Working sick. It happens all the time in EMS. Why? In EMS you get exposed to so much, its hard to make it through a winter without getting whacked by at least one bout that would put a salaried worker in bed with a thermometer in their mouth and a water bottle on their chest. Not anything against salaried workers, only that when I was one, and I didn’t feel well and no one was really counting on me, I stayed home when I was sick. “Uh, sorry, I won’t be in today, I’m feeling a little under the weather.”

In EMS, most people can’t afford the time off. Sure you get a certain amount of sick time every year. I try not to use mine if I can help it, so I can cash it out at the end of the year as needed pay. Other EMS people, well, aren’t as fortunate. Thinngs happen — family issues, sickness, child care issues — and suddenly they are just plain out of personal time, and can’t take another day.

I don’t think any EMS worker beyond a few months experience hasn’t had one time or another, or many, many times, when they had patients who weren’t as sick as the responding EMT. “You’ve got a fever?” they say to the patient. “A bad chest cold? You vomitted a few times? Diarrhea? Poor dear.” If they were playing Can You Top This? they’d be rich. “You want to see some phlegm? I can show you some phlegm,” they feel like saying to the patient.

On a cold night like tonight, I wonder how many EMS workers are getting breathing treatments in the back of their ambulances or who’s partners are sticking them with an IV in between calls and hanging a bag of saline running wide open to fight back dehydration? Does all the phenergan go to the patients?

It’s a good thing morphine is controlled and locked up because if it was as common as the baby aspirin (and there wasn’t the certainty of losing your job much less the fear of becoming a skanked out drug addict), maybe people would use it for their back pains.

In my days, I’ve had partners puke and stay on the clock and I’ve had strong partners who uncharacteristically stuck first responders with the carry-down because their stools were so loose they didn’t dare attempt a dead lift. I’ve seen asthmatics work through treatments, diabetics work through unresponsive hypoglycemic episodes after getting their D50. I’ve heard people on the radio who’s voices were so shot you’d think they were on their death beds. Without complaining, their partners, who hate to tech, will tech every call to protect their coughing, wheezing, puking other EMS half.

Most lines of work, you get injured on the job and miss work, its comp. But that really doesn’t account for all the microbes and cooties we deal with. Prove, you didn’t get that home. I guess the excuse is we have gloves and masks and gowns and hepa-filters and hand washing supplies.

I don’t know if I was a patient I would want a sick medic taking care of me. At least most of us cough onto our shoulders instead of our hands. Plus we all wear gloves. Especially when we’re sick.

It won’t be a problem for me for the next couple days. I made it through another working week. The monthly mortgage is paid. I’ve got food on the table. I’ve got a few days off to regain my strength.

Pass the hot water bottle.


  • Herbie the Medic says:

    So true. Well put.Be careful out there.

  • Brendan says:

    A few months ago my partner and I both caught the Norovirus from a respiratory distress patient we pulled out of quarantined nursing home. On my next shift I almost vomited on a patient. Thankfully I managed to get her into the stairchair and turn around before making an even bigger embarassment of myself.Last night, we took another respiratory patient out of another nursing home on quarantine. I’m not optimistic about my chances.

  • Anonymous says:

    sucks being sick, worse is pulling a positive PPD. You wonder where the cold came from but wonder even more where such an exposure like that came from.

  • Anonymous says:

    Lots of vitamin C (orange juice, mainly) seems to keep me healthy, even my partners are dying of bronchitis or ebola.

  • Anonymous says:

    true about the bowels. trying working with irritable bowel syndrome. before i learned how to manage it with herbs/diet/natural measures, it wasn’t unusual to find me dashing off towards a bathroom on a call and saying to a first responder “help my partner…i’ll be right back.”

  • Eric says:

    Around here, many EMS workers continue to work simply because of our policies. Yes, we have Sick Pay, and even Well Pay. But, the first 24-hour shift that you call in for is gone. You don’t get paid for it. If you’re really sick and miss more than one shift, then the rest are covered by Sick Pay. For me, one shift is worth $440. I’d rather come to work sneezing and coughing…

  • Anonymous says:

    Eric, Amen to that. There’s not a chance in hell I’m calling in sick. I feel guilty sometimes thinking of how many people I’ve probably passed MRSA on to, but it’s not my fault.I’m sure my upper resp tract is just teeming with hibernating bacteria waiting, waiting, waiting for that week when I’m in the hospital for a bad back or torn shoulder, waiting, waiting until I’m not moving around much because of the pain, and then streaming down my throat like a hoarde of Landsknechts pillaging the fertile cilia, ransacking the bronchus, and setting fire to the alveoli with only a pile of rotten mucous left to tell the tale.That day will come. But till then, I go to work sick.

  • Stacey says:

    I am going to work sick tommorow. I hate being sick and I REALLY hate working sick but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.I will admit I have a lot less tolerance for the stupid “I have a fever” people when I am sick. Does anybody else have a “points system” where they work?The agency I work for has this whole point system thing where at the begining of the year you get twelve points. If you call in an hour or more before work you lose 1 point (less than an hour is 2 points), if you have to leave half way through a shift it is half a point, if you are late it is one point, no show no call 2 points etc… You can re earn points by doing over time on specific days but that is the only way to earn them back. If you use them all up you get fired. It makes sense to have a points system to discourage the slackers but if you are sick/in the hospital for any period of time you are pretty much screwed.

  • PC says:

    It’s rough out there.We have to give the company 4 hours lead time to call out or else it is an unexcused absence, which means if you wake up with a fever, weakness, dizziness and vomiting and diarhea, you either have to suck it up, go in, punch in, and then get sent home for being too sick to work or else just call in and say, I’m too damn sick and know you’ll have to face a hearing, which if you have a solid record may just mean a warning or a day’s suspension. I’m not really certain. I haven’t had to go through it. I’d like to think they’d have mercy on me.PC

  • Brendan says:

    So if you’re LUCKY, a day’s suspension for the crime of getting sick in an occupation where it’s quite likely to happen. Unf’ingbelievable.

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