A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #60 Mutual respect runs deep
It started with an after-hours knock on the door at The EMS House. I was working part of an evening shift because the scheduled medic/driver was going to pull double-duty and roll through the overnight providing us with much needed coverage. So I was putting in a few extra hours with the medic and a stagiere [observer].
I got up from my chair in my office and went to the side door. There was a family standing on the stoop – a distraught-looking mom and a very rugged looking dad holding a young child in his arms. I opened the door and ushered them inside. The child was having difficulty breathing and was burning up with fever.I called the 10-08 [found a call] on the radio with the location being The EMS House. That would bring the rest of the crew downstairs momentarily and put an an Urgences Sante [Montreal EMS] ambulance in our direction.
They were recent Russian immigrants. They didn’t speak English and they didn’t speak French. They were anxious parents in a strange land seeking help for their child. By great fluke, my partner that night spoke and understood enough Russian to quickly ascertain what was going on.
The father was undocumented. The mother and child had Medicare cards. We didn’t ask how that was possible. We just moved onto the treatment phase of our encounter.
Mom and dad were terrified of the immigration authorities but they had heard from other members of their community that in case of emergency they were to proceed immediately to The EMS House where they would be treated like family. My partner looked at me and asked if this was an arrangement I had set up – as I was known to do such things. No, this is the first I’m hearing of it, but it sounds like someone knows how we operate.
We could all hear the sirens coming closer as the Urgences Sante rig approached. That’s when the father said something to the mother, kissed his son on the forehead and quickly disappeared out the side door. There would be no avoiding interaction with the healthcare system tonight. The little boy needed care at St Justine’s ER. His condition continued to deteriorate and as the Urgences Sante medics loaded him up for the ride they asked my partner to accompany them in order to bridge the language barrier.
The next morning when I came in to my office there was a large box wrapped with a ribbon on my desk. It was filled with Russian pastries. I still have no idea where they came from as we didn’t have a traditional Russian bakery in our area. They were delicious.
A few weeks later, I rolled on a call solo for a cardiac arrest because our primary crew was already committed to a call. The Urgences Sante rig was coming from a bit of a distance and from what I could hear on the radio they were none too enthralled to have first responders on the call. Back in those days, there were a number of Urgences Sante medics who felt threatened by the notion of first responders and took out their anxiety on our crews in the form of open hostility and a refusal to interact on calls.
Fortunately, when I got upstairs I found an elderly Russian woman with chest pain and mild difficulty breathing. Her Hungarian-speaking neighbour had placed the call to 911. The appropriate Clawson Code was lost in translation. I began caring for the patient and relayed the information to the inbound ambulance crew. Their attitude on the radio led me to believe things were going to be ugly when they arrived.
Sure enough, they came up the elevator carrying a huge chip on their stretcher. They told me to leave immediately. When I got downstairs I discovered they had used their ambulance to block my EMS rig in and prevent me from responding on any other calls.
That’s when my Russian escorts showed up. The dad who had carried his sick child to The EMS House and several of his Dolph Lundgren-look-alike friends walked up. They looked at the ambulance. They looked at my EMS rig. And then they proceeded to lift and move two parked cars so I could drive my rig up on the sidewalk and onto the lawn and back into service.
I stopped my rig and got out to thank them but they were already gone. They had melted into the apartment complexes on both sides of the road. I called my availability in on the radio. I heard the ambulance crew say something about how I should make sure I could get out of my parking spot first but I had already turned the corner and didn’t feel like continuing the confrontation.
The next morning I walked into The EMS House to find seven Russian men standing at something closely resembling attention in the corridor outside my office. They were all mid-to-late 30s, military build, clean cut, short hair and I was thinking I’m hoping I didn’t do anything to offend them on the call the day before.
One of them stepped forward and addressed me in English.
“We wish to thank you for helping our families. We witnessed the lack of respect shown towards you by the men on the ambulance. We would like your permission to teach them the meaning of respect. We can make it so they will have difficulty remembering their mothers’ names but they will always remember to treat you and your medics with respect.”
I was mortified. I explained that as a caring organization we could do no harm to anyone – and that included those who did not appreciate the contribution to the community our volunteer medics made everyday.
“As you wish. Please know that as long as even one of us calls this place home we will always be watching out for you and your team. ”
Six months later they were all gone. Montreal had been their first stop in a voyage that would eventually lead them to new homes elsewhere in Canada.
After their departure a Montreal police officer came to meet with me. He explained that the men who had intervened on my behalf were all former members of an elite Russian military team. He told me several of them had been under law enforcement surveillance during their time in our community.
“You should be very proud of the manner in which you carry yourselves. You really do place caring above all other considerations. Mutual respect runs very deep with men like that. In a world where they felt they could trust no one, they trusted you and your medics.”
Be well. Practice big medicine.