Special Issues » Holiday Guide

Holiday Guide 2009: Paramedic

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If you find yourself walking the streets of downtown Orlando this Christmas and hear sleigh bells and an irritatingly cheerful chorus caroling "Jingle Bells" at you, it's probably an ambulance.

No, the city's reviver elite hasn't gone mad. As it turns out, for those unfortunate enough to be tasked with rushing to the saddest 'round-the-Christmas-tree scenes ever, it could be that they're just bored.

"Usually, Christmas and the holidays are good days," says Billy Tabora, a paramedic with Rural/Metro (full disclosure: also husband of an Orlando Weekly sales rep) who's seen his share of Christmas shifts in five years on the job. "The only people who call 911 are the people who really, really need it. No one wants to go to the emergency room on Christmas."

While yuletide tragedy is always a possibility, the chance of a slow day is even greater, and that's when the paramedics make their own fun.

"There are some crews that will put Christmas lights up in the cab because there's a converter in the back with an outlet. So you just plug them in," says Tabora, who adds that hospital administrative workers often cook Christmas dinners for the ambulance crew.

Often paramedics find themselves comforting the depressed — "You just tell them, ‘I know how you feel,'" says Tabora — or acting as gentle persuaders.

"If you don't want to go to the hospital, we can't force you to — that'd be like kidnapping," says Tabora. "I do remember one lady who went to this church and she was having a little bit of chest pain. That's something you want to go to the hospital for, because it could be something really bad. She's at church and she really doesn't want to go. She has a heart condition anyway, so the fire department and us are trying to get her to go, her family's there telling her to go … once she decided to go, she was so mad. It was Christmas and she was pissed. Pissed at her family, pissed at us. She was so mad."

Tabora is happy to be bored on Christmas Day. "You're talking to a guy who doesn't get calls like you see on TV. I get the ones like, ‘Oh, my foot hurts.'" He might even get a reprieve this year from working on Dec. 25.

"I'm working Thanksgiving," says Tabora. "That's mostly turkey-related calls. Abdominal pains, stuff like that."

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