We’re at the apartment of this woman in her 70s. Nice place. She has chest pain. At first glance she looks like a drama queen – moaning, writhing and squirming. I bid the fire crew good night. We do a few things while she sits on the couch.
“Ma’am, how long have you had chest pain?”
“You already asked me that!” She screeches.
“That was the fire department. I didn’t ask you that.”
It’s easier for her to just answer again instead of arguing with me. But she insists on bitching.
Even if I did ask her that, sometimes I forget the answer. I can easily go past 30 questions in 3 minutes; I can’t remember everything. I remember even less when I’m not interested in the call, which is usually caused by crap medical complaints or drama; this is one of those calls.
Besides, healthcare is nothing if not repetitive. Not only do people’s medical issues change as they respond to treatment, making repeated assessments necessary, many people frequently change their stories when different providers ask for them at different times, for whatever reason. As a result, firefighters are going to ask her questions. Paramedics are going to ask her the same questions. The same paramedics are going to ask her more of the same questions throughout the ambulance trip. The nursing staff at the ED is going to ask her the same questions. Physicians are going to ask her the same questions.
“Are you allergic to aspirin?”
“I don’t think I should take that.” Well, what the hell does that mean?
“Does that mean you can’t take aspirin?”
“I just told you I’m not supposed to take it!” She yells. Plainly inaccurate. Yes or no question, she answered maybe. Now she’s pissed I couldn’t interpret it either way.
“I just need to make sure we don’t do the wrong thing for you.”
“Why are you arguing with me?”
“I’m not arguing. I just want to make sure we don’t give you something that you’re allergic to.”
“GET OUT!” But she makes no attempt to remove the EKG cables and oxygen.
“That’s what wrong with you people! All of you are like this!”
It’s funny how people never look inwards when everybody hates them.
“OK, are you allergic to nitroglycerin then?”
Now her son’s butting in.
“She just told you she took that before you got here! Why don’t you listen?”
“That doesn’t mean she can’t take it again.” It means, shut the hell up, you jackass. Thank God that shut him up. She lets me give her nitroglycerin.
“Please tell me if that makes your chest pain feel better in a minute.”
“I don’t want to go to the hospital! Get out of my house!”
Her son tells her she should go. I bite my tongue and refrain from asking why we’re here if she doesn’t want to go. This goes on for a few minutes.
“Get my keys and purse!” She barks to her son, after deciding to go. Maybe I read him wrong; maybe he’s just trying to keep her quiet earlier.
“I can’t walk!” She whines as she walks to the door.
“Fine. We’ll carry you down the stairs.” She’s lucky she’s not fat, or she’s walking even if she has two broken legs.
“I need my jacket!” She yells at her son. “Lock my door!”
She’s freaking out as we carry her down the stairs. “Ma’am, this is not the time to fool around. Calm down.” Now I’m annoyed.
We put her on the gurney. “I don’t want to go with you! I want my son to take me!”
Hell no. “We just carried you down here. You’re coming with us.” Bitch. Not that her son is volunteering to drive her anyway despite standing 3 feet away.
We take off. Her son follows in his car. She’s still verbally abusing me, but it’s nothing compared to earlier. She fakes shortness of breath every now and then, but it doesn’t stop her from screaming at me in full sentences. After a few moments of relative peace, she wigs out again. I don’t even bother to think about what I might have done to set her off.
“LET ME OUT! I told you I didn’t want to come and you still took me!”
“Ma’am, we’re on the freeway. We’re not stopping here.”
“I NEED MY INHALER!” She screams.
“Well I certainly don’t have it.”
“YOU’RE MAKING ME UPSET! I’M GOING TO SUE YOU PEOPLE!”
Yeah, I’m making her upset.
We put her on a hospital gurney in the hallway as the staff directs. She starts faking shortness of breath again. We walk to the other side of the room to watch from a distance. Nurses avoid her. Some young doctor motions to a traige nurse to check on her. If there’s one thing they don’t appear to discuss much in medical school, it’s people who pretend to have medical issues.
The nurse takes her vitals and comes to the same conclusion we’ve already come to. She takes a report from us, and observes that the shortness of breath subsides as quickly as it begins. We share a few laughs. I brief her on our adventure. We exchange introductions; it’s handy to know which nurses are adept at spotting bullshit.