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Friday, April 3, 2009

Memories from an April's Fool

I'm really a woman!

No, just kidding.

I don't do April Fool's Day. I'd like to pretend that I don't put people through that shit in order to preserve their dignity, but really, it's just me hoping to lead by example, because I don't want anybody embarrassing me.

Selfish little prat, aren't I?

I'm petrified of embarrassment. People who know some of the things I've done on stage in plays might find that somewhat of a strange admission, but it's true. The things we do in a play are carefully calculated, and they're done specifically to provoke a response from the audience. You're in control of what is happening to you, what you look like, nobody else is doing anything to you, catching you unawares in your underwears. This is why I will never go to a comedy club, or any show that requires audience participation, which, of course, involves the possibility of being singled out, of being the straight man, of being embarrassed, of being April Fooled.

April Fool's Day reminds me of my time working on the ambulance. There's no sector of employment, I don't think, that is a breeding ground for practical jokes than first responder services. A cop I know once told me that, when tasers first came out, that one of his coworkers waited in a dark station room for his partner to come in and, as soon as his partner flipped on the lightswitch, the cop who had been lying in wait jumped up and tased his partner.

I guess it's good I never became a cop. Bro.

There are a lot of things I miss, though, about working as an emergency medical technician, wearing a uniform and a badge, getting discounts on doughnuts and coffee, going lights and sirens, the comfort and security of having a good partner, each and every day...

But I miss the fucking around the most.

When you're new, you're the one who gets fucked around with-- that's just the way it is. Being new on the job as an EMT is just like being a high school freshman, or a college freshman. Whoever you were before, well, that was before. I think I was called "New Jack" by a couple EMTs for at least my first six months on the job.

My first steady partner, a paramedic named Mitch, was a psychopath. He hated his job, he hated the company, he hated minorities and, well, he hated. He didn't hate me, though, until the day I got him fired. Until that point, while he would sometimes explode at me in fits of testosterone-induced rage, he and I got along, because I walked on eggshells with him and pretty much did whatever he wanted. If he wanted to drive the ambulance to his apartment and sleep, that's basically what we did. I would sit in the truck, panicked, clutching the radio just waiting for the call that we wouldn't get to in time because the fat ox was asleep on his couch.

Mitch was a practical joker. He used to love telling me stories of how, when he was on the local rescue squad, he would relish breaking in newbies. While on a scene, working up a patient, he would look over his shoulder at a green-faced EMT and say with urgency, "Hey, run to the truck, now, and bring me back the fallopian tube. STAT!" The panicked freshman would no doubt be running through the list of standard ambulance equipment in his head.

"Fallopian.... fallopian....I know I've heard that name before...."

Then they would proceed to hysterically tear apart the ambulance looking for the fallopian tube, probably thinking that the patient would promptly expire without it.

Mitch knew that I was probably too intelligent to fall for something stupid like that. He had another way of breaking me in up his sleeve. In an ambulance, there is a switch on the left side of the driver's seat, near the floorboard, that activates the auxiliary battery, which allows the emergency lights and the siren to function. You can still start the ambulance and run the radio and headlights, etc without the auxiliary battery switch engaged-- and it's easy for a newbie to forget that the switch is even there.

One day, Mitch and I went to a crowded convenience store to get coffee. "I don't want nothin," he said, which was unusual for him, tipping the scales as he was at 320 lbs. I left the truck and went inside for my coffee. It being around 8ish in the morning, the store was jammed with construction workers, contractors, business folk, nurses, teachers-- everybody in the neighborhood was grabbing their go-juice. I came outside and hopped back in the driver's seat, put the key in the ignition and started the truck. Instantly, the siren sounded full blast, scaring the shit out of everybody in the parking lot, and in the store. I almost shat all over my brand-new uniform pants.

"JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!" I screamed, spilling scalding hot coffee on my leg and the seat. Mitch was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his fat face. I fumbled and fidgeted with the keys and the siren switches to make the damn thing shut up. The emergency lightbar, by the way, was also flashing red. He had, of course, activated the auxiliary battery switch and hit all the buttons for the siren and the lights. It was a fucking ambush.

After Mitch got fired (that's a story for another time) and I started working regularly with Jake, I started getting more comfortable in my uniform, in my job, in my skin. Soon I was assuming the role of the prankster. I loved fucking around with our supervisor, Copley. He was a fat goober with a goatee-- he liked movies like "Anchorman" and his favorite show is "Airwolf," if that tells you anything, and it should. Our ambulance didn't see a lot of action on the street, and so we were constantly hanging around at our base, and constantly getting on Copley's nerves. Jake was an architecture student, and so he wisely used the time in between calls sitting at base reading architecture literature or doing coursework. I, being a Master of Education student, used the time to fuck around with my supervisor. I would find whatever props that were lying around the base and use them to entertain myself. One of my favorite activities was getting an old wheelchair from the garage and an orange traffic cone. I would sit in the wheelchair and put the orange traffic cone over my head (and face) and slowly, quietly roll myself into Copley's office, usually while he was on the phone. If that didn't get the reaction I was after, I would moan quietly and tip the wheelchair backwards until I would fall onto the floor.

One day, Jake and I returned to base and another crew was getting ready to hit the street.

"Where's Copley?" I asked quietly.

"In the bathroom," the EMT replied.

"Okay, good," I said. "Just be quiet, pretend I'm not here."

"Uh... okay," he said.

I hid under Copley's desk. Being extremely thin and flexible has its advantages. I waited and waited for him to finish his marathon crap and he finally came back and sat down at the desk. Miraculously, his knees didn't touch my face, which was inches away from his crotch & paunch bulge. Ever so quietly, I pulled out my cell-phone and dialed the phone number for the base. His desk phone rang.

"Qualcare Ambulance, this is Copley."

"Oooooohhhh..... Mooooooooohhhh...." I moaned into the phone. It took him a second, but then he opened his desk drawer and slammed it shut, right into my face. It hurt, but it was worth it.

"What the fuck? Were you, like, locked in the basement as a child?" he asked me as I cackled hysterically on the floor under his desk.

I also used to love lying down on spare stretchers and propelling myself across the garage by pushing off the wall with my feet screaming, "WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!"

"Man, you retarded," one of my coworkers would say, shaking his head-- but smiling.

It was important to joke around in this line of work, because it gets to you. EMTs and paramedics have some of the highest rates of burnout, and so you have to let off steam. I got good at that part of the job. One day, our ambulance broke down and Copley had to drive an hour out of his way to pick me and Jake up in a wheelchair van.

"You can sit in the back, retard," Copley said to me as he opened the passenger door up for Jake.
"Fine," I said.

For the entire hour's trip back to base, I contorted my face, drooled, rocked back and forth and screamed like a mentally challenged individual, pressing my face up against the window to the horror of folks in cars passing by our van.

By far, though, the most fun I ever had was one day when Jake and I were at a hospital, picking up an elderly lady with dementia who was being discharged to a nursing home. She had a lot of belongings and clothes that were not yet put away into bags, so Jake and I, and two nurses were very busy with that. This hospital room had a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe with two long doors. I made sure that their backs were turned to me and, quietly, I cracked open one of the wardrobe doors and slipped inside. I could see through the crack between the two doors, and so I watched the nurses wandering around the room, collecting toothpaste tubes and nightgowns, and then I watched Jake, with two bags in his hands, stop, look around, and look around some more. He called to a nurse,

"Hey, have you seen my partner?"

She looked around too.

"No. Maybe he went to the bathroom."

Jake shrugged, put the two bags in his left hand and walked over to the wardrobe. I thought about screaming as soon as he opened the door, but I didn't want to scare the nurses or the patient, so I decided to just stand there, stoic. It worked.

"OH! FUCK! JESUS! YOU! Crazy sonofabitch!"

He clutched his chest and gasped for breath. I put my hand on his shoulder, my shiteating grin almost hurting, trying not to cry.

"Hey, do you need oxygen or something?"

Those days are gone now. I miss my old job sometimes, and around April Fool's Day I guess I miss it the most, because that's the part I enjoyed the most.

Happy April Fool's Day, Jake, Copley-- and even Mitch, wherever you are.

1 comment:

  1. Abusing coworkers is one of the main reasons to show up at work daily; this is all hilarious.

    If someone pulls the circuit breaker on the lavatory lights one more time when I'm in there, I swear I'm putting Visine in EVERY cup of coffee I ever pass up front.


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