It’s Mardi Gras season, years ago. Karen, my medical school roommate, and I are newly out of residency and in our first practices; she’s in Cardiology, and I’m in Pediatrics. We have met in New Orleans for fun, food, parades and a break from our new jobs.
The Endymion parade. The sun is unseasonably hot. We are pressed tight against other revelers, awaiting the floats and bands. Our faces are painted and we are wearing glitter wigs made from brightly colored strips of foil, mine multicolored, Karen’s a shocking neon blue. We fit right in with the rest of the wildly costumed crowd. We fall into a conversation with the ancient ladies behind us. They are best friends, both in their nineties, visiting from Baton Rouge, here for the festivities. Karen and I decide we want to be like them when we are their age.
The parade starts and then there is an unexpected disturbance behind us. One of the old ladies has fallen to the pavement, unresponsive. Everyone stands and stares. Instantly Karen and I are doctors, no longer merrymakers. We push bystanders out of the way and feel for a pulse. Pulse is regular but thready. She is breathing. Karen elevates her feet and keeps her hand on her pulse. I take a quick medical history from her friend; no she is not on any medicines, no she doesn’t have any chronic medical problems. No, she hasn’t had any alcohol today. And no, they didn’t eat breakfast this morning. She seemed fine until she just fell down, her friend says, worried. She doesn’t come to.
We hail a nearby policeman who radios for an ambulance. The parade is halted. Shortly, medics arrive in scrubs, stethoscopes around their necks. Karen and I, faces painted, glitter wigged, report the scant medical information in the staccato style we have been taught. “Ninety- year-old female, no medical problems, usually healthy, now unconscious, pulse 100 and thready, spontaneous respirations, unresponsive. No CPR required.”
The medics look at us. “Any drugs?”
“No, on no meds.” We reply.
“I mean, man, have you checked her? Maybe she has some good drugs in her pockets.”
“What??” We are now confused. This is not EMT behavior. Staring at the medics in scrubs, twirling their stethoscopes in front of us, we demand, “Are you with the ambulance?”
“Oh, hell no, we’re just looking for good drugs, man.” Replied the partyers in their medical costumes!
So, the people who looked like doctors weren’t and the crazy-looking people in their glitter wigs, were.
Happy Mardi Gras!
PS. The real EMTs arrived in their real ambulance and took her away. We hope she was fine.