14 in 13

A 14 gauge IV in a 13-year-old girl

Teresa Forson lost her job as a firefighter because she started a 14-gauge IV on a drunk 13-year-old and then lied about the circumstances surrounding the event.

The 13-year-old girl was alert and ambulatory with stable vital signs. Many people on social media defended the firefighter, feeling that termination was uncalled for, that it was excessive and that really, this was not that of a big deal. In one sense they are right, a 14-gauge IV insertion probably doesn’t hurt much more than a 20-gauge IV does and since no harm came to the patient from this incident, what is the big deal?

Intent is the big deal. Intent is what matters. Either these paramedics need some serious remediation on when large bore IVs are needed, or this was a punitive act. I can’t truly say what occurred in the back of that ambulance between the surly drunk teenager and the firefighter as I wasn’t there and I don’t have all the facts, but it sure sounds a lot like punitive medicine.

Practicing punitive medicine is indefensible. It points to low levels of emotional intelligence and poor impulse control. I certainly have had moments in my career where I have contemplated doing it to patients. When I first started in EMS, I believed that “drunks get 14’s,” and I was more than ready to plug some 14-gauge IVs into the next drunk patient I encountered. It would take a few years of working in EMS before I realized that there might be a better way to learn how to care for patients than teaching via war stories from people who had repeated their first-year twenty times over.

A lack of emotional intelligence training in healthcare education.

Healthcare education rarely teaches about soft skills like emotional intelligence. These skills will be used on almost every EMS call, on almost every shift and yet we don’t talk about them. Time is sent on garbage like the KED and taping people to plastic boards.

Emotional intelligence may not be real form of intelligence, there certainly appears to be a debate about that. It may be more pop-psychology than an actual science, but the skills and attributes emphasized by it are very real and can save or prolong a career.

Increasing emotional intelligence can change how you relate to the bullshit calls. If you have worked in EMS for some time you have probably encountered people that were extremely intelligent in the conventional sense yet had astoundingly low levels of emotional intelligence. These people are smart but they tend to explode over small things or end up doing some sort of punitive thing to a patient that ends their career.

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
-Daniel Goleman

Emotional intelligence has four or five components to it depending on the source you read; self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.  Each component is important but self-regulation  might be the most important when it comes to not getting fired and not fucking up your life in general.

Having impulses to punish a patient is not the problem; not being able to control the impulse is a problem. You can hate your patient, you can get pissed off at them, you can find them annoying, but then you move on and do your job like a professional. I have had more than one fantasy where I tell  my partner to pull over on the side of the road and kick a patient out of the ambulance in the middle of nowhere because they annoyed the shit out of me.

The obstacle is the way.

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” -Marcus Aurelius

The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday is a short book that might change the way you look at the world. Anyone working in healthcare should read it. It transforms how you relate to all the bullshit encountered in healthcare.

In EMS there really are only two kinds of calls—bullshit calls and good calls.

The drunks, the pointless nursing home runs, the patients with back pain that should just harden up and deal with it, the rambling psych patients who went off their meds, the uninjured person that “just wants to be checked out” in the middle of the night, the repeated accidental life alert alarm activations, a pair of piss soaked pants rubbing on your pants, patients with shit packed under their fingernails that keep trying to touch you, drug-seekers, COPD patients smoking while on oxygen and complaining of shortness of breath, the 25-year-old male with chest pain at the jail, and the morbidly obese that are will blow out your back. These are the kinds of patients that suck the life out of healthcare provider. These are the kinds of patients that on bad day are easy to hate. You might even tell yourself that these patients are the obstacle to your happiness at this job—that if it weren’t for the bullshit calls you would be happy at work.

The bullshit calls are the obstacle and they are the way.

You can still be annoyed or pissed about these calls. I certainly am from time to time, but it happens less than it used to, and it has becme more of a passing thought than anything else. It is not a strong reaction. I may not like the patient, or I might be mad, but it is not a big deal. It does not linger; it does not ruin my day most of the time and it certainly doesn’t cause me to lose control. It is more along the lines of when I want Coke and must settle for the apologetic “is Pepsi okay?” Being annoyed about these calls doesn’t accomplish anything, being pissed off about these calls is a waste of time and energy.

Marcus Aurelius asks, “Does what happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control-sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness?”
No? Then brush it off and move on. If an asshole patient can control your actions, you probably are not really in control as much as you like to think you are.

Making it a practice.
If I get mad, they win.

When presented with an especially difficult patient I remind myself, I get mad, they win.

If a patient can provoke me to a point where I lose my composure, they win. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll escalate appropriately and professionally when needed; I’ll stab someone in the ass with 400mg of ketamine without a second thought and I’ll fight if I have no other choice. But I won’t act out of anger and I won’t give out punitive measures.

A drunk 13-year old girl certainly could be considered just another bullshit call. Or it could be an exercise in patience and self-regulation; it could be a lesson in managing your emotions.

“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.
-Oscar Wilde


One thought on “

  1. I agree with everything except about the good calls versus the bullshit calls. There are no bullshit calls. No one should be upset with them in general. Yes there are times they are annoying. Anyone who feels they’re bullshit calls is because “The system” failed them. Because EMS education failed them. We were taught to expect emergencies, not dealing with people issues. As you alluded to, more emotional intelligence is required. We need to do a better job of onboarding by painting a realistic picture of what we do day in and day out.


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