improving slightly, but still we have a flight of stairs to negotiate with him on the chair. I take the top end of the chair so that I don't have to go backwards in my state, and we make it down the stairs in one piece. Once we've loaded Phil into the ambulance, I go and sit back in the driver's seat to try and regain my composure. As I look in the mirror I can see my crewmate giggling to himself at my predicament. To top it all off, we had an observer with us that day who got to witness and mock my jelly-like state.
Phil still received the best care possible, and made a full recovery. Hopefully he didn't notice the turmoil that I was going through. Or maybe that he did. Maybe his experience has turned him into a kindred spirit.
As paramedics we face all sorts of unexpected situations and emotions. We're expected to face them all professionally, at times coldly. Most of the time I try to leave my emotions to one side, push them out of my head whilst I'm with the patient and deal with them later if necessary. I have a job to do. I need to focus on the task at hand.
Sometimes, thankfully very rarely, I have to deal with the patient and with what I'm going through at the same time. I'm no robot, no automaton. I think, therefore I am. It's just that sometimes, thinking is what gets me into trouble in the first place. Sometimes, I hate to admit it, but I guess I'm human too.