Monday, March 21, 2011, 03:16 p.m.

On Sunday, I drew up my resignation letter for work. I'm keeping it in my bag for just the right moment. The City of Philadelphia called me down to their fine city for re-orientation, interviews, medical screening, fingerprinting and bunker gear fitting. Whispers of another academy class are becoming more and more real... this time starting sometime mid-April.

Genevieve is packing shipping boxes that originally contained latex gloves and oxygen masks. Her collection of books and my collection of compact discs seems interminable. I am shooting emails out to various craigslist folks, looking for a place to sublet in the months before we become Kingsessing homeowners. We are staring straight into the future and it is terrifying and delightful at the same time.

Last night I realized that our move will not just be to a new city, but away from the people we have considered home for the past six years. I met with Madelyn at the office of our ambulance corps under the pretense of doing mindless ambulance billing, but really to hang out, offer my support, and say my goodbyes. Madelyn, having just experienced a great loss in her life, looked quite forlorn as she climbed down those dingy grey steps at the base. We spent the time talking about our family, relationships, our respective Asian upbringings and our vastly different plans for the future. She said she was going away for the month of April, dancing in the West Coast, and returning for services home to Texas. I realized then that this might be my last time hanging out with her.

My thoughts turned to the dozens of friends I have known for years, watched mature, and will very soon leave behind. Losing my interaction with them, we will grow apart and no longer together. I asked Madelyn her to visit me in Philadelphia, to keep in touch, knowing in the back of my mind that people and friendships are fluid... we change as time progresses and will have less and less in common, until we become strangers once again. At the risk being completely melodramatic... today, being grey, cold and rainy, I quietly mourn the impeding death of the lives we have built here in New York.

Thursday, December 23, 2010, 03:44 p.m.

Over the past few months, many parts of my life have changed, while others, have sadly stayed the same.

At work, after a few weeks back in Flatbush, I got transferred out again. This time to Station 31, Cumberland, serving Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene. This was my first station out of academy as an EMT in 2006, and now I came back as a medic, knowing most of the other people working there. It was a small, scummy station with an interesting work ethic. The calls in this area were mostly for nonsense and I was beginning to feel like I was losing my skills. Also, I really didn't get along with one of my regular partners and we quickly became sworn enemies. I refused to work with her and the lieutenants helped me out by splitting us whenever possible. Being sick of working in scummy Brooklyn and remembering how much my friend Ryan had liked his transfer to Manhattan, I put my transfer papers in.

Now I work in the West Village / Chelsea neighborhoods of Manhattan with some great partners and am having a much better time at work.

Outside of work is my volunteer presidency of the Park Slope Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Now nearing the end of my second year as president, we have two brand new ambulances coming in from grants that I have maintained. My regular Wednesday tour has tripled in size and now I have up to seven members who come in regularly on this night. I have re-organized the base and it looks better than ever. It's too bad that any work done here is almost entirely unappreciated.

My good friend, Jeruschka, has also set me up with occasional gigs as a medic on the sets of commerical shoots. Getting paid handsomely for long days of sitting around, doling out ibuprofen and removing splinters. I get to see how the television industry works in laborious detail. I have so far worked on commericals for JC Penny, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and ESPN. I also got paid to work a comedy show where a competitive eater tried to break the world record in chocolate eating.

Sadly, the Philadelphia Fire Department has yet to call me for a job as a Paramedic. From what I hear, they are in bad need of medics, but are having union issues and are not hiring until they are resolved. Genevieve and I are planning on moving regardless and have heavy eyes for a spectacular edifice in West Philadelphia. We still go to sleep each night dreaming of stringing Christmas lights on our stone front porch and cheering on the Eagles among fellow Philadelphians.

back to flatbush
Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 01:44 p.m.

For months of April and May in Brownsville, I was switched to 44-Victor, working the evening shift from 5pm to 1am. It was a nice unit with two great partners. Jerry was a new paramedic who had never worked in 911 service and Steve, who was a friend from academy days. It was a pretty busy unit, with our share of burn victims, anaphylaxis patients, and traumatic brain injuries.

Jerry was an interesting person to work with. Before I got onto the unit, some people warned me about Jerry's laziness. I don't think they know where I came from. I never had any problems with him... he always brought up the equipment and deferred to my opinion on how patients should be treated. Jerry was an American-born Haitian guy, in his late 20's like me. His family owned a brownstone in Bushwick and he was the landlord. We would sometimes swing by his house in the ambulance so he could pick up rent and take out the trash. He had renovated the parlor floor apartment and once gave me a tour of the place. I surprised him with my home repair knowledge gained through hours of watching This Old House.

He would joke about how I didn't belong in civil service because of my white-collar roots, and I would quip back about his Beemer and brownstone. Like the rest of us, he liked to appear cool and confident on crazy jobs but Steve and I knew that underneath he was pretty nervous. Like any new medic, he loved being a part of violent trauma jobs but hated calling the shots.

One day, Jerry and I started work and logged on at 5pm. We were called to a three-alarm fire in Midtown Manhattan on 51st Street and Broadway. The call history begin to appear on our screen, pages and pages of it. We see that we are the 23rd ambulance to be assigned to this fire that had been going on since 3pm... burning well before I left for work that afternoon. We put on our turnout gear and start driving our beaten truck from Brownsville to Manhattan in rush hour traffic, transmission slipping with each hard acceleration.

The call turns out to be a manhole fire that required the evacuation of a half dozen office buildings and no casualties besides the sick firefighter and the dizzy pedestrian here and there. We milled around at staging for four hours with no patients. I got to see my wife who came to visit me from her office a block away. We had some face time, standing on opposite sides of fire zone tape, interrupted by the endless barrage of questions from passers by: "What happened?" "How do you expect me to get uptown?" "Where is the Fire?"

I quickly learned to hide from the public behind the ambulance.

After 3 weeks on this truck, my transfer request back to Station 38 in Flatbush got approved. I regret leaving two great partners, but I'm glad to come back. Never has Flatbush seemed like such a nice, friendly place. I have not heard a single gunshot since I came back and I am loving it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010, 02:26 a.m.

My job has taken a turn for the worse. My new station is like working in a project apartment, grit and roaches pervade every inch of the place. The furniture in the lounge is ratty and broken, the heat doesn't work so people turn the oven on and open the door. Also, like any good apartment in Brownsville, we just got a giant flat-screen TV.

The hours are terrible: 11pm to 7am, every day. When I started, I thought I would get acclimated to this shift, where I eat 3 square meals, and 4am would seem like noon to me. This is not so. Each day still feels like I'm staying up all night. On my days off, I sleep at night and love each minute of it.

My partners are pretty terrible. On my first day, I checked our ambulance (I'm the only one who does). We were missing a bunch of essential things, like latex gloves. I asked my partner what size she was, and she waved her elaborate nails and said "Honey, do you think I wear gloves?"

My other partner bears a striking resemblance to Super Mario from the video game. He's also smelly and very lazy. He doesn't bring all the equipment upstairs to calls, leaving me to lug most of the bags up myself. Every call is bullshit for him, and even one job on a shift is "one too many". We also get grief from Tour 2 when he drives and doesn't restock or change the trash. He also has a tendency to talk endlessly, finishing each sentence with "Right, Tung?" Looking for me to agree with him. Each time we get an assignment we have a routine dialogue:

Looking up from the monitor, Super Mario lets out a deep sigh and saus, "That's dat bulllllshit... Right, Tung?"

I keep quiet and pretend like I'm not paying attention.

"Right, Tung?"

I look at him with a tired expression on my face.


I give in and say, "Right"

Both of them share this horrendous obsession with Pepsi. Super Mario averages about two liters of the soda each shift. Each day he brings in two 1-liter bottles, one of which is frozen. There is also an elaborate ritual that involves pouring soda from one bottle to the other and slurping it down like noisy suckling calf.

Yesterday at 7am, we were told by the lieutenant that because of the snow emergency, one of us would have to stay and extra 8 hours to cover a vacancy. Super Mario immediately says "I'm not stayin'" and walks out. I wound up working until 4:30pm.

I told the Captain last week that I am willing to take any shift on any unit besides Tour 1.

Saturday, February 27, 2010, 02:23 a.m.

Dear Captain,

I am requesting to move away from Tour 1, and am willing to work any shift on Tour 2 or Tour 3.

Thank you,
Paramedic Tung

tour one
Friday, January 15, 2010, 05:46 a.m.

Working the overnight shift is tough. I've come to learn how to dread being called while working, and am wondering if my partners' work habits are becoming infectious. One of my partners is really burnt out, and curses the dispatcher for handing us assignments. The other refuses to talk on the radio, so I pick up the jobs for us. I am slowly working on an exit plan from this shift.

Last week I was sitting in the ambulance as the time approached 4am, my partner and I heard 2 or 3 bangs.
"Are those gunshots?", I said, knowing full well what they were.
"Don't know, but sounds like them", says my partner.
Three minutes later, a BLS ambulance is sent to a call around the corner for a gunshot wound. We drive over to help out. It turns out the guy was walking to work when he was grazed on the back of his neck.
"You have amazing luck.", I said to him. He disagreed.

Yesterday, I had my first cardiac arrest save at my new station. The patient was a bad asthmatic and his airway closed up. Intubation was proving difficult with an adult airway tube, so I had to squeeze a child size one into his constricted trachea. We got him into a shockable rhythm, defibrillated once and got his heart started after 40 minutes of down time. I'm not terribly optimistic for his outcome.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009, 04:00 p.m.

As December rolled around, I got orders that I would be transferred from my current station in Flatbush, which I liked, to a new EMS station in Brownsville, Brooklyn. This new station is a little bit further than my old one, with a worse neighborhood, and is much more run down. There are stories of the building being condemned by the City decades ago when it was a firehouse, but the firefighters refused to leave. FDNY brass eventually had to call in a bogus fire, and wait for everyone to leave before changing the locks on the doors.

I work midnights, with my hours being from 11pm to 7am, with two less-than-motivated partners. This makes working tour 2 vacation relief seem like a dream job. I seriously consider calling in sick every day.

I went to visit my last patient who went into cardiac arrest after drowning in the fluids in her lungs. She's a vegetable, kept alive by the ventilator.

Friday, November 13, 2009, 04:30 p.m.

Winter has set in, and I welcome its arrival. I feel less guilty now for staying around the house and lazing about. I try to get motivated to join the local YMCA and begin swimming in their pool, but alas, laziness prevails.

About three weeks ago, my childhood dog, Popcorn got hit by a car in one of his crazy escape attempts from my Mother's house. He suffered from a bad head injury with cerebral edema, and required admission to the local animal hospital. This place looked better than half of the hospitals in Brooklyn that I take my patients to.

The 14-year-old Maltese made a miraculous recovery, but will have some long-lasting effects from the injury. Mostly a head tilt, where he keeps on looking to his left side. Poor dog.

I had a patient yesterday who suffered from what we call "acute pulmonary edema". She was an obese 47 year old lady with a long medical history, complaining of trouble breathing. Her blood pressure was sky high and her lungs were filling with her own fluids, causing her to quickly drown as she sat in her sister's living room.

We gave her medications to lower her pressure in the house and quickly took her outside, where she stopped breathing and her heart had stopped beating. After intubation and about 5 minutes of CPR in the back of the ambulance, we brought her back to life. My partner for that day considers this call a huge success... I will always wonder if there was any way that we could have prevented her cardiac arrest.

vacation relief
Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 10:28 a.m.

Last month, my schedule changed and I have been taken off my normal unit to go onto "vacation relief". This is where I come to work with no idea of where I'm working, and whom with. I get placed on a truck in place of someone who is sick or on vacation, and work their shift for the day.

Vacation relief has its good sides though. The lieutenants don't really care whether you come in late or leave early. Some days are spent hanging out in the station rather than sitting in an ambulance. You get to work with different people and see their "interpretation" of medical care. If you work with someone you hate, then chances are that you will never work with that person again.

I hate it.

Monday, October 12, 2009, 11:38 a.m.

Last year, my wife and I got married. I used to never say "I love you" in daily colloquy, fearing that the words would lose their meaning. Now, I bandy it about with other common phrases like "Lets eat soup" and "I'm hungover." The good thing is, "I love you" still has not lost its luster in my book.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009, 10:08 a.m.

It's been a pretty busy September for the wife and me. We went to Seattle the first weekend to celebrate Ashley's marriage. We rode the monorail in the rain, rowed boats, spent time in coffee shops, ate amazing donuts and not so amazing Chinese food, and talked about how we weren't in Brooklyn anymore.

The second weekend, we hosted Genevieve's parents. We planned an itinerary that revolved around the best of NYC's Asian food, punctuated by the best of brownstone Brooklyn's WPB (white-people-brunch). Thai in Woodside, Korean BBQ in the Palisades, Sichuan in Flushing, and eggs in Fort Greene. An amazing weekend that requires some Lipitor to correct.

The third weekend, Genevieve and I spent one night in the city of our dreams, Philadelphia. Land of the 8-hour workday and $250,000 victorian homes. We stayed in the PSFS Building, visited the Franklin Institute, had the best Greek fish ever at Dmitri's, chugged lagers at McGlenchy's, and pondered the future.

Saturday, August 29, 2009, 10:39 a.m.

I spent last week at Long Beach Island, staying Jeff's uncle's beach house at Barnegat Light. For most of the time, it was Jeff, Cara, Genevieve and me at the house. Drinking second-hand beer on the porch, eating fried seafood, and laying out on the sand.

"We should just move out here", Jeff says.

I respond, "I don't want to live here... there's no Chinese food!"

Saturday, August 15, 2009, 04:10 p.m.

She had just turned 80 years old. Sitting on an easy chair in a cluttered apartment, her skin became ashen and damp. Her daughter and granddaughter noticed that she was trembling and called us. She is confused.

"Here, squeeze my hands" my partner says, holding her hands in his. She complies weakly and begins to stare distantly. She tries to answer our questions, but with each response her voice gets quieter and quieter until she is just moving her lips and no sounds come out.

"We need BLS", my partner says. For serious calls, we ask for a second ambulance, with two EMTs to help us.

I try fruitlessly to get a radio transmission to Brooklyn Central dispatch inside the pre-war apartment building. I have to leave the living room and stick the radio out a window in the bedroom. By the time I return, my partner tells me, "I can't get a blood pressure. Let's lay her down."

We help her off the chair and lay her down. The heart rate in the monitor rapidly dwindles: 90..80...70..60.50.40..40..30..20. No carotid pulse. Shallow gasping for air.

After 40 minutes of CPR, intubation, and intravenous medications, she regains a pulse for two minutes. It quickly fades. We strap her to a board, take her down 4 flights, put her in the back of our bus, and drive over to the ER. The doctor there pronounced within five minutes of looking at her.

In my three years with the Fire Department, I have had two prehospital saves. Now I'm even. This is the second time I have seen a patient take their last agonal breath.

cross street location
Friday, August 7, 2009, 03:56 p.m.

I work as a paramedic in New York City's 911 system. Part of our job is sitting around in a parked ambulance on the street and waiting for assignments. Each ambulance in the city is posted to an assigned street corner, with crews having the discretion to park within a 3-block radius. Leaving your post can get you in trouble.

If the day is busy, with many assignments, like when I worked as an EMT, this rule is not such a big deal. Now that I'm a paramedic, the amount of calls per shift has gone way down. Days where we sit on a corner for 4-5 hours are common.

Sitting around for a long time sucks, frankly. Spending hours sitting in the front cab of a Ford truck is not the best for ones posture. Also, if you work in a densely populated neighborhood, there is nowhere to hide. I work in the neighborhood of Flatbush, where people are leery of emergency service workers. Most pedestrians who walk past our ambulance like to stare and sometimes scowl at us.

"Get out of my hood!" their faces say.

Sitting in a truck all day also damages my liberal psyche. I feel personal guilt every time I start my Volvo. I ride my bicycle to work most days to save gas and the environment. It all feel futile when compared to the countless hours I spend idling the diesel ambulance engine at work.

"Why don't you just park with the engine off?"

I turn the engine off if the outside temperature is somewhat reasonable, and if I'm in a newer ambulance. Sitting in an un-air conditioned vehicle on a hot day or an unheated truck on a cold day is frankly inhumane. Also, the older ambulances have a tendency to never start again if you turn off the engine and leave the radio on for longer than 30 minutes.

I agree, idling an engine all day is completely atrocious, and horrendously damaging to everybody's quality of life. Ironic, considering the city's massive initiative to reduce the amount of asthma-causing vehicle emissions, especially diesel exhaust. But, there is nothing we can do here, and our engine idles away.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009, 10:14 a.m.

New Orleans - August 2009

The wife and I spent last weekend with her extended family in New Orleans. We committed all sorts of dietary mistakes, including oyster po-boys, pralines, biscuits 'n butter, and praline bacon. Everything we ate was either fried or slathered in butter. In between meals, we spent the time either drinking or walking around the parish and absorbing the swampy heat. The Fauborg neighborhood has faint calliope music that follows you as you walk along the Mississippi River.

We took a streetcar to the Garden District, and snuck into a closed above-ground cemetary. We were alone as we walked along the tombs as if they were tents in a silent flea market. So many of the inscriptions were broken -- smashed into thousands of illegible stone fragments. A few were cracked and on the verge of collapse. One crypt had the coffin area dug out, the dark space menacing those who passed.

"We should hide in the opening and scare passing tourists", I said.

Genevieve motioned her hand straight out and yelled, "Bones!!"

360 joules
Monday, July 27, 2009, 10:41 a.m.

Yesterday, I saved a life. I was working a mutual shift on my day off, and wound up going to a call for an unconscious man on the sidewalk in front of the McDonalds. A crowd had formed around this man when we pulled up. A bulky 50-something bald man. He was jogging when he collapsed says a bystander, made apparent by his jogging clothes, lack of ID, and small abrasion on his head.

He's in cardiac arrest. No pulse, no respirations. I instruct the firefighters on scene to start CPR. I take out my monitor, stick the pads on his chest, and check the rhythm.

It's V-Fib... a shockable rhythm! Charge to 360 Joules. Clear! Shock. The crowd gasps when the man's arms flail awkwardly into the air and fall directly down. We place him on our stretcher and throw him into the back of the ambulance. My partner immediately intubates. I look at his arm and see great veins, the IV was easy. We give the standing order IV meds and start rolling to the hospital accompanied by two firefighters. Shocking 2 more times en route.

We pull into the ambulance bay, and he's back in V-Fib. One more shock, some more CPR, and he regains a pulse. 30 minutes later, he starts breathing and blinking. This guy might make it. My partner, a 20-year naval veteran, says this is one of those rare career-defining jobs. I agree.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009, 12:26 p.m.

Since the last post, I have gotten married and become a paramedic.

Today is one of my days off of work. I am working my way slowly down the list of errands, and am looking forward to seeing my wife for dinner in the evening.

I have already walked the six blocks to Time Warner to swap my broken cable box, and have already moved the car once for alternate side. I'm now waiting until 1pm to move the car back to the south side of the street, and then I get to drop off the dry cleaning, mail a wedding present for Ashley, and look for a place that sells swim goggles.

Yesterday I rode my bicycle down to Fort Tilden's beach on the Rockaways with my work partner, Alex, and his two friends. They told me about a free public pool in Red Hook, perfect for lap swimming. Starting to swim again is my new obsession.