My childhood definitely had a bearing on my chosen profession. My family moved to Port Chester, NY when I was entering 1st grade and we moved next door to an M.D. who would become our family doctor. He would go on to have 6 boys and I became best friends with his 2nd oldest Michael who is a doctor himself today! I was in his house on a daily basis and his father ran his practice out of their house converting a few rooms to his office. We were in and out of this space all the time. Mike one Christmas got a Chemistry Set which back than was a great gift for any youngster. Also at that time the movie "Frankenstein" was very popular and we considered ourselves mad scientists! We set up a small lab in the playroom/basement of my house with his Chemistry Set as the main part. I also was the first male born into an all female Italian family so being a novelty I was shared with my aunts and uncles who all wanted to help in bringing me up. My mother had some sort of nervous condition so they all thought it would be good to give her some time to relax. On weekends I visited my aunt and uncle who lived on the grounds of a private girl's school in Greenwich, Ct. My uncle was their chief custodian and I would accompany him as he did his chores throughout the school. One day while in the Science Lab I asked if I could have some flasks and beakers to add to our lab at my house. So with that Mike and I had a nice set up along with odds and ends we aquired from his dad's office. My uncle was also a volunteer fireman and he would take me to the firehouse where I was allowed to climb all over the trucks, turn on the lights and blow the sirens. This was my first exposure to emergency vehicles and I feel that it sparked interest in me and I always had a thing for anything with a light and siren on it!! For some unknown reason I hated seeing anyone hurt so as a youngster it always seemed to be me who stepped from the crowd to offer help to any playmate who fell and skinned an elbow or knee. I would be the one to take control assuring them that everything was going to be allright. I would either help them home to their mother or if at school into the school nurse. It got to where if someone got hurt my friends would seek me out to come and help which I did gladly and always liked the way I felt when I was able to help someone. After graduating from H.S. I still hadn't decided on what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I was interested in something in the medical field but because I screwed around while in school becoming a doctor was out of the question and becoming a male nurse which there were very few of didn't appeal to me. Back than most male nurses did private duty post op care and this wasn't what I was looking for. My father told me that until I decided I would go to work with him and learn a trade. He was a mason/bricklayer/laborer and after a few weeks of this torture I decided to do what was suggested to me as something to consider and I applied to become and X-Ray Technician in the school at New York Hospital which was a 2 year program. I was accepted, and after graduating from school I was one of the four graduates asked to join the department's staff. I worked for 10 months until I was drafted and after my military service returned to work in this profession up until I became a paramedic some 18 years later!
I spent a total of 22 years as a paramedic. The first 20 on the ambulance in Harlem and Manhattan North. The last 2 were at the EMS Academy where I was aide to the Chief who ran the Academy plus I was becoming an instructor. Nine Eleven hit while I was there and I took early retirement a year later never wanting to experience anything like that ever again!
When one spends 20 years on a paramedic ambulance in an area like I worked in it's almost impossible to choose one thing that I could call the "Most Gratifying!" There were so many calls that I was involved in that were special. Many of them making the news. One summer evening a News Crew was following us around I guess looking for a story they could put on the late evening news. We went on a shooting in McDonald's where an employee was shot behind the counter. They caught me as i leaped over the counter to get to our patient and my wife who was getting our boys ready for bed yelled,"That was your father!" As she saw me jumping over the counter! Sometimes it's the simplest calls that bring the most satisfaction. I always loved it when we had what we recognized as a diabetic who's blood sugar was low causing them to be unconscious. Knowing that we could easily reverse this I took great pleasure assuring the family that their loved one would soon be talking to them. Watching them smile and seeing the relief in their faces as our patient woke up and began to talk to them will always be one of my favorite medic moments!
Unfortunately on this job memorable experiences are not always pleasurable. Here are some examples. One day I was given a cigar by a Harlem Hospital Police Officer who's wife had just given birth to a son. That evening I pronounced his oldest son who was struck and killed by a speeding car behind The Polo Grounds Projects where they lived! Or the little baby boy lying on his mother's bed who had obviously been dead for some time. I asked when he died and she said hours ago! I asked why she hadn't called us sooner so we maybe could have saved him she responded saying that she wanted to spend some time with him before we took him away. And she said we couldn't have saved him because he had birth defects. I asked who told her this and she said a woman in her building! I was told by the D.A. months later that she starved the baby to death! Unpleasant memories are part of the job and there seems to be more bad ones than good. To take a line from the T.V. show M.A.S.H. "Rule#1 is patients die. and Rule # 2 is EMT's and Paramedics no matter how hard they try can't change Rule # 1!!!
That's easy! Always use The "KISS" principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. More paramedics get themselves in trouble because they try to do too much and over treat! There are going to be situations when the call will be bigger than you and your partner and wasting time trying to get an I.V. line that you're not going to get is just stupid. You will never be critizied for making a transport decision and getting your patient to the hospital where on the other hand you will be brought to task for spending too much time on the scene. NYC/EMS created the 20 minute rule where after 20 minutes crews had to make contact with Telemetry/Medical Control to discuss with them why they were still on the scene after 20 minutes. Always do what you can and never withold treatment but recognize when it's time to get in the wind! We had a saying in EMS and if you went by it you would never get in a jam. It was called..."Just Do The Right Thing." Pretty simple huh?! Again...The "KISS" principle.
Many! I have a former partner who is a lawyer in Philadelphia. Do you believe that? A Phidelphia Lawyer!! One of my partners was an M.D. when he worked with me but coming from Ecquador he didn't have command of the English language enough to pass his medical boards. So while he was honing his English he had to support his family so he became a paramedic. Dr. Ruben Altimarino is an Emergency Care Physician running an E.R in a Bronx Hospital! Dan Sussman a P.A. all but runs the E.R. at St. Lukes Hospital in Manhattan. Gideon Zahler, Steve Baker are also P.A.'s And others have gone on to careers in the Police Department or Fire. While others have been promoted in EMS up to the rank of Chief! So I'm proud to say that many of my former partners and co-workers have all been very successful!
Another easy question. I became involved in the Medical Profession because I wanted to have something to fall back on that I could always depend on. Because I knew that my other love was far too unpredictable! I began playing Drums when I was around 4 years old my mother and father told me. I played all my life joining my first Rock and Roll band in 1960. I played right up until Uncle Sam came calling and was on my way to what I believed was going to be a great career in music. God gave me a gift! But than Vietnam got in the way. I played when I got back but I could tell immediately that something was different. What came so naturally to me was now a struggle. So much so that I had to bring 4 shirts to a gig because I was sweating so much. I also had to set up fans to blow air on myself as I played. I stopped playing for years because I wasn't the same musician I was before getting wounded. But because of the deep love that I have for music and playing drums I never gave up trying to get back what I once had and I'm happy to say that I'm again playing and I feel that my drumming is as good as it ever was if not better. So the obvious answer is I would have been a professional Drummer.
I liked most being involved in calls that required paramedics. Calls that we could make a difference in our patient's current condition hopefully. I also liked being in control of the situation. When it's a medical call that requires the services of what it is we do than we are in charge of what happens to the patient. I liked being the one who made those decisions. I liked least what just about everyone says. The B.S. and there is an endless amount of that to go around. Whether it's supervision breaking your you know what over nonsense, or the constant abuse by the public that you're serving the B.S. never seems to stop. The stress on this job is so thick you can cut it with a knife. PD and Fire all get relief during their tours of duty. If a cop makes an arrest he's out of the system while they process their arrest. If a Fire Company returns from a fire they get to put their truck back in shape while another company covers for them while they do what's necessary. Not so in EMS. Most of the time there are too few units in the system to cover the amount of calls so you're always being prodded to get back in service because dispatch is "Holding" and they need you. Trust me if you have a child die in your presence a little time to collect your self would be nice but that doesn't happen. Remove most of the B.S. and this could be the greatest job ever! 9. What was a typical day like? Sign in, get your gear from your locker, sign out your radios and controlled substances, tell Central you're not ready to accept an assignment because you haven't even seen your vehicle yet and you don't know if it has all of it's tires! Finally give up and take the job stating that you're doing so on an unchecked vehicle. After the call try to get that first cup of coffee that will soon be cold before you can finish it because there's another job waiting for you! And so goes the tour, running from job to job in everyone's area along with your own!! Eating cold pizza or Chinese food while your partner drives like mad to your next assignment. Shootings, Stabbings, OD's, Cardiac Arrests, Pedestrians Struck, Patients with the Flu who have been sick for a week but can't stand it any longer and now want to go to the hospital. Going in for Tour change only to find out that your relief has banged in sick and the both of you are stuck for another minimum of 4 hours. The Tour Commander wants 6 but you tell them they'll get 4 and not a minute more. Being threatened with charhes for leaving 2 hours early and telling the supervisor to spell your name right on the charge package! Driving home with the radio blaring and the window open to try to stay awake while you drive your exhausted body home! And you get to do it all over again in 12 hours!
Sign in, get your gear from your locker, sign out your radios and controlled substances, tell Central you're not ready to accept an assignment because you haven't even seen your vehicle yet and you don't know if it has all of it's tires! Finally give up and take the job stating that you're doing so on an unchecked vehicle. After the call try to get that first cup of coffee that will soon be cold before you can finish it because there's another job waiting for you! And so goes the tour, running from job to job in everyone's area along with your own!! Eating cold pizza or Chinese food while your partner drives like mad to your next assignment. Shootings, Stabbings, OD's, Cardiac Arrests, Pedestrians Struck, Patients with the Flu who have been sick for a week but can't stand it any longer and now want to go to the hospital. Going in for Tour change only to find out that your relief has banged in sick and the both of you are stuck for another minimum of 4 hours. The Tour Commander wants 6 but you tell them they'll get 4 and not a minute more. Being threatened with charhes for leaving 2 hours early and telling the supervisor to spell your name right on the charge package! Driving home with the radio blaring and the window open to try to stay awake while you drive your exhausted body home! And you get to do it all over again in 12 hours!
I'm honored that Dan speaks of me so highly. I've often told him that he and I met at the wrong time. When he came to Harlem I had had just about all I could stand while working for EMS. I was out of patience and Dan reminded me of when I first came on the job. Like myself he wanted to be on every call and hopefully make a difference. I wanted to do just enough to get through a tour alive and go home to my family. So we were a mis-match. He wanted to be Harlem Medic so badly and he wanted to learn from who he felt were best.I was the last link to the original Harlem Medics having worked and learned from the ones who did it here first and did it in style.So he wanted to absorb everything he could from me I guess. I told him that he had to temper his enthusiasm because as hard of a worker that he was, and possessing above average skills and knowledge, what he wanted was going to take time. Because experience which is probably the most important aspect of our job doesn't come over night. You have to put in the time! Being agressive can sometimes scare people and I feel this is what happened in Dan's case. All he wanted to do was help his patients, be a good partner, work his tail off like most Harlem EMS did/does, and become Harlem Paramedic. I think those are admirable traits!! Once people found out Dan was writing a book about the job, people that wouldn't give him the time of day are suddenly his best friends! I've told many paramedics who said they were Harlem Medics that there are Harlem Medics and Medics that are working in Harlem. There's a difference and you're the latter! If anyone can bestow the title of "Harlem Medic" on anyone I feel it's me seeing that I was the Harlem Senior Medic for 11 years! No one has been in that unofficial title longer than I was so because of his hard work, dedication, and love for his station, area, and co-workers I dubbed Dan a "Harlem Medic." Everyone isn't perfect, we all have our faults.
After I finish "Harlem Knights" the book Dan and I are working on I hope to publish a book of tips that I suggest paramedics use that I used. Some were taught to me by the first Harlem Paramedics and some i thought of myself. There the things that are not taught in class. Things that are not part of the required curriculum! The street is very different from the controlled environment of the classroom!! So as hard as they try to duplicate what a typical call will be like it can never be like it is out of the classroom when all hell is breaking loose! How can you recreate a family going berserk because their loved one lays dying on the kitchen floor and you didn't get there fast enough to please them?! It simply can't be done so I have around 50 tips and suggestions that I felt made me the paramedic I was. Here's a small example: Look the part! The public has an impression of what our profession should look like. Think about it. TV shows always show nurses and doctors usually dressed in white, everything is sparkling clean, it's all neat and orderly even when they try to make it chaotic! So when you show up 20 minutes after they called for your help, looking like you slept in your uniform that has what you ate for the last 2 days all over it, you're already starting out with 2 strikes against you. Wear a clean uniform, shine your shoes/boots, shave if your a man and for God's sake use deodorant! Sounds stupid right?! Well I had a partner that I had to ask to please use a different deodorant because he smelled that bad! And you're going to take care of someone's loved one and you smell! Plus you share the cab of an ambulance with your partners so personal hygiene is no bigger than in the medical profession. That's what the book will be about should I ever get it into print.
I love Italian food! But I also love any kind of food as long as it's cooked and prepared well! I'm fortunate because my wife Barbara is a great cook! You've no doubt heard the saying that, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach!" Nothing could be more true. She makes sauce that's as good as my late mother's and that's saying something! I can't pick any one food that's my favorite. I love Pasta and my best friend is a Doctor who practices in Maine. He's a Radiologist that I met when I worked in X-Ray. He's also my youngest son's God Father. He comes from a family of 9 having been raised in Brooklyn. He's a fantastic cook. He and his wife who's one of my wife's best friends live on a 275 acre farm in rural Maine. Can you imagine what it's like when we visit them? We have our traditional Lobster feast. They have a huge counter in the center of their kitchen and we spread news papers over everything and there's lobster shells flying everywhere! The corn on the cob form Beth's Farm down the road (about 5 miles) is to die for!! Peter makes Pasta every night and I'm not talking just sauce! He has recipes that are his own that are out of this world!! You can put almost anything over Pasta and if you start with one of those old, black, iron frying pans and use garlic and oil it will taste good. Saute zucchini sliced thin until it's soft and golden brown than serve it over linguini. Sprinkle in a few pignolli nuts, grated parmesan cheese, garlic bread on the side and a glass of Pinot Grigio and you have a meal fit for a king!! I also love anything cooked on an outdoor grille. I grille all year long. Nothing is better than a great steak grilled in February with a nice salad and garlic bread. That started when I came home from the hospital after returning from Vietnam. It was one of my weekends home and it was in the middle of winter. I had lost 40 pounds and my parents were trying to fatten me up so they would cook anything I wanted. My late father asked me what I wanted that Saturday night and I said I could go for a nice steak and salad! My Dad goes outside and returns with a small hibachi that he places in the fireplace in our living room. A little while later I was chowing down on sirloin steak, salad with oil and vinegar, and garlic bread. Yum, Yum!!! So as you can see I love to eat so I can't I'm sorry to say answer your question that easily.