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The Real Poop

Lacey's radio alarm, pager, and cell all shriek at once. It's an MCI (multiple casualty incident) involving an extensive MVA (motor vehicle accident) just down the road. She and her partner, Louie, book it out of the coffee shop. They roll the Ambulance Service unit down the highway, scattering traffic with lights and sirens.

On arrival, they see at least a dozen smashed vehicles. A film crew that was shooting a movie, Red Asphalt 9: The Revenge of the Revenge, is ignoring cries for help while taking close-ups of bleeding victims. While Louie radios the dispatcher for more help, Lacey goes from one vehicle to another to perform triage. She has to dodge panicked steers (the longhorn kind) escaping from an overturned stock hauler. She is stopped by the sight of a small girl crying inside a smoking minivan. Using her punch tool, Lacey breaks through the window. The child is too frightened to come out, so Lacey climbs inside the smoke clouded wreck. She applies a cervical collar and carefully passes the child outside to her partner. As Louie carries the child, Lacey pushes the film crew out of the way. Behind them, the minivan explodes in flames.

Ever imagined yourself in a situation like this one, where you come riding to the rescue on a white horse (figuratively speaking)? Have a fascination with blood, needles, and vomit, but aren’'t ready for kids? Enjoy endless hours of boredom interrupted by moments of life-threatening anxiety? Wish that you could make traffic get out of your way? If this job description appeals to you, read on, because you could have a career as an Emergency Medical Technician.

Actually, the job is an excellent entry point into healthcare, an industry with a very bright future thanks to all those decaying baby boomers. Emergency Medical Services represent a fairly new industry, which really only got going in a big way in the 1960s. While job titles vary by jurisdiction, EMTs are generally divided into basic, intermediate, and paramedics.

A basic level certification can be achieved in as little as one semester, and the employer might pick up the tab as a hiring incentive. Regardless of the skill level, all EMTs essentially try to move patients alive and in one piece (more or less) from wherever they are found to a treatment facility. This feat is called swoop and scoop. You will likely also provide some kind of pre-hospital care before and during transport. Examples include bandaging, splinting, oxygen therapy, IV fluids, CPR, and defibrillation. The main idea is to stabilize the patient without making him or her worse than when you got there. Remember "Do no harm…."

EMT services may be public sector, private sector, or volunteer. Volunteer services are most often found in rural or suburban areas. Why volunteer for such an arduous job? The community may not have any choice if it is way out in the sticks. EMTs are sometimes integrated with fire departments. This could mean that you become a firefighter, although not always. People who want to become nurses or physicians may start as an EMT. There is no substitute for the street level experience they will receive. The biggest benefit to becoming an EMT is that you get to help people, maybe even to the point of saving a life. You will also rub shoulders, aka network, with other healthcare and public safety professionals. You never know when one of these contacts might come in handy—think job advancement. Just don't try asking for a car loan.

What does it take to be an EMT? You can learn pretty much everything via on-the-job training, so it's an easier-than-average career to jump into. To prove that you are trained, you will be cordially invited to take written and skill tests. Just when you think you are done, you find out that you will be periodically required to re-certify. You also need to be able to work with one or more partners, as EMT work requires team players. Forget about trying to keep any aspect of your life private. Your partner will eventually extract every personal secret during long interrogations in the coffee shop. You can always get even with them during IV needle practice.

The guy in the middle seems to be enjoying this too much.

You don't need to be the Incredible Hulk, but some physical strength is good, as people have an uncanny knack for getting sick on an upper floor. They also enjoy showing you the partially digested contents of their last meal, so you will need a strong stomach. Pregnant women are notoriously bad about holding in the baby until you reach the hospital. Do you have a catcher's mitt? Pediatric patients, aka kids, like to freak out as soon as you walk into the room. Typically, the parents calmly look on as if to say, "He's your problem now."

Incident scenes can be dangerous (example: a hallucinating drug addict who thinks he is Superman and you are Lex Luthor), especially if you arrive before the police, so time your arrival accordingly. It's hard to hide an ambulance while waiting for the cops. Don't think you will always find a patient in a pleasant environment. You might need to work in blazing heat, freezing cold, rain, snow, floods, not to mention a very hazardous accident scene where rubber-necking drivers are determined to transform you from a care-giver to a patient.

EMTs take universal precautions, which means that every patient you meet is assumed to be out to infect you in some way, shape, or form. In this job, it's good to have a persecution complex. You also need good communication skills as you will deal with patients, partners, hospitals, and dispatchers, sometimes by radio. A favorite radio technique is to make your voice sound as boring as possible, even in the worst emergencies.

You have to pretend to be calm even in the most anxious situations as your demeanor can infect everyone else around. You can always freak out later in private. In the ambulance, wait until you try driving, talking on the radio, and managing the siren, while listening to your partner at the same time. Talk about distracted driving. Airborne EMT services have a heightened danger (pun intended) as air ambulances have a unique tendency to crash. What goes up must come down. So you will need a close personal relationship with a good life insurance agent. The tradeoff is higher pay, as in risk versus reward.