Working as an EMT in the Deep South is hard.
I worked as an EMT-P in the Southiest, craziest part of the Deep South: inland Florida.
The area was rough. I was on the trucks during the days when people were chewing each others faces off because of “bath salts” or stabbing each other in the local jail.
Working as a woman in EMS was a bit challenging too. Luckily I was too old and rather matronly-looking to have to deal with sexual harassment (though I often saw younger female EMTs have to fend that off) but my skills were sometimes questioned. I was always eager to prove myself and keeps the whispers that I was too genetically incompetent to hack it in a male profession at bay. I would be the first to help in a lift-assist with a bariatric patient or take over another EMT’s shift if he wanted a day off. I would be there for the calls the other medics hated (usually labor and delivery calls) and would cheerfully clean the ambulance whenever a patient had a “code brown.” I knew I had to work twice as hard as the guys to get respect but I was okay with that.
I liked working EMS. Once my male co-workers saw that I could do the job, they began to trust me.
But there were still moments of tension.
Mostly having to do with “dip.”
If you don’t live down South, let me give you a quick lesson. “Dip” is tobacco that comes in a round flat can like a hockey puck. The dip is shredded tobacco that looks like black pencil shavings. Guys who use dip (it’s usually a guy) will scoop out a wad of their stuff with a finger (hence the name “dip”), insert the wad between their gum and inner cheek, and let that wad sit there for a few hours.
This wad would produce plenty of brown saliva that the guy would occasionally spit into a cup.
When I was on an ambulance with a male EMT back in the day, the pattern would always be the same. We’d be in a lull period for calls so we’d swing by a gas station for coffee. We’d put the coffee cups in the cup holders by the dashboard. The guy would finish his coffee before me and, feeling satisfied, would lean his seat back, dip into his can of “Skoal” and place a wad in his cheek.
And he would use his empty coffee cup as the spit receptacle.
And I, drinking coffee out of a paper cup that looked exactly like the paper cup the EMT was spitting into, had to be very VERY careful to make sure I was drinking out of the right container.
I took this picture from an average shift. One of those cups is my coffee and one of those cups is my work partner’s saliva.
And you can be damn sure that I had memorized EXACTLY which cupholder held my cup.
It was still a test of the nerves though, let me tell you. What if I took a sip when my partner lifted his cup to spit and we switched places on the dashboard cupholder? Well, there were other safeguards. If the cup is warm, it’s probably my coffee. Room-temperature cardboard was a danger sign for a potential sip. The cup lid being open was also a sign that the cup held coffee and not stale saliva. Once my partner finished his coffee and started spitting in his cup, he closed his lid. This was to reduce possible splashing from his old mouth excretions if the ambulance suddenly braked hard.
He was a gentleman like that.
Still, to this day, I have memorized the danger signs of picking the *wrong* cup of coffee. Any old coffee cup in a dashboard cupholder, no matter what part of the country I am in, gets a suspicious glance from me. I’m not touching it unless it’s at least warm.
It’s a chess game folks. Choose wisely.