In this job we come into people lives when they least expect it, and trust me, no one bothers to tidy up before we get there. It is a fascinating privilege to be invited into patients' houses. We are seeing them not only at their most vulnerable and sick, but we are seeing them in their own private spaces. I've picked people out of every room in a house, including and quite often, the bathroom.
What prompted my thoughts on this subject was a recent call, of course. I hate to be fooled, especially by a house. I went to a call in a pretty nice neighborhood and as I was finding the house, I remarked to myself how glad I was to be in this particular area. How nice it will be to go into one of these houses. Undoubtedly it will be clean and bright and well kept. But one might think I would have learned by now that every time I think this, I'm wrong. I should probably stop counting my unsmelly and well-lit eggs before they hatch.
The last time I assumed tidiness, I was met with the most horrible stale smokey house I've ever encountered. I think I acquired asthma, dirty teeth, and my hair turned brown just from being in the living room. This time, it was the perennial foe of EMS: cats. Well, any pets can be a problem, but this house was clearly full of cats. Or at least, I think we could have created one from all of the hair around the house.
Now, I probably shouldn't be telling tales about houses, but they are too much of an interesting part of the job to ignore.
I think you can tell a lot about a person by their house. From the barren and unkempt drug addicts' house, to the house that has clearly been loved for decades. When I was a student in the city I learned in which houses to deploy the roach shuffle so that we didn't leave with anything we didn't come with.
I also learned what a beautiful dichotomy it is to go from the most squalid rented room on one call and then step into a high society million dollar house on the next.
Some houses I want to stay in all day. I want to know these people, get a tour, and hear their stories, because I know they'll be interesting. If the patient isn't too sick, I'll ask about some things. It shows I'm paying attention and am interested in them. Besides, I enjoy non sequitur conversation starters. "How did you come by that cigar store indian, anyway?"
Though it is getting rare, I am still surprised by houses and their owners. Usually, it's a bad surprise, when I expect greatness and find something horrible. But sometimes, it's a good surprise, and like all good surprises in this job, they slowly work to restore my faith in humanity.