Monday, September 14, 2009

Modern Emergency Medical Care

You know what I've found about being a firefighter? Fire's don't happen very often. Oh we get plenty of calls, but they're mostly made up of heart attacks, traumatic injuries, and breathing trouble.

That's why my department requires that every member obtain their EMT-B certification, and that's what I'm spending most of my time training for this fall.

At least, that's what I WILL be training for. A lot of the training we've been through so far in EMT class has centered more around just trying not to get sued. More than other jobs, being an emergency rescuer is fraught with opportunities for legal action against you. Driving an emergency vehical, you can easily get caught up in a car accident; there's a law suit for failure to use due regard. Caring for a patient may involve you having to make a split second decision that causes someone's condition to worsen; now there's some legal action regarding negligence. Maybe you drop a patient off at the hospital and the paperwork to transfer doesn't quite get completed properly. The ER's busy and the nurses don't check in on the patient for 15 minutes, by which time his situation has grown dire; now you're going to court for abandonment. I could give example after example, because I've heard hundreds of them; enough to scare me into almost not wanting to put myself in the position of having to care for someone because of the legal risk if something goes wrong.

What's different today about our society that means we sue at the drop of a hat? When did we become entitled to have nothing ever go wrong in our lives? After all, that's where this originates, right? Something bad has happened to me, I think someone else could have prevented it, so I'm going to sue for all kinds of damages because I shouldn't ever have to experience hardship or trouble in my life.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not speaking out against actual maliciousness or incompetence. If someone is driving 40 MPH over the speed limit to get to a call and strikes a pedestrian, that was negligent. If an ambulance worker shows up to a scene, decides he doesn't like the patient, and leaves him to die, that was abandonment. But the cautionary tales I've heard are nothing like that. They're all based around split-second decisions where a tough choice had to be made, and someone made it (right or wrong), and the end result was a lawsuit against the ambulance company, the fire department, and the responder personally.

It's a mess. Unfortunately, complaining about it on my blog won't change anything. I, along with every other emergency responder, have to continue in this field knowing that every action I take may have ramifications that could land me in court. We all have to function with a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in that we have two relationships with our patients; one as allies working for their well-being, and one as adversaries trying to cover our asses. I guess all I can say is "be careful out there".

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