I'm coming to the conclusion that the way to guarantee an early callout is to stay up late.
My pager went off after I'd been in bed for about six hours.
Of course, by the time the tones are done, I'm staggering around putting on my clothes.
I've learned to leave the entire set of yesterday's clothes in one pile on the floor with the belt on my pants and all of the crap in the pockets.
Normally, I have a hard time readjusting to waking life, especially after less sleep than I like, but the tones do cut right through; I'm up and going before I'm conscious.
"XXX Rescue, respond to 123 Any Street. XX-year old female with possible stroke. Repeat, XXX Rescue, respond to 123 Any Street. XX-year old female with possible stroke."
I'm practically dressed by the time dispatch is done with the call. Slip into my shoes, grab a jacket, radio, and pagers, and I'm out the door, switching on the radio as I run.
The chief from my fire department's sister department is in the dooryard. He's an electrician by trade and we've asked him to do some work on our house. He had started before I woke, given that my late California schedule is pretty skewed compared to the Vermont business day.
The chief, of course, has heard the call on his radio. "This one's for you," he says, as I run to the car. "That's right, chief... I'll see you in a while."
I get in the car, start it, flip on the strobe lights, and start down the driveway.
"Rescue 10, on and responding," I tell the dispatcher.
"Rescue 10, on and responding," repeats the dispatcher.
I hear the ambulance from my transporting agency sign on. I'm new in XXX Rescue, so I'm not sure how long it will take them to be on scene.
As I reach the turn in the driveway, I fumble in the glovebox and pull out the packet of 911 maps that cover the three towns I serve through my various squads and departments. I pull out the XXX Rescue town map; not my own town, but one town to the north. I scan the map as I pull out onto the dirt road and find Any Street. It's north of the town center, so I will have to stop and pick up the rescue truck by protocol, even though I have most of the tools I might need in my car.
I turn my full attention to my driving. I've gone only about a half mile when my radio pipes up again.
"YYY Fire, stand by for tone."
Crap! My own town department is being called, and I'm signed on to a different problem in a different town.
"Boop-boop... Boop," says the radio.
My fire department pager goes off.
The pager and radio sing the refrain together.
By this time, I'm hitting the asphalt road. I speed up.
"YYY Fire, respond to 456 Big Road for a report of an elderly woman who has fallen. 911 reports the woman is breathing oddly. Repeat, respond to 456 Big Road for a report of an elderly woman who has fallen. 911 reports the woman is breathing oddly."
That sounds bad. Worse, perhaps, than the possible stroke. Possible stroke is of questionable urgency; the dispatcher said nothing about life threats.
But I'm the only XXX Rescue unit signed on. I've said that I'm going.
I make the intersection where I have to decide between Any Street in XXX Rescue town and Big Road in YYY Fire town. I do the right thing, I think; I turn north and head to XXX Rescue town.
The YYY Fire chief signs on. He's responding direct to the scene. Several other fire fighters also sign on and will be responding to the station to grab the defib.
Dispatcher asks about units responding to XXX Rescue town. I verify my status; YYY Fire chief hears me and calls me up.
"YYY C-1 to YYY C-12", he calls, using my YYY Fire number.
"YYY C-12", I say.
"Which call are you taking?"
"Sorry, chief, XXX was toned first."
I feel lame.
"Okay, just wanted to know."
I scream up to the XXX Rescue barn. I work the lock, go inside, and throw open the overhead door. I pull the charger plug out of the rescue truck's socket and jump inside the old ambulance, now used just to carry gear.
I turn the key. Nothing happens. I sit uselessly turning the key for a few moments. I decide to take my own car. As I jump out, I remember the battery switch. I turn the switch and jump back in.
I turn the key. The old bus turns over, doesn't start. I pump the gas, try again. The battery seems to weaken. Just as I come to the conclusion for the second time that I must take my own car, the truck starts.
I pull out of the barn and start heading for Any Street. I put on the lights and strobes and grab the radio microphone.
"XXX Rescue truck responding to 123 Any Street."
The dispatcher repeats my call. On my way, I consider the fact that I have little idea where the various tools are on the truck and probably should have grabbed my own gear. This, in fact, is my first call for XXX Rescue.
YYY Fire chief comes on the radio, talking to the ambulance responding to his call.
"A1, the patient is not breathing and has no pulse."
I'm getting close. I pull into Any Street.
YYY Fire chief comes on again.
"A1, the patient has DNR orders."
Do Not Resuscitate; this means no CPR, no defib. I'm slightly off the hook.
I fly past 123. I pull into a driveway to turn around. As I pull back up to 123, my ambulance pulls in from the other side. I could have phoned in my patient care for all the help I'll provide on this scene.
"Dispatch, XXX Rescue truck off on scene."
Dispatch repeats the call.
I grab a pair of gloves and go into the house. There are three women and several dogs.
One of the woman is seated. I take one look at her and see the classic stroke signs. The quick history I'm given implies that she had her event last night; she's showing no signs of acute distress at this time.
"Do you have any previous stroke history?" My first question.
One of the woman shushes me. "She doesn't know!"
I look at the speaker.
"I'm an RN," she says, as though that explains her bizarre statement.
The ambulance crew comes through the door. YYY chief is saying something on the radio, but I can't make out what it is. I try to focus on this call.
Shortly, they decide to transport. I ask if they need me, they don't. Back to the truck. One of the women thanks me as I go out.
"XXX Rescue truck, clear of the scene and returning to quarters."
I toy with the idea of returning with lights and siren. Dead people don't rate that response, though, so I turn them off.
I get back to the barn.
"XXX rescue truck, back in quarters, in service."
I jump back in my own car and fly back to the YYY call.
There are two firefighters in the yard. The ambulance is in the driveway and one lane of the road is blocked by Engine 1 and several private vehicles belonging to firefighters. I pull up behind the fire truck and hop out.
I go up to the firefighters. Through the glass slider of the house I can see the chief, the ambulance EMTs, another woman, and the feet of the victim. The rest of the victim is covered with a blanket.
The firefighters console me. Nothing could be done, the patient was pulseless when the first unit arrived. I still feel like a jerk for being on a call in the wrong town.
Chief comes out. I apologize. He's understanding.
We wait for the police to come. It snows. Finally the police arrive to secure the scene and we leave. I go back to the YYY fire station and fill out the paper work.