This culture is a little bit odd about bodies. Between nudity taboos, weight discrimination and all the ways in which sexuality is repressed, we have a lot of people who are very, very uncomfortable in their bodies.
And, as EMS providers, we find ourselves OFTEN in a position to have to deal with that in one way or another. Patients may be uncomfortable with their state of undress, but generally, most EMS providers get past that fairly early on, and focus on the tasks at hand.
Even so, things can be awkward at times. Younger, or less experienced, providers may be uncomfortable with a conscious and alert patient of the opposite gender, especially one near their own age. Or younger people may feel awkward with elderly people.
It's one of those things that can feel very daunting during the learning phase, but really, once you're out there for a while, it becomes a non-issue. Partly because of familiarity, so it lacks any "shock" value, and partly, because we each learn ways to make the situation as comfortable as possible.
Recently, I had a fabulous opportunity to observe a much more experienced provider in such a situation, which could have been very uncomfortable- but wasn't.
It was a call to an elderly woman having difficulty breathing. One of the more common kinds of calls we get. At this particular call, she had some symptoms that suggested there may be some cardiac problem, so the medic wanted to get a 12-lead.
What followed was a thing of beauty. He was wonderful with the patient! Very calming voice, explained what he wanted to do, and told her that he would need to touch her breasts, and asked if that was okay. Each time he needed to touch her, he again made sure she was comfortable with what he was doing. Lots of eye contact. Fabulous ability to build rapport. Very self-confident, with no hint of self-consciousness or discomfort on HIS part. His ability to treat it as not a big deal went a long way in her being comfortable.
Writing it down, it sounds like something that should be so common that it doesn't bear discussing. Most people manage to remain professional. Even so, this example really stuck with me because I hadn't previously seen this particular medic doing patient care very much at all. He has been around a long time, much longer than I have, but the cut of the cards hasn't sent him out our way very often. When I've seen him off duty, he hasn't struck me as being a particularly warm-fuzzy kind of guy, but with this patient, he was the very soul of kindness. It didn't surprise me, exactly- the agency he works for has excellent providers, all around- but I didn't know this about him for sure, from personal experience, and now I do.
I'm glad I got the chance. He has definitely moved from my "not sure" category to my "one of the good guys" category.