The Grapes of Wrath

We hear the cops go out for a minor motor vehicle up on the mountain, and then twenty minutes later we get called up there for neck and back pain.

The accident doesn’t look like much as we get there. One vehicle rear-ended the other, but I start to get a little nervous when I count the people standing by the side of the road. There are two adults outside one car, and there are two adults outside the other, but there are also four children, including one in a baby car seat, and another pushing an empty stroller. A muscled tattooed man is also taking stuff out of the car and piling it on the grass – bags of groceries, plastic bags full of clothes, a cooler, two jugs of water, a folded up play pen.

One of my partners checks out the adults in the first car – they both refuse. The adult female in the second car says she has lateral neck pain, but says she is most concerned about her two oldest children – they both have neck and back pain. I approach them – a seven and ten-year-old. Yes, they say, their necks hurt – right in the center. I have my partners get to work c-spining them while I check the woman over. Her neck pain seems muscular and is only on the left side. No pain along the spine. No numbness, tingling, weakness, etc. No pain or limit to range of motion. My plan is to put the two children on boards, one on the bench seat and one on the stretcher and have the mother go as a patient in the captain’s chair.

But then she says, “What about my other children?”

I say, “What about them?”

“I can’t leave them.”

“They can’t come in the ambulance. They’re going to have to stay with your friend.”

“Can’t you call another ambulance? And what about our stuff?”

“We can’t call an ambulance for people who aren’t hurt. And we can’t take all your stuff.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Can’t someone come pick them up?”

“No, we don’t have a ride.”

“Hold on,” I say, and then walk over to the police officer, who is writing them tickets and summonses for an unregistered vehicle and failing to properly secure all the children.

I explain the situation to the officer. They don’t have a ride and we can’t fit them all in the ambulance. “They can walk back to the city,” she says. “They can leave their stuff in the bushes and come back for it later.”

From where I stand, I can look down the mountain and see the city in the distance. It looks as far away as the Land of Oz. I look over at the baby sucking her pacifier in the car seat and the four-year old pushing the stroller around in circles, and then at the tattooed man taking more groceries out of the car.

I know it has been a particuarly busy day for police, EMS and fire. Calls are going out all over town.

I walk over to the man. “You can’t get a ride from someone?”


“How ‘bout we’ll get you a cab.”

“I got twenty dollars to my name.”

“And you can’t get anyone to pick you up?”

“I don’t have a phone.”

I take my cell phone out and hand it to him. “Start calling.”

While he and the woman pass the phone back and forth calling people – they are having no luck getting anyone — a tow truck arrives to cart their car off. I keep looking at the children and at the far off city rising out of the valley below.

“Look,” I say to the mother now. “Here’s what we may be able to do. If you don’t want to be transported as a patient – you can still be seen at the hospital — I can put you in the front seat. I can put the baby in the captain’s chair in her car seat, and I can put the four year old in another seat. I might be able to get some of your stuff in the ambulance. And then if he still can’t get someone to pick him up, then only he will have to walk back.”

So I get the children in all safely secured. I explain to my crew that three of us will have to either sit on the floor or stand holding onto to the top bar. Then I go out and try to help the mother with the possessions. I ask her to point out which is most important. Stroller, play pen, groceries, clothes. What comes with us? What goes in the bushes?

Guess what?

The stroller goes in the side compartment next to the main oxygen tank. The bags of groceries and clothes go stuffed in the stair chair compartment and in the compartment with the flares and hard hats, and in the compartment with the collars and head-beds and straps. The play pen we put between the front seats and the back. We pack every open space we can find. I mean, how can you leave any of this stuff? A baby has to have a play pen. The squirrels and raccoons will get the groceries if we leave them. The kids have to eat, don’t they? The hospital isn’t going to give them but one meal at the best.

The man is talking with someone in very heated Spanish, and then closes the phone in disgust. I tell him we’ll be taking his girl and the kids and the stuff.

He nods and after the cop gives him his summons, he starts walking down the mountain, while we swing, a slow wide u-turn and head back to the city ourselves, four EMTs, one mother, four children, and a family’s food and possessions.


  • Rogue Medic says:

    You went above and beyond what you needed to do on that call. Why couldn’t the tow truck driver transport someone with the car? Was it impounded?Let’s hope dad makes it through the poppy field without falling asleep. 🙂

  • robynne says:

    I.m appalled at the Police Officer attitude, doesn’t safety issues cross her mind? Also what about the Tow Truck driver, couldn’t he have given the father a ride?What if the gentleman was hit by a (uninsured) drunk driver while walking along side the road? Truly this scenario isn’t a stretch of the imagination!

  • seticat says:

    You have a good heart. Never lose that.As for the others [LEO, two truck, other car], I hope they have trouble sleeping at nights. Their behaviour was appalling.

  • AlisonH says:

    I bet that cop had safety issues in mind: her own, only. She was afraid of being alone in her squad car with the guy, and would rather ditch him on an empty road than face that fear. But to desert someone in pain who’s about to be separated from his his family, his transportation, and a chunk of his worldly goods, and leave him there alone with nothing on the side of the road… The mind boggles.Thank you for taking care of all of them as best you could.

  • Beaker says:

    It’s nice to know that there are people like you in the world =)Now I just have to figure out how to get my kids to be like that.

  • Medix311 says:

    You went out on a limb and did the right thing. You should be proud of yourself.

  • Anonymous says:

    No seatbelt for me? Start walkin.

  • PC says:

    I think the problem with the tow truck driver was he was towing the car to a lot in a different town. I had the sense that the family would not be reclaiming the car. I don’t know all the details, but they probably didn’t have insurance, the car would probably cost more to fix than it was worth. I had suggested the man leave their stuff in the car and then pick it up at the tow place, but he didn’t like that idea probably because he had no intention of reclaiming the car and having to pay a tow charge on top of it.In defense of the cop, she had had a particuarly hard day, and who is to say how she would have handled it if the children had been left there. I had said I can’t take your stuff, but ended up taking it. The officer may have ended up figuring out a way to get the kids at least off the road if we hadn’t managed to take them.My point in writing this is that so much of what we do in EMS doesn’t really relate to health care. It’s figuring out a way to manage life. I get annoyed a lot by patient demands (turn off house lights, get their coat or reading glasses, put some water out for the dog, call their hairdresser and tell them they won’t be making their appointment. When I look at it, it isn’t such an imposition to help people.

  • chris in se tx says:

    I know I will seem like a really cold hearted person, but what I see is people who (most likely, granted I don’t know for sure) a) don’t have car insurance b) chances are are here illegaly. Now you and your crew put yourself IN DANGER (standing up in an ambulance) because these people keep putting themseves into bad situations. They don’t even care enough to buckle in all their kids. If you have more kids than can ride, then one of you stays home with the kids while the other shops….I’m sorry, but I see you and your crew, while being caring and humanitarian, making a bad choice. Had you been in an accident on the way to the hospital, what would the children of the killed EMT think that he gave up his seat so that these people didn’t have to leave groceries behind?The fact that their friends aren’t willing to help them either tells me something about how often they must be in need of help…..Again, sorry about having no compassion, but I’m getting increasingly tired of certain people just taking from others all the time because THEY keep making bad choices and others feel sorry for them…..To recap, I just can’t feel sorry for people who drive with no insurance, don’t buckle up their kids and mooch of others….

  • Rogue Medic says:

    I got started on a comment, but ended up with a post on this. Chris in SE Texas does make some good points about creating different dangers. My post is But we’re EMS! We don’t do THAT!You, and others in the comments, bring up a lot of points that are not covered well in school or company policies.

  • PC says:

    Thanks for the comments all.Chris – I don’t disagree with you about the safety issues. Sometimes you look at a situation and you try to weigh the pros and cons. While it was far from ideal, I felt given the roads we would be traveling on, the speed — slow and easy — that we could have a safe ride. That was preferable to abandoning an infant and a four year old at the side of a mountain road in the company of their mother’s companion.Like you, I didn’t have a lot of compassion for the mother, but it is hard to blame the kids and hard to make them suffer. I went from an attitute of forget it, we are not taking everyone and all your junk to, well, how hard is is really going to be for us to do as opposed to how hard is going to be to leave them there.I find in EMS a lot of the time it is not black and white. There is a lot of grey out there. Sometimes — whether in patient care or scene management — you have to weigh one bad against another bad, and bear responsibiltiy for the bad you choose. I’d rather do that than try to stick with the book in situations where the book doesn’t work.Thanks again for the comments.

  • NJ EMS says:

    You take care and compassion to new heights

  • Anonymous says:

    Hey…thanks for doing that. I don’t give a shit about the guy, but the kids…you did the right thing.

  • Anonymous says:

    Nice work! Very inspiring post 🙂

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