Working for EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is challenging but there are times that catch you by surprise. My partner and I took a transfer to a city four hours from our home. It was a late night transfer and we wouldn't be back to our department until 8 a.m. After picking the patient up, we headed out.
Four hours later, we arrived at the receiving hospital and took our patient to the room and headed back home. We were both very tired and she decided to drive first and then I would drive the second half home.
I thought it couldn't hurt, since I wasn't driving, to close my eyes. I'm not sure how long I had them closed but when I opened them, we were on the wrong side of the road. At this hour of the morning, there wasn't much traffic, so we were very lucky. I yelled at my partner, "Are you awake?" "Yes!", she responded. We hadn't driven more than a few more miles down the road when she pulled the unit over and said, "That's it, I can't drive any further." We switched and I drove.
After a few miles, I was having trouble staying awake. The next town was only 5 miles down the road so, I decided to drive there and told her that we would be pulling over at the EMS department, I was going to have to take a short nap.
Driving at night makes me sleepy. However, when it's daylight I don't have a problem even if I am very tired. We pulled over and I set the alarm on my cell phone and immediately went to sleep. Being in the back of the ambulance, with the motor off, it became very hot in the back, so we opened the window and rolled down one of the windows in the cab for air movement.
After an hour passed, the alarm went off. I told her it was time to get back on the road. She said, "Thirty more minutes, please." I told her I was ok now and was going to head on home. I got out of the back of the unit and started it. She was still laying on the cot in the back, needing the rest since she was going to be on shift for 24 hours when we got home. I made certain that the she had the seat belts from the cot on and exited the back of the unit to get in the cab.
I sat down in the driver's seat and started the unit and put my seat belt on and told her we were on our way. Without a response, I decided that she had gone back to sleep and I drove out of the parking lot, through town and we were on our way home.
Along the way, there are two sets of train tracks that cross the highway with tracks running along the highway for several miles. We had crossed both sets by this time and now the tracks were running parallel with the highway. Trains always blow their whistle just as they are approaching an intersection tracks and roads here in the rural areas.
Thinking nothing of it, as they always did this, I was surprised to find my partner sitting in the jump seat shortly after the whistle blew. I asked her, "What are you doing up here? I thought you were going to sleep all the way home." Came the reply, "I was! But I thought you'd fallen asleep and I heard the train whistle and thought we were going to be hit by a train and I wanted to be up here instead of back there, if I was going to die."
The train whistle was loud because we had left the window on the side door of the ambulance open. If you've ever been in an ambulance, there is only a small opening between the cab and back compartment. Most of the time it is difficult to get from the back to the front. My partner had to unbuckle all three seatbelts on the cot, get up, crawl through that small area and sit down in the jump seat and she did it all in just a matter of seconds.
©Karen A J Rinehart
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