What to Expect During an Ambulance Ride

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Ambulance rides can be nerve wracking, especially if you or a loved one is the patient.

The president of the Iowa EMS Association, Mark McCulloch, said often times he hears from patients they didn’t want to be a bother by calling 911, which he responds with, "That’s what we are here for and no one is a bother."

“Typically once the 911 operator determines your need, they will send the appropriate resources and a typical ambulance crew is two, well-trained, individuals. They’ll come and pick you up at your home or wherever you are and provide immediate medical care to you and then continue that care during the transport,” McCulloch said.

Another response McCulloch said they get a lot is "why do I have to answer so many questions from the 911 operator if I just need an ambulance." Often times the ambulance is already on the way, the operator just wants more information to give to the responders.

“The first thing is, be prepared to answer questions from the 911 operator. They ask a lot of questions while we are en route. The second thing is to look up a program called Smart 911. It’s available to all Polk County Dispatch Centers. It’s like an electronic file of life that you can put all your medications and medical history in,” McCulloch said.

EMT’s and paramedics are under a lot of pressure and face several challenges on the job.

“One of the challenges we face is writing care documentation and providing interventions to the patient. If we have to start an IV or give an injection, we have to do that while bumping down the road,” McCulloch said.

In addition to those challenges, the ambulance drivers also need to be safe but fast.

“Driving emergently is one of the most dangerous things we do. It endangers us and often times the public around us so if at all possible we avoid doing that. So a lot of times if you see an ambulance without their lights on, they could very well still be transporting a patient,” McCulloch said.

One of the things that helps them on the road is the ability to change traffic lights with a device that’s placed on the front of the ambulance.

“Even if we are driving without our lights and sirens, we have what’s called a pre-emption device and it changes our traffic lights to green,” McCulloch said.

Ambulance rides can cost anywhere from hundreds of dollars up to thousands; price varies by location and level of care, but some insurance covers those costs in true emergencies.