One happy thing I’ve learned during my 20-plus years as a firefighter and E.M.T. is that usually the most entertaining ambulance calls are ones that are the least serious. I honestly can’t remember how many people’s lives I’ve seen slip through my fingers while I tried everything I knew to save them. And I can’t recall every gunshot victim or everyone that I ever found irreparably smashed inside a wrecked car. But I thank god that I can remember a few calls that just made me laugh like hell.
Early in my career, I was working an ambulance in a small, rural town with my partner and good buddy Jimmy. So my backwoods-bred, handlebar-mustached partner Jimmy and I were chilling out in headquarters, debating whether we should be watching whatever was on The Hunting Channel or trying to identify the scrambled edge of a boob or the twisted form of what I could maybe imagine to be a vagina on the blocked porn channel. Pickings were slim on Skinamax, so I was only marginally annoyed when our pagers went off and the lights came on, summoning us to a Routine Response- Psychological.
About ten minutes later, Jimmy and I arrived at a small church off a country road. It was about half-past noon and mid-week, so it was pretty quiet. As Jimmy and I walked toward the church, E.M.S. bags in hand, we were met outside by a man who identified himself as Pastor Paul. Pastor Paul explained to us that he and a couple of his parishioners had recently brought a “troubled young woman” into the fold of their church with hopes of helping her through The Word of God. When the woman repeatedly tried to touch Pastor Paul’s wife’s breasts during a prayer while quickly whispering something about her cat and who-needs-Lithium-anyway, the church decided that they needed the kind of help that doesn’t have to wait for an Amen.
I met this woman, now our patient, in the kitchen of the church: She was a 40ish, slim brunette in a turquoise dress, in no apparent distress, eating cold taco meat as fast as she could out of a skillet with her bare hands. She barely paused to talk to me through a full mouth, but with a few targeted questions and a set of vital signs, it didn’t take Dr. Gregory House to deduce that our patient was experiencing bipolar mania, probably the result of not taking her prescribed medication. Recognizing that we were Pastor Paul’s only way out of a touchy situation, and that without treatment this person could become a danger to herself or others, we casually offered a free ride to the hospital. I was relieved when she jumped up from the table, dropped a whole handful of ground beef, and walked straight out to the ambulance without protest.
I had done the patient care on our last call, a woman with unstable angina, so it was Jimmy’s turn in back with our patient while I drove the 20 miles or so to our local hospital. We were about five minutes into the drive when I heard Jimmy’s gravelly voice from the back:
“Uh…Ma’am, I’m gonna have to ask you not to do that.”
Then, fifteen seconds later, slightly more assertive:
“Ma’am. That’s not okay. You can’t do that in here.”
A few more seconds passed. Then, his voice filled with mix of disbelief and, the the six-foot tall, 200 pound, high school football star-turned-E.M.T. said: “Oh, Ma’am, you can’t…….”
A brief silence followed. I looked into the rear view mirror, then tried to turn my head to see. Before I could get a glimpse, I heard a whispered voice right next to my head in the companionway.
“Dude. She’s back there bangin’ herself.”
I couldn’t understand what poor Jimmy was saying.
“What? What’d you say?”
Just as excited, just as quiet, but with each syllable drawn out, Jimmy repeated himself:
I didn’t need to ask a second time. I reached up and adjusted that rear view mirror for the best possible view of the unfolding situation. I really couldn’t see much with the back of the gurney seated upright, but I could identify the head and back of the woman head lolling back and forth in an ecstatic rhythm. Then Jimmy, still right in my ear:
“Dude. What should I do?”
I paused, thought for a moment, and asked: “Is she hurting herself?”
Jimmy peaked back over the gurney to verify, then the same freaked out gravelly whisper right back in my ear:
“I…I don’t think so.”
I shrugged, thrilled that I might have this situation under control, and from the driver’s seat, nonetheless.
“Ah, just let her finish. Make sure she doesn’t jump out of the rig or anything.”
Jimmy rode the entire way to the hospital crouched right next to me in the companionway while our patient masturbated to her heart’s contentment, just out of our sight. He explained to me that the patient had begun looking at him, then rubbing his leg, moving up toward his crotch until she eventually pulled her dress right up over her hips and “took the F-train to Tunatown”, as he later put it.
When we pulled up the driveway to the hospital, Jimmy told our patient that we were arriving. She immediately stopped touching herself, pulled her dress back down, and gave her hair a quick tousle, all without saying a single word. It was like the masturbating never happened.
We wheeled her in to the “Quiet Room” of the Emergency Department, then gave our report to a grizzled old emergency room nurse. We waited to report the part about the masturbation until we were well out of earshot of the patient. After recounting the tale to as best we could, probably like two prepubescent kids who’d just seen their first Playboy, the nurse merely shook her head and replied with mild annoyance.