Note: This entry was originally posted on a blog I created for my History of Medicine class final project during December 2012.
The year is 1953 and a bad wreck has just occurred. One of the passengers involved seems to have broken his femur. A bystander who has pulled over to help yells, "Quick, call the funeral home! We need a hearse, stat!"
For many members of the public, the medic is synonymous with the ambulance, and understandably so, since a good deal of of the medic's work occurs within its walls. This vehicle, stereotypically a large box-like one replete with lights and the Star of Life plastered on every side (and sometimes even the roof so that critical care helicopters can quickly identify it!), represents hope. I've been on both sides of the ambulance story -- as an EMT rendering care and as a 16-year-old watching my father suffer a heart attack -- and I think it goes without saying that when you or your loved one is in the middle of a medical crisis, it is reassuring when somebody arrives on scene -- dressed in a uniform and wielding fancy equipment -- who can take the situation out of your hands and form a plan of action. However, once upon a time, the vehicle that responded to emergencies was perhaps the anti-thesis of hope and in fact represented, if anything, death: that vehicle was the hearse.