MY DEATH SENTENCE
With 25 minutes to go until Off Duty Status,
my partner and I parked under a tree, stuck our boots out the window,
turned up the music, and waited for the minutes to tick away.
The tones went off.
Stand by for Priority One.
Menlo Park Fire and Medic 32:
Medic 32, respond Priority One
to 385 Middlefield Apt. 6
32 copies, enroute.
32 on scene.
County copies, 32 on scene.
We pushed our way through the small crowd
on the front lawn
and found our patient slumped on the toilet.
He was pale, cool, sweaty — and not responding.
His heart rate was rapid and his blood pressure
was nothing over nothing.
We carried him to the gurney and
I knew our diagnosis would be made
by the bloody stool we found in the toilet.
We rushed him to Stanford and I got
2 wide-bore IV lines running into him enroute.
After that, we were cleared to return our ambulance
and be off-duty.
Next morning at 6 AM
I reported for duty, met up with my partner,
and we were issued the same rig we had
the day before.
First call out of the chute was about a half mile away.
An elderly woman had somehow got out of her car,
caught her coat in the door, and got dragged
as the car moved forward through the old wooden garage,
into the back wall, and half way through it.
We were minutes from the hospital when I stood up
to get the EKG machine.
My partner turned the corner into the hospital,
I lurched to the right, grabbed the pole for balance,
swung around, and bumped against the needle box
mounted on the wall.
My right elbow exploded in pain.
I was horrified to see a dirty angiocath needle
protruding from the back of my arm.
I could feel the point against my bone.
Looking at the stick box,
I noticed there was another used and bloody needle
lying in the lip at the top of the box.
Somehow, I surmised, the 2 used IV needles
from the guy on the toilet the night before
had not dropped down,
but had remained in the lip.
You're out of service, the supervisor said,
let the paperwork begin!
Form after form of incident reports
were laboriously filled out,
making the lawyers happy.
The procedure manual was consulted numerous times,
and my blood was drawn for a baseline AIDS
and Hepatitis C test.
This was 1991.
If I came up positive in the blood tests,
I would be fired and my short career would be over.
If I came up negative there would be 3 more
tests over 3 more months to go
before I could consider myself safe from this exposure.
I was terrified.
The next day we took a patient to Stanford
and I called upstairs to see what was up
with the guy from the toilet — and my possible AIDS donor.
Hi, I'm one of the county paramedics who brought in
Mr. blah blah yesterday, I said, can you tell me how he's doing?
Not very well, the charge nurse said.
Well, I stammered, I got an accidental needle stick from him yesterday,
can you tell me what his HIV status is?
No, she said. I'm sorry, but the disclosure laws have only been cleared for
doctors and nurses, EMS has not been legalized yet.
I can tell you this though — he's listed as a high risk patient.
My heart sank and I felt sick to my stomach.
I couldn't sleep, eat, or think of anything else for my 3 days off.
Returning to work, I took every patient I could to Stanford.
Determined to get an answer, I called again and again but to no avail.
Finally, I was told, my patient had expired.
I was devastated.
One of the Stanford docs, who had lectured us
in school, came in and put his hand on my shoulder.
He asked why I was crying.
I told him every sordid detail.
He was shocked and empathetic.
A few minutes later, as I was leaving for a call,
I heard him running after me calling for me to wait.
What time did you start that IV on the man? he asked.
Six in the afternoon on Monday, I said.
When did you get stuck?
Eight the next morning.
You're safe! You're safe! He said.
The AIDS virus can't live outside the body for more than
a few minutes! You're safe, he said.
That blood was outside the body for 14 hours,
no way it could still infect you even if it was positive.
I get to live.
Again, this cartoon is the brilliant work of the funniest paramedic
in the business - Steve Berry