- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

MANZANILLO, Mexico — Last week, wanting a different perspective on the street trades, I spent a day with the Red Cross ambulance service here, Manzanillo being a port city on the west coast with a population of something over 100,000. If nothing else, it made me appreciate the advantages of money.
My introduction to the service was Carlos Carrillo, an oceanography student at the university, a paramedic by training, and an employee at a dive shop here. In his early 30s and single, he learned the medical trade in Cancun, and came here to study. He's a serious, competent guy.
He showed me around, and I thought, "money." They need more of it. They have two ambulances, small, equipped with the basics, and not much else. I'm accustomed to the big, air-conditioned, instrumented ambulances of Washington's suburbs. They're the size of aircraft carriers, and have defibrillators, portable EKGs with computerized screens, all the latest and best. Manzanillo does the best it can with what it has. We're spoiled.
Then we sat and waited for calls. It's what ambulances do. The others on the shift, Rodrigo Sanchez and Marco Yanez, came out to help us sit. Slow morning. Carlos decided to profit from an accessible English speaker and got me to translate questions they might have to ask a damaged gringo: "Can you breathe OK? Move your fingers, please."
Some adults walked in with a boy who was hopping on one foot and obviously in agony. An ugly red spot showed on the sole of his foot. Stingray. You don't get that a lot in Washington. The gang took him into a treatment room and started IV antihistamines, watched him like a hawk for shock. If they're allergic, everything shuts down fast. Not good.
When a woman of 80-some took a bad fall in her apartment, things got serious. Lights, siren, driving your mother wouldn't have approved of.
At that point nobody was entirely sure what the call was. I was bouncing around in back and Carlos was yelling for me to put on rubber gloves. In the States it would never happen, but here, if a lot of people were hurt and needed to be lifted, these guys were going to use whoever was at hand. Bystanders, cops, me.
Carlos ran in with his med bag while the others got the wheeled stretcher out. She was lying on the floor. Her family had put a pillow under her head, not necessarily a good idea but in this case OK. Carlos had done lots of these.
He did the talking: "I'm a paramedic." "May I help you?" "What happened?" "Where do you live?" "Move this or that." They were exactly the questions, in exactly the same order, that I'd been translating. In the States they do the same things, but have better equipment. Broken arm by all the signs.
Carlos wanted to know whether there might be other, less obvious problems: spinal injury, hemorrhage. "So you're from Tampico?" he asked. She had already said she was from Manzanillo. She said it again. Apparently not disoriented. Just had a broken arm. Her son was trying to put her hearing aid in.
Having determined that nothing very bad was happening, and that she was safe to move, they got her on the stretcher — not quite as easy as it sounds — and headed for the ambulance.
The driving on the way to the hospital was a lot gentler. Carlos kept talking to her, alert for anything new, none of which could be good. At the hospital the staff took her in for X-rays and we left. You don't always find out how things turned out.
Back at the shop. More work on English, with me as simulated patient.
A woman came in, her face the color and complexion of a hornet's nest. Her friends were helping her walk. Allergy to shrimp. This is fairly common, at least here where they have lots of shrimp, and can be fatal. Usually it isn't, but nobody wants to find out. The problem again is anaphylactic shock. Which she didn't have.
We sent down the street to the barbecued chicken place for a late lunch.
Carlos said they might have manning problems for a while because many of the crews are going to be in Colima, a nearby city, on weekends for close to a year. Advanced paramedic training. It's a great idea, but might make help thin on the ground for a bit.
Good bunch, and know their stuff. They just need better ambulances.

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