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Questions Every Paramedic is Asked

5 Questions Most Likely to be Heard at the Grocery Store


Updated January 15, 2013

Standing in line at the grocery store or while ordering lunch, paramedics and emergency medical technicians create plenty of curiosity. Each of us can feel as a question is about to be asked. We welcome some of those and dread others.

1. Are you an ambulance driver?

ambulance in Italy
(c) Rod Brouhard
If you see an ambulance rolling down the street, there's no arguing that someone is driving it (we don't yet have ambulances that drive themselves). However, it's a good bet the person driving that ambulance would take umbrage at being called an ambulance driver. With few exceptions around the country, ambulance drivers are not just capable of driving the rig. Indeed, these are highly trained paramedics and emergency medical technicians who happen to drive an ambulance as part of the care they provide. Many of them bristle when their training and caregiving seems to be reduced to nothing more than a medical taxi.

2. What's the worst call you've ever had?

This is the most hated question of all for most paramedics and emergengency medical technicians. In most cases, we don't really know how to answer it. Most people who ask this question aren't really prepared for a true answer. The atrocities we see throughout our careers are hard to put into words and harder yet to articulate to someone who doesn't have a basic understanding of what we expect to see when we walk through the door of a home on an emergency call. The worst calls we've seen are unthinkable to nonresponders. Worse yet, to make the story palatable to our own psyches, we are likely to recount it in a humorous way.

In most cases, I suspect the question would better be phrased, "What's the best call you've ever had?" You see, what the general public considers bad is often thought of as good by an emergency responder. We train for the worst case scenario, and being able to put thousands of hours of training to the test in the heat of the moment is our chance to shine. So if it's a PG13 story of heroic proportions you would like to hear from the paramedic at the health fair, ask her which call she is most proud of.

3. What's the difference between an EMT and a paramedic?

There's better than a 50% chance someone will notice that my patch is different than my partner's patch. Inevitably, they will ask us to define the difference between an EMT and a paramedic. Either that, or they'll ask, "Which one of you is the driver?"

4. Have you ever seen a dead person?

This is the followup question to the worst call we've ever had, especially if we don't really answer the worst call question. The truth is it only takes a paramedic working in a relatively urban setting about a week to see his or her first dead body. It's the nature of the job we do. When someone dies, someone else calls 911. The paramedics have to be sent in case there's something we can do about it, which brings me to the last question on the list...

5. Have you ever brought anyone back from the dead?

Yep, a few times. The thing is, in order for us to bring folks back from the dead, they can't be too dead to start with. The general public often doesn't realize there are various levels of dead and depending on how far down that path one has gone, it might be possible to reverse the process. When it works, it's wonderful and would be one of those great PG13 stories of heroic achievements you might hear when you ask a paramedic to tell you his proudest moment. Unfortunately, the person you get back from the dead isn't always the same person who left in the first place, and in those cases it may still be sad.

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