It was busy in the ED and all the nurses were tied up with patients.
An ambulance call came in and I was near the radio, so I took the call.

“Yeah, Metro General, be advised we’re bringing in a 97 year old female from the nursing home with a chief complaint of weakness for the past 6-7 days.”

The ED secretary cringed. “Why would a nursing home call an ambulance for a patient with weakness of all things – and for a whole week, yet?”
I have to admit that “weakness” isn’t my favorite chief complaint, either, but I have also found some wild pathology in little old ladies whose only symptom is feeling weak. So I don’t like the complaint, but I also have a healthy respect for the complaint.

“Be advised that this patient’s blood pressure is 130/70, her pulse is 80 and her respirations are 20. We have about a six minute ETA. Any questions?”

The ED secretary had turned back around, but was still shaking her head. So I acted like I was talking on the radio, but didn’t push the “talk” button.

I asked loudly “Metro 27, did you have this patient do any push ups?”
The secretary’s head snapped around and she stared at me with wide eyes. I winked at her and nodded.
Again, without pressing the talk button, I said loudly “If you didn’t have her do pushups in the nursing home and she’s on the stretcher, can you just have her do some sit-ups to assess her weakness for me? Let me know how many she can do.”

By this time, the secretary’s jaw had dropped. “You know that’s a recorded line, don’t you? You’re going to get in trouble!”

“Yeah, but it only records when you press the ‘talk’ button.”

“You jerk.”

Weakness just became my favorite complaint for the day.


  1. As a vollie firefighter/EMT in a rural area, I’ve gotten to visit some of the 80-90 year old ladies (and in one case, 101 y.o.) in my district, still living at home, and they seem pretty mentally tough.

    Ladies of that age don’t like to complain, and are not usually all that happy about all the “fuss”. The call is always by a family member because Grams is not “right” Weakness, not eating well, often something not terribly specific, but has been going on for awhile. It usually takes some talking to get them to agree to go see a doc at the ER, even when there clearly is something astray [sorry, DR. WC, but around here it is “the ER; 🙂 ]

    Now we have some much younger patients who call 911 at the drop of a hat…

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