A Good Partner is Hard to Find

I owe so much to so many great partners I’ve worked with over the years. Today I was thinking about one of the best, named Bob. Bob was an EMT back when Paramedics were still new. When we first started working together it was tough. Like most EMT’s of the day, he really did not believe in Paramedics.

He thought Medics just wasted time “playing doctor”, when we should be gone already. But eventually he began to believe in me enough to let me do my job. He also taught me a lot of the things I should have learned in school, but didn’t. Things like how to talk to people, and get them comfortable with us.

Things like how to operate an emergency vehicle without getting my patient thrown around. He also taught me a lot about how to stay alive on the streets. Once he even saved my life.

We were called on an “Unresponsive Party”. When we arrived nothing to set off alarm bells, no sign of drugs, clean well kept apartment, nicer furniture than I owned, a smart and sincere young women told me her boyfriend had just “Fell Out”, for no apparent reason. He was about 6’4”, with a stocky well-muscled build at about 260 pounds. His arms were simply huge. He had a rapid pulse, normal respirations, and normal pupils, with warm & dry skin.

I got a pretty normal pressure. “OK, what’s up?” I’m thinking. So I let the guy know I am going to rub on his chest and it might be uncomfortable. His arm is still in my lap as I give him a sternal rub & then POW!

His fist came straight up & caught me solid under the chin. It actually lifted me up several inches, and then I heard myself hit the floor. My world was spinning sideways, as I struggled to get my eyes focused and to see him poised above me. He is standing upright holding an old brass floor lamp with one of those weighty marble bases. He had the lamp in two hands, with the marble base at the end. I could see him raise the lamp above his head to finish me off for good and then – Bob hit him from behind like a linebacker.

I got my rubbery legs to work well enough to get up, as Bob was rolling around the floor with the guy in a Full Nelson headlock. I grabbed a roll of 2” athletic tape and began binding his wrists and legs together, all while Bob held his vise-like grip. Once I had used up the whole roll of tape Bob says, “Do you want me to let go yet?” “No Bob”, I said, “why don’t you just stay right like that until the cops get here.” So he did, and never let go until the Police arrived.

The rest of the job went fine, and away he went in that very special Police ambulance with steel walls and floors. Then we find his many psych medications, most of which he had apparently stopped taking. Sometimes EMS is like playing the TV game Jeopardy – they give you the answer first and then you have to figure out the question. The bonus round that day was learning that I had a partner that would risk his life to save mine.

Bob has been dead over 10 years now, but I still think of him now and again. I remember a loving guy that would treat even rude, angry drunks like human beings. He was never late for a shift. He never “stabbed me in the back” with management, and Lord knows I probably deserved it. A good partner is like a good marriage, almost the exception rather than the rule. For it to really work, you both have to be willing to work at it.

At it’s worst; a bad-working relationship with your partner can make your job simply miserable. At it’s best; a good partner can save your life. I never told Bob thank you as much as he deserved. I wish I could tell him now.

Maybe if you are blessed with a great partner, you could say, “Thanks for riding with me today. I always enjoy working with you and really appreciate all that you do for me”. They will not be with you forever, and you will only get so many opportunities to tell them how you feel. They deserve it, and truthfully – you deserve the chance to share your appreciation.


About Dan White

I'm a retired Paramedic and EMS Instructor with 35 years EMS and emergency medical product experience. I love canoes, cars and EMS. I have written a lot about EMS Technology on the Paramedic Blog, the Insights on Innovation column for EMS1.com, on AmbulanceWorld.com and Multibriefs.com. I can be reached directly at 573-240-0002.
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7 Responses to A Good Partner is Hard to Find

  1. Larry says:

    I must agree with your title. I just started working and I long for a partnership in my career. it\’s golden.

  2. Ty says:

    Could not possibly agree more. I recently lost the best partner I could have to an out of state transfer, and I miss having her around. Someone I could count on, and made coming to work a pleasure. In the past couple of months, I have had partner de jour, and some have been great, while others have been a complete waste of flesh. When you spend 24 hrs at a time  every 3rd day with someone, you better be able to enjoy their company as well as trust their abilities.

  3. kïrstin says:

    this really moved me. i couldnt find words at first, except for mindless cliche phrases that sounded hollow. but this was most definately not a hollow post, and i didnt want to answer it with a hollow cliche.
    all that said, i still cant express my response. im just very moved.
    i will certainly be back again to read your accounts.   🙂
    s. lizard

  4. Nae says:

    Greetings Dan ~
    Haven\’t been around.  I feel that life is running me … instead of me running life.  That\’s okay.  I made the choice to take the class, run with the ambulance, etc.  I have signed up for the EMT II class in August … and I can\’t say that I\’m ready.  I don\’t run enough with the ambulance to feel comfortable with what I\’m doing now.  I console myself that "all" calls are 90% EMT I stuff (or so I\’ve been told).
    I ended up being the first responder to an 80YO female who had stopped her bicycle and was trying to dismount when she fell.  She said her back hurt.  I palpated it and she screamed when I got to her lumbar region.  I wouldn\’t let her move, and the State Trooper (who ran across the street from the academy) cut off her backpack for me.  I thought we would backboard her.  When the ambulance arrived, the new Captain chose to use an airsplint on her.  We rolled her over onto her back, and she screamed.  We transported her.  Oh — during the call — we tried calling her daughter because she kept asking.  My daughter and I were on scene first, then the State Trooper.  The ambulance arrived with the Captain (a paramedic), an EMT III, and the engineer (EMT I).  Then five police officers arrive (one is another EMT I).  The woman was small and easy to move, so I tried calling on my cell … then had my daughter try to call.  Since we couldn\’t get a hold of her, I asked the police to try to get a hold of her daughter.  I wrote up the report (that was scary … my first).  I had to leave because I was on my lunch break.  BUT … I was concerned.  What if her back was broken?  Shouldn\’t we have left her in the position of comfort?  Why do we put a broken back on a HARD backboard on their backs?  I hadn\’t thought of these questions until this.  Anyway … the next day I showed up at the firehall and asked why we put her in the airsplint?  Why did we roll her on her back?  The paramedic thought she had a muscle strain.  He called the hospital … her L2 was fractured.  So … how do you know that a vertebrae is fractured when you palpate?  How do you palpate? 
    And … what is the best way to learn to put in an IV?
    Many questions … and I hope that you have some answers.
    I hope that you are well, and that you are having a safe weekend.
    God bless you and keep you,
    Nae  :o)

  5. Dan says:

    I\’ll start with the easy questions first. We put anybody
    with a potential for a back fracture on a long board to splint & stabilize
    the fracture. This causes discomfort. In many European countries they only use
    a vacuum spine board or mattress for this purpose, which cause far less pain.
    You say in your message you used an air splint. For what purpose did you use
    it? Air splints are best reserved for extremity fractures. Is their any chance
    what they really put on this patient was a vacuum mattress instead? They are
    large full body splints. The air gets sucked out of a vacuum type splint,
    rather then put in. Once the air is removed, the small beads inside become firm
    & rigid, just like a package of vacuum packed coffee. This device really
    does the same thing as a long board, so it is considered an equivalent therapy.
    This would be my first choice of tool to use if I had it available. They also
    immobilize and stabilize the spine, but since they fill the voids better they
    are much more comfortable for the patient. IF, this patient was not long spine
    immobilized and they had an L2 fracture, well – the person who neglected to
    apply some type of long spine device could be in a tough spot if called upon to
    explain their treatment decision. Why roll them over on their back? Sometimes
    this feels very awkward and scary to roll them over. But what else can you do?
    You cannot just leave on their side or belly, you need to keep the potential
    injury from moving, and you need to ALWAYS monitor the Airway. This means they
    need to be turned onto their back which is tough sometimes, but unavoidable. As
    to the palpation exam, what you are looking for is pain upon touching near the
    spine. You cannot feel most physical changes very well without a lot more
    training and experience. What you are feeling for is pain that could signal a
    potential fracture. If they have back or neck pain and you do not immobilize
    (like you originally wanted to with a C-collar on a long board), you could be
    in big trouble later.

    Maybe the best way to learn how to do IV\’s is to volunteer some time at your
    local blood donor center.

    PS, leave your cell phone off during an EMS run. Explain to your patient that
    you will take down the number they want called, and see that the call is made
    for them soon after you get to the hospital. Explain that your job is to first
    take care of them (the patient). Your job as an EMT is not over until you get
    to the hospital and transfer care – then you can spare some time on considerate
    favors. During the run you need to pay attention to your responsibilities as an


    Last, I would ask the Captain to write a run report on
    this call. You did not make the treatment decisions. Were I in your shoes I
    would not be comfortable doing the explaining for somebody else’s potentially bad
    treatment choices.

    Hope it helps, and try to slow down a little, OK?

  6. Nae says:

    Thank you for the great response.  Yes, it was a vacuum splint.  I don\’t use everything frequently enough … so I get the names wrong.  NOT a good thing to do.  But I\’m learning.
    Today, Moriah and I had to recertify our Healthcare Providers BLS cards for the 30:2 CPR/AED.  One more thing to try to remember.  We were told to compress to the beat of "Another One Bites the Dust," but I can\’t sing the song and count at the same time.  I also found I couldn\’t squeeze the airbag properly (in a timely manner) unless I was watching my watch (then quickly checking to see if the chest would rise). 
    I have been told I am ready to be taken off rookie status … but wish I knew more so I would feel more confident.
    Last … we don\’t have a local blood donor center.  The people come down to Sitka about every three to four months, so that isn\’t an option.  I\’ll have to find someone else to try on.
    Thanks for all the great lessons!
    God bless you and keep you,
    Nae  :o)

  7. Dan says:

    Well, then I must say you folks practice some pretty darn
    good BLS up North. A full vacuum long spine immobilizer would have been my very
    first choice for this type of patient. The elderly & infirm really benefit
    from a more comfortable and form fit style of immobilization. Congratulations
    to your Captain for the excellent call, and more importantly congratulations
    for the progressive system where good patient care includes good basic level treatment

    Silvery Lizard; Thank You for the kind words of understanding. If only one
    person "gets it", that makes it worth my time to write about.

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