Old Partners

I work 12 hours (noon to midnight)with one of my old partners, who I don’t get to work with much anymore. We have a good laugh right off the back with our first call.

Our patient is being transfered from intensive care to a rehab hospital. She has a trach and is on a vent and requires suctioning and cardiac monitoring. When we arrive at the floor to pick her up, her parents are there, and then they leave for the hospital. As always happens, for one reason or another we are delayed leaving the hospital. The paperwork needs to be put in order, the patient needs to finish her tube feeding, the foley emptied, the feeding tube disconnected, etc. We finally get on the road.

I hate these transfers. I hate suctioning, and I’m not really wild about intrafacility transfers, particuarly on real sick patients. About halfway there, the woman touches my leg and looks like she wants to say something urgent to me, but I can’t for the life of me figure of what she wants to say. They teach you not to rely on your machines, but as long as her pulse is staying where t is –120 — normal for her of late, and her SAT is staying at 100%, I take some comfort. I never can figure out what she is trying to tell me. I just kept telling her we’ll be there soon, and wishing my partner will just drive a little faster and get us there before anything goes wrong and I actually have to work besides periodic suctioning.

When we get to the place, her parents are there already, waiting for us. The mother approaches me and says what company do you work for. I give her the initials. She asks again. I tell her the full name, and then she says, “Where you at the Food Sack?”

“What?”

“Where you at the Food Sack?”

“The Food Sack?”

“We saw an ambulance at the Food Sack.”

“Oh, no, that wasn’t us. We were delayed at the hospital.”

I think my complete befuddlement convinces her we didn’t abandon her daughter to run in and buy cheetos and scratch-off tickets.

Before we leave, she thanks us.

The Food Sack?

***

Working with my old partner is fun. We rehash old laughs. When you work with someone long enough their ecentricities really come out. People have said partnerships are often like marriages, and many hit a wall after a year where people have to breakup because they can no longer stand each other. We worked together for a number of years and had our times when we would get tired of each other. Its good every now and then for us to work together though I don’t know if I could last full-time again with him.

While in some ways a Type B personality in his friendliness to patients and his, where’s the stress we get paid by the hour philosophy, he is a type A driver. He gets very irritated with the traffic. Today at one of the hospitals we see a nurse who rode with us years ago during his orientation. “Hey,” he says to my partner. “I saw you on the highway yesterday and you flipped me off.”

“I did not. I would never do such a thing. That’s vulgar. I wouldn’t do that.”

“It was you. I came up on you fast, and sort cut you off, and I looked up and you were shaking your fist at me and you flipped me off.”

“It wasn’t me.”

“There’s nobody else who looks like you.”

“Had to be someone else. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Dude, it was you. I’ve know you for years. You flipped me off.”

The conversation is good natured. The nurse almost feels it is a badge of honor to be flipped off by my partner. My partner on the other hand is insistent it wasn’t him. “I’ll swear at someone,” he tells me later, “But I never flip them off.”

Yes, you do, I say.

No, I don’t.

***

He is driving much better than he used to. At work they installed these computers in the cars that beep if you go too fast or stop too quickly, and every month we get a grade based on the number of violations, including backing up without a spotter (there is a spotter switch that your spotter has to hit when you backup) per mile. My partner is always in the top tier. His competitiveness has harnessed his speed and sudden braking, but not curbed his anger at other drivers.

At one point during the day, he buys a lunch of chicken fricasese from an Italian Mom and Pop restaurant, and as soon as he comes out we get sent on a transfer. I offer to drive while he eats, which he accepts. I get behind the wheel, and immediately backup.

“Hey, you’re on my fob,” he says. I’ve just cost him a penalty point.

“Sorry,” I say.

Ahead the light turns yellow. I start to brake, but there is no way I can stop in time without setting the brake alarm off and also sending the buttery fricasse all over my partner’s shirt, so I cruise through the yellow. “I just saved you a point and your shirt,” I say.

“Please fob in,” he says.

I reach down and touch my fob — my identifier — to the command button so all future violations on this trip will be on me.

I am also a top ranked driver. Last year one month I won the free DVD player as the raffle winner from among the top drivers. The only violations I ever get are the backup alarms. Sometimes I just backup without thinking I need to ask my partner to get out and spot me.

***

One of my partner’s other eccentricities is he loves to get a McDonald’s ice cream. Today, everytime we try to get one, we get a call. He is getting very annoyed. It is cracking me up. “What are you laughing at? he says, as he get back in the car, empty-handed and slams his shoulder belt on.

“Nothing,” I say. Then I pick up the radio and tell the police dispatcher we are enroute.

***

We do six calls. Its hard to even remember what they are. After awhile the job sometimes doesn’t even become about the calls. Its about the people you work with, driving the streets, the things you eat, what you talk about.

He and I are both recently divorced, so I listend to tales of his ex-wife and her lawyer. I tell him about my trip to the Dominican. We listen to the baseball games, switching back and forth, me listening to the Red Sox, him to the Yankees. Both teams lose.

***

The last three hours we do nothing. I take an hour nap in the back. He finally gets his ice cream cone and buys one for me. We tell stories of the old days. He keeps the air conditioning on. I finally roll the window down and ask him to shut off the engine. “The constant rattling is killing me,” I say. “I need quiet. Besides its nice out. There’s a breeze.”

“Its hot,” he says. He seems annoyed. He likes the AC to keep the air cleaner. He gets out and goes inside.

Ten minutes later he comes back out. The car next to us is running their diessel. “I have to roll the windows back up,” he says. “Its too muggy.”

“Okay,” I say.

At 10:30 the dispatcher tells us to go to Area 9. My partner thinks he says “bring it in.” I try to tell him the dispatcher said area nine, which is just a post. He calls the dispatcher on his cell phone and the dispatcher reiterates Area 9.

My partner doesn’t hear as well as he used to. Several times he says, “Huh?” and I have to speak louder. I should talk because I find myself saying “Huh?” alot too. that’s what years of sirens will do.

***

We shake hands like we always do at the end of the shift (after resupplying and washing the ambulance).

Good working with you.

Always a pleasure.

See you at Food Sack.

That’s right.

Have a safe drive home.

You too, my friend.

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