15 Minutes or Less

I used to work on an ambulance. Today, my mind slipped into memories of fear and anxiety. Each memory, each person, each experience stamped into my nervous system like a never-ending dream. I had run through maybe 5 different traumatizing experiences before I realized I had gone down the rabbit hole. I blinked, shook my head a few times trying to focus on something in front of me to stop the replaying of sirens in my ears. I could feel my body responding as if I was back in those past memories were happening now, in the present moment. My heartbeat had quickened from its steady 60 beats per minute, my eyes dilated, my breath quickened, my entire body was hypersensitive ready to react. I took a few deep belly breaths to bring me back from the past. Man, I was swept underneath again. When these moments happen, it can be really hard to break free from the grasp of the nervous system. These moments happen less and less frequently, but each time one memory stands out, it comes to life even after I’ve pulled myself from its depths.  

It was a sunny morning, another 5:30am start time, I clocked in as normal, we powered up the bus (ambulance) and rolled out to our usual spot. We sat for a few hours, shooting the shit and eating our breakfast. A call comes over the radio. It’s a transport from Bixby to Ann Arbor. We both let out a sigh, we always get stuck with the transfers. I start the engine and start to follow the GPS system on the ambulance. I had always had trouble following along with the blue line on the dashboard that took us to our destination, it lagged and the spacing wasn’t always right between roads. We made it anyhow, it was a basic transfer so I stayed in the back, took vitals and made the patient as comfortable as I could. We pulled into Ann Arbor, completed the transfer and away we went. We headed back out to the ambulance; it was my turn to drive. My partner looked at me and said, “okay, we need to get out of here as fast as possible, we don’t want to get caught running calls in Ann Arbor all day”. I threw the beast in drive and looked at my GPS screen and made a bee line for Lenawee County.  No sooner than 5 minutes down the road we got a 911 call for a male patient with seizure-like symptoms. My partner gives me a look, like “I told you so”. I flip on the lights and sirens and make way towards the address. He pulls us both out a pair of black gloves and throws them on the dash. We pull into an apartment complex; I turn off the sirens and see PD (police department) waving me to a door. I pull the bus up, grab my radio, grab my gloves and head out towards the back of the ambulance. We were then greeted by a frantic mother and a seizing infant. My heart dropped to my gut, it didn’t say the age on the call but my partner and I both assumed we were walking into an adult patient not a pediatric. It didn’t matter, we had to move. The paramedic grabbed the mom and baby, hopped into the back of the ambulance and started his assessment. I followed. Not 1 minute into the assessment the paramedic turns to me and grabs me by the shirt, I can see the panic in his eyes. No one wants to lose someone but especially not a pediatric patient. He tells me, “Drive, follow the GPS as best as you can. Get us to the hospital, if you don’t make it there in 15 minutes we will lose this one.” You can probably imagine what I felt like, except I just went numb. I didn’t say a thing, just turned around, got into the ambulance and started driving. I must have looked like I had it together, but on the inside I felt a heaviness unlike anything I had felt before. I started to drive, the GPS said I would arrive in 18 minutes. That wasn’t fast enough, I knew I would have to make up time and drive fast without throwing the back of the ambulance around so he could still tend to the patient. Those first few minutes of driving are black, I don’t remember anything, but when the memory comes rushing back, I remember coming to with the feeling of my hand slamming on the horn trying to get cars out of the way as I rushed onto the highway. From there my vision starts to sharpen, I feel like a crazy maniac, my senses on overload, making adjustments on the road every second that would hopefully give us more time. A stroke of luck, time travel, God, whatever you want to call it, we had more time. I was ahead of schedule. I pulled off the highway, cars frantically making their way to the sides of the road as we came wailing behind them. Then I look at the GPS, that fucking GPS, the one that I had trouble reading, the one that lagged. I had never taken this way to the hospital and had no idea where I was, and the GPS WAS LAGGING. I had no idea what my next move was and I was almost in tears thinking we could lose precious time turning around if I missed a turn. All of a sudden I see the blue arrow pop up on my screen, it’s a slight turn right, a slight turn right IMMEDIATELY. My gut drops, if I miss this slight right we lose time, and if I look to my right and the lane next to me isn’t clear I’ll miss the turn. I was going too fast to jam the brakes and still make the turn. I didn’t have my blinker on because I didn’t know I had to turn until the GPS caught up with me and maybe the cars to my right didn’t think they needed to get over because my blinker wasn’t on. It all happened so fast, praying there were no cars next to me I looked in my mirror. My stomach fell to the floor, there were cars in the lane to my right, but thankfully they were all pulling off to the side. I took my chance, a slight right turn of the wheel and I didn’t miss it. 

I can’t even tell you how many times that slight right has played back in my head, if I had waited ONE SECOND longer we would have missed it, missed the turn, missed the chance to save this life. I keep telling myself, but you didn’t miss it. You didn’t miss it, you pulled up to the hospital, the infant was rushed in and a flood of doctors took over. I never heard whether or not he made it. I share this because sharing is healing and this has obviously had a big impact. Actually emergency medicine has in many ways with many different experiences made an impact on my life. I think I would be a very different person if I stayed in the field, I appreciate all of you out there risking your mental health to serve this world. There have been times in the emergency medical world where my own colleagues have put me down, told me I was dirt and to not get in their way. I have been verbally sexually harassed and scared shitless when my patient is a 6’4” muscular male strapped to the cot with severe mental health issues and is constantly trying to break free and wreak havoc to anyone close to him. I am still processing my many experiences, even in the short time I had made emergency medicine my career. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for listening and allowing me to be heard. I needed it. I need to voice this out loud but I’m not quite ready yet, so here it is in writing. I don’t know what would have happened if I had missed that slight right or if the GPS wouldn’t have caught up to itself or if the cars to my right hadn’t gotten over. But they did and that’s all I keep telling myself, but even then, even though it’s in the past that sinking, devastating feeling I had during the 1 to 2 seconds still stays with me…. I still ask what if…

Published by austeenfreeman

Austeen Freeman is a mystic writer, life-long learner, and facilitator of healing. Author of the Mystic Wanderer Oracle cards, facilitator of virtual and in-person yoga classes, Austeen finds herself wherever she is needed. Her passion for teaching and coaxing students back to their bodies and creating a life soulfully lived, is the foundation of all of her teachings. Her pleasure is uncovering the mystery of the dark and shadowy divine through writing, online journaling challenges and workshops. Her words spill out like cold soothing liberating waters, beckoning you to walk a more mystic path. Her raw and honest prescenses comes from deep within our feminine bowl, you can find her at austeenfreeman.com and at her local studio in Adrian, MI. Austeen has her Master’s degree in Athletic Training, her license in Massage Therapy, as well as a 200 RYT through Yoga Alliance.

One thought on “15 Minutes or Less

  1. My dear friend,

    I first applaud you for your grit to actually have worked as an EMT on an ambulance crew. Second, I’m sorry there are people working in this field who feel it appropriate to belittle and harass their co-worker.

    Taking the good from this, you tried and realized it wasn’t your calling. You know your calling is elsewhere.

    I certainly look up to you, respect you and admire you being you and doing what brings you great joy.

    I look forward to more from you.

    Mary Ann



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