Let's Digress

Wipe the Butt: A Story of Hope from the Ambulance

I was working on the ambulance one day…

My partner and I got a call for an elderly lady who had fallen and needed help up. It sounded like a typical lift assist run, or so we thought.

Lift assist runs are usually pretty cut and dry. Generally, we show up, barge into the house after knocking profusely (the fallen person normally can’t open the door because they fell somewhere else in the house), and we play hide-and-seek while we walk through the house looking for the fallen person.

Once we find them, we assess their head, neck, back, and spine, ask if they hurt anywhere, and ask what happened, the usual questions. We help them up, ask a few more questions, and ask if they want to go to the hospital. If they’re alert and oriented appropriately and say no, then they sign a paper releasing us from liability and we leave. Pretty cut and dry.

That day, this lift assist was not as cut and dry, both literally and figuratively speaking. The elderly lady who fell was the typical “great grandma Edna” that most families have, except this GG Edna had been lying on the floor for about 12 hours before her kids found her when they stopped by the next morning.

According to the kids and GG Edna, she fell in the bathroom from tripping over the rug the night before while walking back to her bedroom. We found her about 7 feet away from the bathroom in the entryway of her bedroom. She said she crawled there during the night after falling.

So, being escorted by the very concerned family, we walked into the slightly disheveled house and to the back hallway where GG Edna was. She was awake and alert and very talkative, a rather spry elderly woman, really. Similar to Betty White, but not in as pristine of health.

We asked her the usual questions: How do you feel? What happened? Do you hurt anywhere? Did you hit your head? Does your head, neck, back, or spine hurt? Are you breathing okay? Blah blah blah.

She didn’t really have any complaints or anything obviously injured or wrong with her, so we helped her up and started the next round of questions: How do you feel now? Do you hurt anywhere? Are you having trouble breathing? Do you have chest pain? Dizziness? Lightheadedness? Vision problems? Blah blah blah.

GG Edna still denied any complaints for the most part, but she still wanted to go to the hospital to get looked at, just to be safe.

However, what she said next was every EMS person’s worst nightmare. Well, maybe not the worst nightmare, but certainly on the top 10 list.

She said she had to poop.

According to her, the previous day she had been having trouble with diarrhea, so she took a bunch of Pepto-Bismol, essentially corking up her internal plumbing for several, several hours.

Most ambulance people would say something like, “Well, we’re just around the corner from the hospital, so how about we get you into the ambulance really quick and you can take care of that at the hospital? Nurses love that stuff.” Or we would come up with some other reasonable excuse to not have to deal with it.

If there’s one thing us cot jockeys are good at, it’s avoiding having to clean up poop from patients while they’re in our care.

But no, GG Edna had to go then. So, she walked into the bathroom with a little bit of our help, and, thankfully, she made it onto the toilet, so my partner and I stepped out into the hallway to give her some privacy.

When we went back inside the bathroom, it was like that scene from Daddy Daycare. Really, the only way to describe what had happened would be to say that several potato-sized Pepto-Bismol infused pipe bombs exploded. It was bad. Really bad.

At this point, most EMS people would try to hurry and get GG Edna’s pants back on, completely avoid any butt wiping, cover her up with several blankets (blankets keep odors sealed in), and quickly head to the hospital (the haste to the hospital is usually so we don’t have to deal with the poop paraphernalia any longer than necessary).

But not my partner; she went the extra mile. Really, it was several extra miles.

GG Edna was still a little weak from being on the floor for so long and wasn’t able to adequately clean herself up.

As I already mentioned, at this point, most ambulance people would just pull the pants back up and scurry over to the hospital and avoid the poop as much as possible…but not my partner. My partner cleaned GG Edna up. She cleaned her up very well, actually.

During most of the clean up, I was outside getting the stretcher and ambo ready.

When I came back inside, GG Edna was nearly spotless, along with the toilet area of her bathroom, and her soiled clothes that were caught in the crossfire were also sealed tight in a plastic bag. Like I said, my partner went several extra miles on this one.

We helped GG Edna to the stretcher and made our way to the hospital.

I don’t know what happened to GG Edna after we dropped her off at the emergency department, but I do know that what my partner did left a lasting impression on the family, and on myself.

Oh yeah, while we were in the house and I was on my way to grab the stretcher, the family asked me what was going on in the bathroom. I told them about the Pepto, the state of the bathroom, and that my partner was cleaning GG Edna up. With equally surprised facial expressions and voices they said, “She’s cleaning her up? I didn’t know you guys did that. She’s so sweet! She must be a really good person.” That’s a very condensed and paraphrased version of what they said. The actual conversation lasted about two minutes of them just going on and on and on and on about how awesome and caring my partner was.

After seeing that whole situation, she was very awesome and caring. Trust me.


I told that overly long story to say this: There is a silver lining.

Lately, there have been numerous articles and blog posts about EMS all over social media, most of which have been overly depressing.

They’ve been about the diagnosed PTSD after extended periods of time on the job, the burnout, the trauma EMS personnel see, how the general public just “doesn’t get it,” the frighteningly high divorce rates among EMS (and most relationships in general), the mental illness often associated with this line of work, and many of the other drawbacks of EMS.

It has all been very depressing to read. But worst of all, the articles usually connect all of that to how less-than-proffessional behavior is okay (forget about even attempting to go the extra mile altogether) or even, deserved. They talk about how since “bad thing X” happened, then “bad behavior Y” is okay and justifiable for the ambulance person to participate in.

Well, it’s not okay. Bad behavior is bad behavior, no matter what the other factors are. It boils down to an ownership and entitlement issue, which on a bigger scale is a character problem. Those can be corrected.

That’s not what this is about, though.

For my fellow cot jockeys: There is hope.

The small acts of extra kindness we do does make a difference. People do notice, even if they don’t realize it right then. Most of the time, we’re not even around to hear people talk about the good things, especially not during a 911 run when the patient’s think that they or a loved one are dying. Not to mention that acts of kindness just aren’t as entertaining to talk about as the acts of bad behavior are.

Actually, until/if she reads this, I don’t believe my partner that day even knows GG Edna’s family said any of that stuff. In hindsight, I probably should’ve told her that day. Oh! And people forget to talk about the good things, myself included, obviously.

For everyone else who calls 911: Please don’t poop around us if it’s avoidable. Save that for the hospital or the bathroom at your local Taco Bell.

Oh! And no, we don’t carry beverages on the ambulance. If only I had a nickel for every time I have been asked about that…

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