Knox ambulance crisis is life threatening

Betty BeanKnox Scene

We should all be as fit as Keith Britt. A 45-year-old veteran, he’s a lean and fit data analyst/rock climber/marathon runner who shares custody of his 4-year-old triplets with his former wife. An announced candidate for Knox County Commission next year, he also spends a lot of time keeping up with local government.

He’s the last guy I’d expect to have had a stroke.

But that’s what happened last month, after he’d acquired a severe case of poison ivy while doing yard work.

On October 2, he felt slightly dizzy walking into a store. The next day, he got woozy sitting at his desk. It lasted at least 20 minutes. He suspected sinus trouble. Five days later he became severely nauseated while sitting his living room after a chicken wing dinner. This time, it lasted all night.

“I couldn’t walk a straight line – almost broke my arm just trying to get from bed to the bathroom. I thought I might need to go to the hospital, but I’d been following the ambulance crisis, so I put on my clothes in case I had to call my neighbor to take me to the hospital, and finally fell asleep. I didn’t feel great when I woke up, but the vertigo was gone.”

He had another episode the following week, and went to the VA clinic, where he was told he’d had a stroke; three strokes, actually. He attempted to talk the doctor out of the diagnosis.

“They had to get pretty aggressive with me and were pretty convinced that I could have died.”

He has recovered now, takes low-dose aspirin as a preventative and has gone back to running. He’s been researching the connection between strokes and Covid (which he’s had), and he’s still not sure how this is going to affect his life, but the episode has given him much to think about.

“I’m very grateful. It was scary, but it seems I’m not going to suffer long term because of it, although it looks like dealing with it may be as severe as trying to avoid it.

Do I have a will in place? (I do.) What would happen to my kids?

I’d been counting on being there for them. How do I make sure they’re OK?”

It’s good to hear that Britt is on the mend, but disconcerting to learn that he opted out of calling 911 because he didn’t have confidence that he could get help that way. I was telling another friend about this, and he informed me that the same thing had happened to him not long ago. He has followed the ambulance crisis very closely, and called a neighbor to help him when he had a stoke near his home. He made his own arrangements to get to the hospital and is now taking physical therapy on an outpatient basis.

So that makes two people I know who knew better than to call for an ambulance when they became desperately ill.

This is shocking. And I’m shocked at myself for paying so little attention.

Local government and politics affect our lives in more ways than anything that happens in Washington or London or Paris. I believed this before I ever made the decision to stay in Knoxville after the Journal closed down in 1992. Some of you may have attended the infamous going-away party that I threw for myself at Hoo-Rays after I accepted an out-of-town job offer. So many people came that I decided not to leave. How could I? This is where I belong. And even if you click on this column just because I make you mad, you’ve got the same shoes to get glad in, as Ray Hill used to say, and you are part of the reason I stayed.

I’ve spent the years between then and now watching and listening and passing on what I learn. I didn’t just stumble into this line of work. It suits me. And so does this place. I chose to remain because it felt right. Still does. This is the place I know and care about, contrary to the opinions of those who suggest that I should find a place far away that better suits my politics. I’m staying where I was planted.

But I have fallen down on the job.

I am not exaggerating, and I’m not going to make excuses. On Monday (11/20/23), the county commission is expected to award American Medical Response a five-year contract to provide ambulance services to Knox County despite months of headlines like this:

“Knox Co. deactivates Emergency Ops Center after dealing with sudden shortage of ambulances. The Knoxville Fire Department said it and Rural Metro were triaging EMS calls in the city and county due to a shortage of ambulances.”

Knox County’s ambulance crisis is not just another squabble over a government contract. It is life-threatening.

This. Is. Life. Threatening.

I’ll do a better job of keeping up with it, but I can tell you this: we’d all better be paying attention.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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