Some Things Never Change

This story appeared in Hadrosaur Tales 9 back in 2000. It was the first story I ever sold. It's one of several futuristic paramedic stories inspired by my time working on an ambulance, but with a science fiction twist.   

 

Some Things Never Change  ©

by

Rebecca Inch-Partridge      

 ''Medic 51, Code Three for back pain times two weeks.''

The automated voice grated on my already raw nerves.  We'd only been back to the station just long enough for me to fall asleep. Damn, why do these idiots always call at three in the morning?  And what retarded computer dispatch program authorized a Code Three response for two-week-old back pain?

I fumbled with my boots, grabbed my medical belt, jabbed my penlight and other items back into my breast pocket and stumbled to the door without ordering the computer to illuminate. l had a bad enough headache without the fluorescent glare.  Naturally, I didn't make it to the rig without bumping into a few walls and banging my knee on the corner of the desk. It happened every time I switched stations. Just once I'd like to wake up and know where the hell I am.

My young and eager partner sat waiting with our run-down, out-dated hovercraft running. The call location already flashed on the computer. l selected a mild stim-drink from the on board dispenser and gulped gratefully. Kirt pulled out at max acceleration ensuring that more of it ended up in my lap than down my throat. ''I'm getting too old for this,'' I mumbled.

''What's that, Jerusha?"

 ''I said, 'Why don't you let the autopilot do the driving for once?"

 ''Nah, too slow.''

 I shook my head and sighed. Kirt was a male version of myself back when I first became a medic. Now I no longer got so much as a small adrenaline rush from Code Threes.

Despite the sirens that Kirt insisted on leaving on, according to procedure, I dozed off during the short ride over. Thank god for earplugs.

I felt no more alive when we arrived. Kirt loaded the anti-grav cot with all the standard--yet most likely unnecessary--equipment before we maneuvered our way into the much too small elevator and headed up. Why doesn't anyone ever think about emergencies when they build these senior living complexes?

The County Emergency Crew, formerly the County Fire Department, headed back out the moment they spotted us. ''Should have been a Code One, PA consult,'' the Captain muttered as he went by.

We set up the video conferencing equipment and made contact with the on duty Physician Assistant. All agreed that there was no need for an Emergency Room visit: vital signs were stable and our only finding during the exam was lower back muscle spasms. What do you expect when you're over a hundred and fifty? To no one's surprise the PA prescribed a mild muscle relaxant and a sleep aid. We made an appointment for her with her medical group for the following morning and headed back to station--after several minutes of refusing the lonely old woman's attempts at hospitality.

There was still a chance for a nap by the time we got in. I flopped into bed not bothering to remove my boots, medical belt or even all the junk in my pockets. ''Medic 51, Code Two. Overdose at Reagan Park.'' No matter how sleep deprived I was l couldn't help wondering, How the hell do you get Code Three for back pain and only Code Two for an overdose?

We were upgraded to Code Three en route. This time when we got on scene the County Emergency Crew remained too busy with the patient to notice us. Not a good sign. As we approached, I saw that they had the patient on a ventilator and were getting a second set of vital signs. l did a blood sugar level check; my partner took the report from the Captain. Half way through I cut him off- pissing off yet another County crew. ''I know Frank. He's a regular. Drinks himself into a stupor every Friday. Prepare the Toxic-can for injection while I make base contact''

Some things never change. Our First contact with extra-terrestrial life, a plague threatening to wipe out half the world's population and a war heading toward our solar system, and still Frank has to have his Friday night binge. Like we don't have anything better to do.

After two failed attempts to get through to our base hospital I went ahead and administered the alcohol antagonist. l hated asking ''Mother, may I'' for such basic stuff anyway. We gave him just enough to get him breathing on his own but not enough to wake him up. I'd been hit too many times by unhappy customers over the years. Just to be sure, Kirt restrained the poor old guy; he looked more like a mummy than a patient by the time my partner finished.

It took two nurses and three ER techs to get him all unfastened and transferred at the hospital. The on duty PA came in just as I finished giving the nurses my report. ''Why was the patient restrained when he's not even conscious?'' she asked.

Oh hell, a bleeding heart newbie. I glared at my partner, who was about to ''explain things.'' I decided for the sake of getting any rest that night I had better try a little diplomacy. ''Alcohol overdose. He's a regular and he's gotten combative after receiving Toxic-can before.''

Her throbbing temple looked like it would burst. ''You gave Toxic-can without base orders?"

How'd the hell she know I didn't have orders? Oh yeah, this is our base hospital. I'd gotten use to being stationed on the other side of the city. I never saw base except on-line. I knew there was a reason I didn't want to be transferred to this station. ''Communications were down and his respiratory system was totally depressed, so I went on disrupted protocols.''

She didn't say anything, but I knew it wasn't over. Great! Another field save that I'm going to get in trouble for. Not that I cared as long as we finally got some sleep.

Of course, I should have known better. Instead of going back to station, we spent the last three hours of our shift running all over the city, covering various zones because the financial gods had decided that it wasn't cost effective to staff a night car. Just when we thought we were safe, a mere four blocks from quarters and shift change, the call came in.

''Code Three unknown medical aid at the reception hall of Space Dock 83."

My partner and I exchanged puzzled looks. He keyed the mike, requesting a supervisor instead of dealing with the auto-dispatch program. ''Dispatch, this is Medic 51 we've just been given a call at the Space docks. Please be advised we're not certified for dock response. We have no protocols or equipment for treating alien races.

''Medic 51, dispatch is well aware of that,'' our Field Supervisor Todd, or ''the weasel'' as I called him' cut in. ''For now please continue your response.''

Medic 51, be advised there are no docks medics available. They've requested mutual aid. Apparently there has been a multi-casualty incident at the planetary conference. We'll try to obtain more info for you,'' the calming voice of dispatch promised.

Dispatch never did bother getting back to us. But lucky us, our illustrious, ass-hole, Field Stupid-visor went en route to our call. From where he we responding from, l hoped we might be able to get in, get our patient, and get out before Todd could screw everything up.

''What the hell is he?" Kirt muttered looking at our rather unique patient lying on the floor of the fancy reception hall. He had golden wings, four arms, and a glistening black mane, blue skin and a tail. I wasn't even sure if he qualified as humanoid.

"He's some kind of cross-breed,'' the dock medic/triage officer said curtly between taking hospital assignments and shouting over to the different crews who was going where with the dozen or so patients strewn about. ''You'll be transporting to St. Salina's,'' he said pointing to us.

I knelt beside the hybrid in awe. Damn, even unconscious, he was impressive. Unfortunately, I wasn't even sure how to check for vital signs, or what would be considered normal if I did manage to get a reading. I glanced around the formal looking reception hall. None of the other patients or bystanders looked much like him. ''Doesn't this group retain a doctor?" I asked.

The over-taxed triage officer barely spared me a glance. ''She was one of the first patients we shipped out of here.'' Then one of the bystanders came up and told him there were three more aliens feeling sick and led him to the far side of the room. He quickly became part of the chaotic rush of people who were scurrying back and forth accomplishing absolutely nothing.

So much for giving me any kind of a report on what the hell was going on here.

I cursed under my breath and turned to my partner who couldn't make anything of the readings from our medical scanners either. ''Patient, heal thyself'' he muttered looking to me.

Doubting that was going to happen, I snapped, "Set up a video conference with base. Let's see if they can suggest anything. It's going to be a long transport to St. Salina's.''

He made a rude, snorting sound. ''Yeah right, like they'll know anything'' he sighed but got to work.

I spotted the triage officer getting sucked up into patient care, completely abandoning his ''command post.'' Amateur. I shook my head and shouted, ''Hey, I do need some information here!''

''We think they were all poisoned at the dinner,'' he shouted back while triaging two more victims to the ''green'' area to join the other non-critical patients. While glad that he didn't try to unload them on us, I was not too impressed with his report. I gave up trying to get shit from him and started calling out for anyone that knew anything about our patient.

Then Todd made his grand entrance. My partner and I decided to grab our patient and make our escape before he spotted us. We had just gotten the hundred and fifty kilogram being onto our cot when the weasel called out, ''Hey wait! Take a couple of 'greens' with you.''

Damn. The extra people would only get in our way and slow us down even if they were just precautionary transports. Before Kirt went over to collect our passengers, l asked if he'd had any luck getting hold of base. He shook his head gravely.

If we didn't do something fast we would lose our exotic hybrid. l noted a change of skin color from light blue to gray. Alien or not I knew hypoxia when l saw it. I slapped a ventilator mask on him. Todd craned his neck to see what I was doing. Fortunately, he was too busy being bawled out by the dock medic for putting all additional units on stand-by, to bother with me.

Kirt returned with a short, freckled face, brown haired woman and an enormous cat-creature. Great, a Katian. Another alien l have no idea how to treat. Kirt gave a very brief report as we prepped for a fast departure. ''They both have mild upset stomachs. And she can translate for him.''

''Great let's go.'' Taking another look at our original patient, l added, ''Kirt, on our way out see if you can raise the med-unit here at the docks.'' Obviously, the beautiful cross-breed was never going to make it all the way to St. Salina's. Besides, no basic hospital would have a clue how to deal with him, or even the Katian for that matter. Even though the dock's medical facility was apparently over loaded, dammit, it was my patient's only chance.

At the elevator we were intercepted by personnel needing to ''borrow'' supplies for the treatment area finally being set up within the reception hall. We had to refuse to take any more patients with us several times. I mean, if our two passengers did turn out to be poisoned by some chance, we would have ended up dealing with three critical patients. Of course, we never mentioned that neither the Katian nor the woman had been served the main course yet. And from what we'd been able to overhear, only the delegates who had started eating their entrees had fallen seriously ill.

Once we were safely in the elevator, with the doors shut, I finally had a chance to ask the woman if she knew anything about our mysterious patient. She shook her head. ''I was just called in because I speak Katian.''

''Well what about him?" I asked pointing at the over grown feline.

After a brief exchange, she explained, ''NeLea says this is his first time with the delegation. So he doesn't really know any of the others. But the mix-breed looks part Katian, part bird-being... I think he means Sian and part Human. He also thinks that his delegation was served their dinners first and that all of them are either dead or pretty near dead.''

Kirt slammed his fist down on the computer. ''Piece of shit. Our transmitter is too out of date to interface with their fancy interstellar communications array.''

The woolly Katian shoved my partner aside and began doing some uninvited modifications to our comm-unit. Kirt was about to protest, but the display magically came on line complete with a Human med-tech on the other end.

I explained the situation and transmitted vital signs along with all the standard scans. Shocked the med-tech looked up from the readings and announced, ''Your patient is dying.''

''We guessed that much,'' I snapped. ''Get me someone who can do something about it''

By the time we reached the rig, a full multi-race specialist came on line. She rattled off several antidotes to the poison our scans had detected-none of which we carried. ''Well for your two precautionary transports just give them Digest Block. You do have that don't you?''

I nodded and rolled my eyes.

We got settled in the ambulance and I handed both our passengers, now seated on the bench seat, a bottle of the black sludge and a bucket just in case. Then it was time to get back to our real patient. I tried to talk the doctor into allowing us to transport to her facility there at the Space docks. With a sigh she explained that they not only had no beds left in the ER, but that the hall and even some of the closets were full of patients.

Kirt looked over his shoulder at me from the cab. I shook my head; our patient's vital signs were dropping. l had to assume, by the way he was looking, that the decreased pulse rate and blood pressure were not good news. Kirt slammed on the accelerator and put us en route Code Three. For the first time l appreciated his aggressive driving techniques.

My female passenger, on the other hand, did not appreciate all the jerking and swerving at all. She turned greener than an Elmman's sapling. Oh god. please don't barf in my rig. Please do not barf in my rig.

I turned up the vents, then turned my attention back to the multi-racial specialist. ''Okay doc, if you can't treat him there, how 'bout coaching me through the ABCs.''

It took her a second to realize I meant Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. ''All right. Let's see. First of all, decrease the respiratory rate on the ventilator by half but increase the tidal volume by double. Next, modify your lead placement so l can get an EKG on his right heart.''

''Right heart? As opposed to the wrong heart? What the--''

''He has two hearts. Here, set up your monitor leads like this," she said holding up a crude outline of a human and drawing three x marks on the chest area. I set up our spare leads, switched over, then looked up for her reaction. She continued with a nod, "Okay, that looks good. Now let's see, if you don't have the specific antidote for the poison...Well, what do you normally do for overdoses?'

''It depends on the type of overdose. If it's ingestion and the patient is conscious we usually give Digest-block, like we did for these two," I said jabbing my thumb back at the miserable looking pair in the back of the rig with me. ''If they're out, we treat them under the unconscious unknown protocol but--''

''That won't help. How about lavaging? Can you do that?"

My partner glanced back. Our eyes locked for a second but he knew better than to interfere. Stomach pumping was technically still within my scope, but our protocols called for it only for overdoses on specific tablets or capsules. He just shook his head and turned away. Just in time too, he had to swerve the hovercraft to avoid oncoming traffic. He shouted an apology, but I was too busy gathering the equipment necessary for the task. In my ten-year career I had only done this once, because it required a transport time of over twenty minutes.

If we could just go to the med-unit at the Space docks...

I set his head back, removed the ventilator mask and pried his mouth open. I withdrew immediately. ''His anatomy is completely different than anything I'm familiar with. I can't even locate the esophagus.”

''We have another problem. The Sure Masks on your ventilator didn't make a good seal with his airway. His stomach's so full of air it's interfering with respiration. You're going to have to actually intubate,'' the doctor replied while taking reports on several patients who had just arrived.

Intubate? Yeah right! That's not even in the protocols anymore. Where's she been for the last seven years? On a different planet, probably. Trying to sound patient, I informed her that all we had were Sure Masks. Both of us eyed the readings. His heart was starting to throw some nasty looking complexes and his oxygen stats looked pretty bad. I'll get my ass chewed on this one for sure. ''I'll improvise something,'' I grumbled.

I used the fitting from the tracheotomy kit and duct taped it to the lavage tube. Now I just needed one more thing. ''Uh doc? Where is the trachea?"

''It's the hole at the top, near the back of the mouth, behind the top plate-just like a Sian. It goes up to the nasal cavity first to avoid choking and for better filtering--''

I motioned for silence. I didn't need the Anatomy and Physiology lesson right then. It took a while to figure out how to position the patient so I could visualize the trachea. Looking at the jury-rigged tube in my hand then the weird curvature of his airway, l just shook my head. But when I looked to the communications screen the damn doc was gone.

My patient's fine, ice-blue skin had gone from gray to a dull, ghostly off-white. ''No, no you don't. Don't you die on me...'' I turned to the interpreter and asked, "Do either of you at least know his name?" She began vomiting in response. And she didn't even manage to get it all into the basin I'd given her. ''Okay, never mind. I'll find it myself.''

The identi-card in his front vest pocket gave me the name. It also had a bunch of official stamps and insignias, but at the time I didn't care anything about them. l had a name to work with. ''Okay, Melore. Just hang on. You hear me? Stay with us.''

Kirt sped up even more. He knew I only resorted to my cheer leading routine when we were about to lose the patient and there was nothing else to try. But then Melore's nostrils flared trying to suck in some air and gave me an idea. His nose. I'll just shove it down his nose.

With a sigh of relief, once his airway was secure, l hooked up the ventilator and prepared to lavage. Just as l introduced the tube to the only other opening in his mouth l could find, the doctor came back on line. "Better get some Paragon ready. The patient is part Katian. They tend to suffer severe bradycardia during this procedure. It'll take about six milligrams to keep his heart rate up.''

Frustrated, I threw up my hands. We didn't carry Paragon and l told her so. According to what I could make out from his vital signs we we almost out of time. Bowing her head, she shrugged and motioned me to continue. "You've got to decompress that stomach."

I gave her my ''no shit" look and suggested she tell me just where that might be. Then I applied firm pressure to the area she indicated to evacuate the gases and the stomach contents. The smell combined with the sight of the partially digested fluid made the pale, young interpreter start puking again. My partner's erratic driving didn't help the situation and when he slammed on the brakes to make a hard left the Katian lost it as well, throwing up all over my rig.

Damn!

If that wasn't enough, despite all my prayers to a god I had not relied on in years, my patient had the nerve to crash. His heart rate dropped to practically nothing. ''Atropine?" l called out to the doc even as I tore open the box and prepared the dose for absorption.

''It's not as good as Paragon but it might work,'' she said, once more being pulled aside by one of her staff. When I went to put the patch over one of his hearts she shouted, ''What are you doing? It needs to be delivered intracardiac--''

''That's not within my scope of practice, doc,'' I growled. ''Any other suggestions?" Intubation was at least within my scope,  even if it wasn't in this county's protocol. And the lavage was just bending an existing protocol, with a doctor's authorization. But this would be practicing medicine without a license. That was going too far even for me. There had to be another way. ''Look I'll double the dose and place a patch over each heart. Maybe it'll do some good."

It didn't. After a couple minutes of no change she asked, ''How far out are you? Just get a cardiac pacer on him...make that two pacers on him and bring him in.'' She sounded resigned to the obvious and was being called to assist with all the patients they had there.

''Uh, doc we only have one pacer...but we're only three to five out-''

''No we're not,'' Kirt cut in. ''We're being ordered to divert back to the dock's med unit''

''What? What the hell--''

The doctor interrupted with a geyser of her own profanity. The interpreter informed the Katian delegate of the situation and he began meowing, growling, hissing and howling. Then he proceeded to vomit even more chunks of raw meat. The woman translated from beneath the oxygen mask I'd ordered her to put on when she had started turning green. ''NeLea's asking if you're just going to let him die. Is that how this world is?"

I glared at the Katian. Like l don't have enough to worry about without some damn cat-man trying to make an interplanetary incident out of this. I had no intentions of letting my magnificent hybrid patient ''just die.'' At this point, however, I was open to suggestions. I looked at the empty Atropine bottle still in my hand. ''Oh, hell doc, we still have a few drugs that go intravenously. I'll transfer our last vial into a syringe. Not quite intracardiac but it might work.''

Kirt stiffened and inhaled sharply. ''Jerusha? What are you doing?"

''Just keep your eyes forward. You don't know a thing about it. Okay?" I called back. He muttered something about me being a cowgirl-medic as I loaded the syringe. We only had four mg left. I just hoped it was enough. I found what I thought might be a vein. The doctor's shriek startled me so bad that I stabbed my own finger. Shit, I'm dead. No, wait it didn't inject. Thank god. It was the first thing to go right for me all shift.

On the screen the doctor grimaced, realizing what she had almost done. Releasing a long breath, she explained, ''If that's all the Atropine you've got, it'll have to go intracardiac. It's quite simple. There's a flap of muscle about three inches under the armpit. Just slice and lift--''

''You want me to do what?!''

''Look both of his hearts are going into ventricular rhythms. The Atropine has to go intracardiac or... Now, obviously I can't order you to do it. It's up to you-''

The connection dissolved. For a moment I hoped we were already back to the docks. Instead we were gliding over the overpass. ''The Emergency med unit is on the far side of the docks. Just hang on. We'll be there in a few minutes. Don't do anything stupid, Jerusha. It's not worth it."

While Kirt pleaded with me, I stared at the little syringe that could mean life for the man lying on my gurney. His second heart had changed to nothing but the ugly ventricular beats. Switching back to the left heart didn't make the picture any more promising. My career or his life. Oh well, I never was one for following the rules. Besides. I'm just about ready for a career change anyway. Hell, Izzy's Burger Palace is always hiring.

 

# # #

           

Kirt and I sat quietly in the nurse’s break room filling out reports and recovering from the pandemonium that occurred after our arrival at the med unit. There was nothing really to say to each other. What was done was done.

One of the nurses came in and announced, ''Ambassador Melore wants to meet the medics who saved his life.''

We both jumped out of our seats. ''He's awake! He's alive! Really?"

''Wait did you just say Ambassador'' I asked.

She grinned with that ''I know something you don't know'' twinkle in her eyes. She held the dramatic pause then answered, ''Yep. That's why they ordered that he be transported here. He's a real VIP, one of the members of the Interplanetary Council itself. And he wants to meet you.''

''He's really all right? I mean... he's recovered that fast?'' I stammered.

She waved for us to come see for ourselves. Halfway down the hall, my partner grabbed my arm and whispered, "Oh great. Just what we need the STUPID-VISOR." We pretended not to see him and made it to Melore's room.

Not only had the crossbreed survived, he seemed remarkably recovered. His skin's delicate blue hue had returned and his eyes shone with an intelligence that was truly captivating. As he regarded us, I understood what was so important about this man. You could expect miracles from him. People would follow him. Hell, I'd follow him across the galaxy myself. With a sincere smile he said, "I learned some of language of yours, English?"

''I learned very little Gestural.'' I signed back in what I knew of the interplanetary language.

He started gesturing at an alarming rate. Thankfully our woman interpreter, who looked much better now, translated it to English for me. ''It's nice to meet both of you. As you probably know my name is Melore. And you are?" We gave our names, which he repeated with the most enchanting accent. Then he continued through the interpreter, ''I owe you my life and those struggling for peace owe you a great debt of gratitude. Is there anything I can do to repay you?"

Under my breath I muttered, 'How 'bout a job?" To my dismay, the faithful interpreter translated my flippant comment before I could stop her.

''Done!'' Melore declared himself. Seeing that l was about to try to decline he insisted in broken English, ''My offer sincere. A multi-race paramedic training program begun. When finished there, I could use you on team of mine."

This is too good to be true. What's the catch? Knowing my luck I decided to be cautious but promised to consider it. We said our good byes and turned to leave. I took a deep breath and prepared to deal with our supervisor.

''Please do consider my offer seriously. Your talents would be very useful. I understand you went far beyond the call of duty to save my life." The interpreter rushed to finish before the door shut behind us.

Todd! Why did it have to be that weasel of a supervisor? He worked as the company's headhunter, helping to eliminate all the top step paramedics that the company didn't want to pay the ''big bucks." He had been after my hide for months. He didn't waste much time getting down here. Did he? Blood thirsty... ''Just remember Kirt, you had no idea what I was doing." I whispered. There was no reason for both of us to lose our jobs.

 Todd shook his pointy little head and started delivering his obviously contrived speech. ''Jerusha, l know you've always been a cowboy, or in your case a cowgirl, but you more than crossed the line this time. You completely obliterated it. No matter how good your intentions, the fact is you went out of scope. You were practicing medicine without a license. I'm afraid I'm going to have to suspend you pending a full investigation...'' He glanced up at me waiting for my response. "Why are you smiling at me like that? This is serious!"

Both Kirt and I burst into laughter. I could resist no longer. "Because I quit, you ass-hole! l got a better offer."

"WE... Partner. We got a better offer,'' Kirt said with a smile. "The chance to actually go into space... Wouldn't miss it for the world."

The End