Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Rescuers

I have been meaning to blog about this for a while, but an incident this afternoon has fairly shoved it to the forefront of my pregnancy-addled mind.

Taxman, in addition to his skilled deciphering of the United States tax code, is a volunteer EMT. The volunteer ambulance service he rides with mostly serves the Jewish community, with squads in several NYC neighborhoods that have large Jewish populations. For the sake of anyone who lives out of the tristate area, I'll call them the Rescuers.

Anyway, people (and when I say people, I mean like 99% men, but that is a whole different blog entry) who want to join the Rescuers have their training and certification paid for, but then they are expected to serve their neighborhoods. Ideally there is 24/7 coverage, but because they are not on salary sometimes it gets a little dicey. One of the "perks" (and I use the term loosely) of being on the Rescuers is the pile of clothing swag, at least in this neighborhood. Taxman's collection of Rescuer gear includes a winter jacket, a windbreaker, a fleece-lined pullover, a polo shirt, a jumpsuit (that he never wears or even could, because it is a 44 long and he is a 42 short), a reflective vest, and a couple of extremely dorky baseball caps. I believe the expectation is that they show up to a call dressed in some piece of Rescuer-wear; they also have state-issued EMT ID, which of course they have with them at a call, but somehow it's not as festive.

I have been known to snag one of the pieces of Rescuer outerwear on occasion. I don't have a good windbreaker, for instance. Or when I was slinging Miss M all through last winter, I could throw the heavy jacket around both of us. We looked like a two-headed creature, but that was half the fun. In the past month or so, I've pretty much outgrown my winter jacket, a Lands End number, size women's small; I can't really zipper it around the b2b any longer because I carry babies completely out front. So I've pretty much claimed the Rescuers coat as my own.

Wearing Taxman's jacket has led to some confusion. The Rescuers are a well-known organization among the Jews in the neighborhood. So when I stop into the kosher bakery, the grocery store, or even the post office or library, I have gotten questions and comments, almost uniformly positive, about the Rescuers. (They are funded through private donations, so people who use them for emergency medical care and transportation to the hospital are not charged.) I always immediately clarify that my husband is the Rescuer, not me. But I have to I deliberately misrepresenting myself? I do know enough about the organization to field general questions--after marrying into the organization more than six years ago--and certainly if Taxman were asked for medical attention on the street, he would call the dispatcher and make it official, get backup and an ambulance, as per protocol. (I would do the same in that situation.)

Today, as I was pushing Miss M and her stroller basket full of groceries home, I was contemplating this exact question. Somehow I had justified wearing the jacket because a) it fits, b) Taxman doesn't mind, and c) hopefully winter will be ending very soon and I can steal his plain-jane Gap sweatshirt instead. It's kind of an extension of wearing gear from a college you did not attend--but you're connected to someone who did.

Then I had one of the weirdest conversations I have had in recent memory.

A woman, who looked a bit careworn and wild-eyed, called to me from down the block.

W: "Are you a Rescuer?"
OTE: "No, sorry, I'm not. My husband is. This is his jacket."
W: "Can you help me?"
OTE: "I'm sorry, I'm not a Rescuer."
W: "So you aren't willing to help a Jew in trouble? Let me tell you, there is terrible anti-semitism going on at [the public school across the street from where we were standing]. They won't let me pick up my daughter. Her name is _____. Can you find her and bring her to me?" [A couple of points: I don't mean to be ageist in any way--and I know my share of people who had kids in their 40s--but this woman truly looked a bit old to have a child in elementary school. She reeked of cigarette smoke. Also, it was now after 5pm, and I think the elementary school lets out somewhere in the 2:45-3:15 range.]
OTE: "I don't think that the school would release her to me." [That, my friends, has got to be the understatement of the century.]
W: (getting desperate, almost hissing at me) "You go home and tell your husband, the Rescuer, that [gives a name--potentially her own?], who lives at [gives a local address] is being harassed by her husband. [Waves a shiny gold foil candy wrapper at me, then gives it to Miss M.] Make a Star of David out of this."
OTE: "Uh..."
But she had turned to go.

So many things were running through my head, primarily that I had just fielded what the EMTs called an AMS patient. (AMS=altered mental status. Although Taxman corrected me and said this was more likely a case of an EDP, an emotionally disturbed person. AMS is a temporary condition, often with a medical cause, like a stroke or fever. That's everyone's EMT lesson for today.)

Secondly, what I didn't have a chance to tell this woman is that Rescuers (indeed, any EMTs) are qualified to take care of medical situations. They are not social workers, the police, firefighters, child welfare workers, etc. Rescuers are rarely doctors, even, so they are not qualified to diagnose beyond what they see or can ascertain from their work in the field. Their primary mission is to assess the patient and stabilize to the point at which they can transport to the hospital. That's it. Again, according to Taxman, this is something that certain callers don't understand.

But I digress. Mostly, I am rethinking the Rescuer jacket after today's dose of weirdness. And we were also thinking of dressing Miss M in the Rescuer reflective vest and a matching baseball cap for Purim next week. Not that she'll keep it on, of course, so maybe it's not worth contemplating.

Edited to add: I realized later that I sounded kind of heartless in this entry when recalling my interaction with this woman. There was just something so off about her that I was instantly on the defensive. If she had seemed to be in any kind of physical danger or truly in distress, I would have tried to convince her to go to the police or, in a pinch, walked with her to our shul to find someone vaguely more qualified than I am to deal with her situation.

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