Paramedic everyday carry - 2: Flashlight

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My main flashlight

I peer into lots of cars late at night, trying to determine if the person slumped inside is asleep or unconscious. I pick my way through strangers’ yards, in the rain, looking for an open window, because someone at this address has called 911 but no one is answering the door. I start IVs in unlit basement sublets. I use my flashlight several times every shift. It sits in a low-profile holster on my right hip.

To be honest, I think holsters look kind of dumb. I use one anyway. I could carry a flashlight in my pocket, but if I get blood on my gloves, there’s no way I’m going to fish around in my pants for it. The items in the holster are right at hand, and I can get at each of them by feel.

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The flashlight I carry is the Streamlight 66118 Stylus Pro LED (AAA battery version). I bought this flashlight almost seven years ago (I just checked my Amazon order history), and I can hardly believe it’s still going strong. Streamlight has an excellent reputation in the fire-rescue world for making solid products. For a light that costs less than $20, this has proven itself many times over.

What I love about this light:

  • It’s small and thin - just a little fatter than a medical penlight. It could be lighter, but the metal shell gives it a heft that I like. At 100 lumens, it’s very bright for its size. It takes normal AAA batteries, so I don’t have to plug it into a charger and leave it behind when its charge gets low. It’s cheap, so when I finally destroy it, I won’t sweat buying the replacement.

  • It doesn’t have a lot of ridiculous detailing on it. The makers of flashlights have a serious problem with greebling. Gear makers think people want every surface to be embellished with angular protrusions and pointless textures. That’s why I generally avoid any product with the word “tactical” in its name. - they tend to be cluttered with nonsense details to make them look cool. Hey, medics: don’t carry shit to make you look cool, carry shit that works. This flashlight has ridges at each end, which make it a little easier to handle with slick gloves, and a pen clip, and that’s about it.

  • Its metal case has put up with a ton of abuse. It also produces a surprisingly loud sound when I knock on the windows of cars or houses. I knock on glass a lot. You’d be amazed. People call 911 all the time because they see someone sleeping in a car, and they’re afraid to approach the vehicle to check on them. Bear in mind that when I knock on the window, I’m not wearing any more protective gear than the caller was. The only difference is that I’m paid to knock on the glass.

  • It has two functions: on and off. I don’t want my flashlight to turn on in low-power mode, or blink furiously in rescue-me-from-the-face-of-Everest mode. I want it to turn on, light up something, and turn off again. Simplicity is your friend in stressful circumstances. I want everything I use to work exactly as I expect. Also, it has a rubberized pushbutton on/off switch on the butt, which I like better than the Maglight-style twist on/off, or a side button, which tends to get switched on accidentally.

  • Did I mention that this is really, really bright? It’s actually too bright to be used to check pupillary response. In a pinch, I can use the very edge of the beam, but I never shine this directly in someone’s eyes. Really, medics: don’t do it, even for unconscious people. I have no idea how many lumens can cause retinal damage, but I’m not going to risk it.

  • Okay, I might as well admit that after writing the last bullet point, I went down a little google-hole about light exposure and retinal damage, and the answer isn’t as simple as lumens. It appears to be about the focus area of the exposure. It doesn’t sound like 100 lumens in a flashlight beam will cause lasting damage. Don’t do it anyway. If you wouldn’t want to look directly into the beam while conscious and alert, don’t blast it at someone who is having a Very Bad Day.

  • The only reason I have to emphasize this is I know you, medics. I see you. Don’t think I don’t know what you might do.

What I don’t carry: a medical penlight. That might surprise some people. Penlights are weak-sauce as flashlights, borderline useless. They have one function: to check pupils, which I do on nearly every call. But we tend to carry about a million of them, stuffed into every bag and crevice on the ambulance, so there’s always one within easy reach.

My second light

I also carry a headlamp in a small bag that I grab on high-acuity calls. I can’t count the number of times I’ve started IVs under terrible lighting conditions, whether in poorly-illuminated apartments or outside at night. In the past, I either handed my flashlight off to someone else, which took up a set of hands, or put it in my mouth, which was gross. I mean, I know where this flashlight has been.

I carry the Steamlight Bandit LED Rechargeable Headlamp, because I received it as a gift. Almost any headlamp will do. This one is about $20, and has held up very well. I like that I can detach it from its headband and clip it directly to my radio strap.

The advantage of a headlamp is obvious: you don’t have to entrust your light to the rookie, who promptly shines it the wrong direction. The downside: you have to be careful where you look, because you don’t want to blind one of your fellow rescuers. And if you have hair, which I don’t, then you might get blood or something on your hair when you reach up to turn it off or remove it. I recommend shaving your head. No more bed-head on those late night calls… anyway, that’s a discussion for another time.

Honorable Mention

I used to carry a Streamlight 88830 PolyTac Right Angle Flashlight clipped to my radio strap, and it was extremely bright and useful… until it came off and got lost. When I lose something that costs $50, I think twice about whether to replace it. In this case, I made like Elsa and Let It Go.

Next episode: pens