It’s a typical workday for Saggy and I. It’s quiet for both the ambulance and for the rest of the Emergency Room. Saggy’s playing a fishing game on his iPad and I’m reading Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man on my e-reader.
At this point, before the "action" starts, I have to take a moment to talk about my new partner, Saggy.
Of course "Saggy" is a made-up name. Saggy does not describe him in a physical, mental or moral sense. It’s just a convenient nonsense name that serves to remind me of who he is in a context that only I know.
Here’s the rundown on Saggy:
- He’s a local.
- He’s unfailingly generous.
- He gets just as excited about our job as I do.
- He’s a bit of a technology geek like me.
- He’s not satisfied with how much he knows or how good he is at what he does.
- He’s a really good ‘medic! I’d ride any ambulance, anywhere any time with him.
- We treat each other like family. I’m a lucky man.
On to the action!
I’m deep in the debauchery, detective drama and 1930s-era sexiness of my book and Saggy is catching sharks on his iPad. "The bell" goes off. One bell means we have an ambulance call. Readers from countries that have mature, established Emergency Medical Systems may not understand that we have nothing like a real Emergency Medical Dispatch system here. The local logic is, since the deployment of ambulances is a fleet operations (the deployment of vehicles) issue, a contracted fleet manager (with the requisite fleet training) is the first person to take the call when someone hits the emergency number. His only job seems to be to get the address.
Fortunately for our patients, we have an extension of the emergency phone in the ER. Often we can get a good idea of what the caller is calling about and be a bit prepared. This time we’re not so lucky. The caller had given his address and hung up after saying he needed an ambulance.
The only other info that Saggy and I can get is that the caller said he has a fever and then we’re off. The call is in an apartment housing complex for students of what most places would call a "vocational school." It’s more like a dorm building than an apartment and the median age of the residents is around 22. All male, of course.
In our service, our ambulances have a driver. I italicized that word to emphasize the scope of his skills. He drives the ambulance. That’s all. (more on that later) As such, one of us has to ride in the back of the ambulance going to every call. I’m a kind man and have had my share of "windshield time." I hop in the back before Saggy can object and we’re rolling.
The apartment is a few floors up and we don’t know a dang thing about what’s really going on. I load up the stretcher with everything. We go into the lobby equipped to handle a heart attack, allergic reaction, meningitis (he did say "fever"), overdose and just about anything else.
We arrive ready for the apocalypse.
Saggy gets to the apartment door before me and he stands in front of the doorknob and knocks. I know that I now work in a country with an inherent abhorrence of personal violence but I still cringe and slide out of the fatal funnel. Somehow being in a sketchy apartment building makes me plot exits and plan my escape.
All this paranoia is for naught. After a few knocks, the door is opened by an 18 year old local who is standing bright-eyed and talking to us clear and coherent. Saggy talks to him in Arabic right away. This gives me the chance to look at the "patient" and check out his surroundings. The room is overly warm; no evidence of drugs; single occupant; no long-term nesting signs (non-issue furniture, art, posters, etc.). In short: everything looks normal.
Saggy’s pretty empathic and his body language is showing a lot of compassion for this guy while he’s making agreeing noises at our "patient’s" explanations. I interrupt:
"Malum, Inglezi? (Do you understand English?)" I say.
"Yes" he replies in English.
"Ma’sh’Allah!" I say with a smile. It means, literally, "You demonstrate the greatness of God!" Or, figuratively, "Awesome, Dude!" depending on your context. Then we all switch to English.
I ask him to tell me why he called for an ambulance. He says, "I’m studying at the [local training center]. I told the school doctor that I had a fever and was too sick to study. He refused to give me tomorrow off so I called you."
We have a name for this condition: Man-flu.
Saggy and I have developed a form of subtle eye-slide towards each other (without moving the head) that says more than I could ever type. We did this at exactly this moment. Both of us had entered the elevator on the way up, preparing ourselves to work a full-on code (worst-case scenario, right?). We both think the same way. We would rather be surprised that our patient was fine than be surprised that he’s dead. To be that fired-up after a hang-up call and find this d-bag has tried to use us as an excuse to get out of school is what we call, "Pissing-off the paramedics!"
However, Saggy and I are professional and we take the time to check this guy out. He’s slightly warm, young, homesick and not about to die in the next hour (or even the next 24, if he can stay off the highways). Understandably, our gear stays on the cot and our patient sits in a proper chair for his "taxi" ride to the hospital in our ambulance. His English is so simple that Saggy and I can converse in slangy American English (Saggy went to college in the USA) without being understood by our patient. He relates to me that our patient just left home, less than a week ago, to come to school and is feeling VERY homesick.
En route to the hospital, I call the ER and let them know we’re coming and with what. The charge nurse is a Lebanese man who has a great sense of humor.
"Hassan? This is maddog on the ambulance. We are en-route with a level one "man-flu" patient, exacerbated by homesickness. We will be transporting our patient immediately to waiting room one. Do you copy?"
I hear his chuckle over the phone earpiece as he thanks me. Our patient doesn’t understand my inflection or choice of slang but he seems impressed by my serious face when I give my report. He dutifully follows Saggy to the waiting room when we arrive at the hospital.
Right away, Saggy and I restock "the Bus" and immediately dive in to the ER to help with a flurry of old patients who have: heart failure, respiratory distress, diabetic emergency and other things that can kill them right away. The homesick child/man-flu patient is quickly pushed from our minds.
A little while later our "Man-flu" patient barges in. He has an exchange with Saggy that’s too fast for me to follow and then heads back towards the waiting room. I look at Saggy with a question on my face. With a chuckle (He’s really good at that!), he tells me that our patient wanted to be seen first because he had important things to do. I drop my head down, mouth open, eyebrows up saying, "AND!!!" without words. Saggy chuckles again (He is really good at that!) and said, "I told him that if he wants to be seen sooner, he has to try to die."
"Like the rest of our patients tonight?"
"Yes, like the rest of our patients tonight." With a smirk (another thing he’s good at).
"And so?…"I ask.
Saggy gives a full-body shrug that is unique to this part of the world, conveying resignation, acceptance and absolution all at once, "And so he left."