Medic Trommashear, who writes great stuff has offered to co-post with me on this. You can check it out at her blog: http://lookingthroughapairofpinkhandledtraumashears.com/
This morning the wife came home from her night shift on the ambulance and told me a sad story. During the wee hours of the morning she handled a rather nasty fatality accident. The victim, a 20-something male was walking home from a party on a dark country road and tragically, a passing motorist didn’t see him in time and the accident ensured that he’d never make it. Pedestrian vs. car accidents at high speeds have a way of doing that.
Sad stories like this are getting more common for her as she’s immersed herself fully into paramedic school and professional EMS in general. She’s been seeing sad stuff multiple times per week it seems. I can see that it’s wearing on her and I feel her pain. I have experienced it quite a bit myself in my own career and I continue to do so on a regular basis. Jumping into full-time EMS exposes a person to sadness on a level that can’t easily be prepared for. A person just has to jump in with both feet and not be afraid to feel the range of emotions that they’re going to be exposed to. It’s hard, it’s tough, and it’s one of those things a person just has to learn how to overcome if they want to make EMS a part of their life.
That’s the part that most people don’t get, I think. The part where you have to “Learn How” to overcome the sadness and negative emotions we’re faced with as EMS people. A common statement that lay people make when they hear that I am a paramedic is “Oh, I could never do that job and see what you see. I just couldn’t handle it”. Perhaps they’re right, but I would guess that anyone can train themselves to handle almost anything. My pseudoscientific opinion is that we develop our tolerance and our healthy ways of dealing with being exposed to such negative emotions on a regular basis through experiencing it and learning ways to function and feel happy afterwards. It’s harder for some than others and I can’t imagine that there is a single roadmap for learning it. It’s individual. Friends help and so does an understanding family. Good coworkers are great to observe and learn from as long as they realize their own humanity and aren’t simply trying to fool themselves out of bravado. We’re all human and I can testify that we’re all affected, no matter how thick our skin may appear.
Back when I was a new medic I was working a ton of hours. I mean, I worked a lot. I worked TOO much. I worked for days on end without sleep for multiple jobs. At the time, I felt I had good reason. I was attempting college for the first time, taking care of my recently deceased father’s businesses, and trying to sock away money to help my mother. I worked a full-time EMS job, a full-time hospital job, ran the businesses, and volunteered for a separate fire department and EMS agency. It was nuts. I would literally go for days without sleep. During that time it seemed like I was getting slammed by horribly sad calls. I felt I was surrounded by suffering and death. I was working at least two codes a week on average. Mayhem and madness seemed to rule the day. I was getting deeper and deeper and…
I was going nuts.
I was horribly, deeply depressed.
I almost went insane.
I was at my darkest hour when I found myself angry at anything that was cute or fun. Literally things like jokes, teddy bears, and Hallmark cards made me angry. I just couldn’t see how people could stand to look at that kind of stuff when there was so much suffering in the world. How frivolous! What a waste of time! It made me angry to think of anything that didn’t acknowledge the pain I was bearing witness to on such a regular basis. I was depressed and angry. I just couldn’t understand anything other than feeling the pain that the people I was taking care of were feeling. It affected my life, my work, and my human interaction. It was horrible.
Then I had an epiphany that changed my personality and who I am to this day.
Those who meet me know that I like to joke around. A lot. There are things that I take seriously however I do not personally happen to be one of them. My epiphany was that the stuff that was cute, fun, loving, friendly, and/or happy was all that actually did matter in life. We combat the bad with the good, the yang with the yin. I chose to pay attention to the comedy of life and downplay the tragedy. After that revelation, my whole outlook on life and my personality changed for the better. I had found that comedy, friendship, and love were the ways to live my life. Come what may, I can make a joke about it and that makes it ok. I laugh at inappropriate times and seek out the good in life. My life and career ensure that I’ll still have an onslaught of human tragedy thrown at me whether I’m ready for it or not but If I can actively seek out the positive, I may just end up ahead of the game.
To my wife, I love you. Hopefully you don’t end up where I have been… but I’ll be here for you, come what may. I understand what you’re going through and I love you for this any many, many other reasons. Always.
You may want to read one of my most popular posts. It’s an older post of mine where I explore what I call “Splashed Sadness”. It’s along these lines. We EMS people have to deal with a lot. Never be afraid to share it. Don’t hold it in. Get it out and learn how you can cope with it because there’s not a one of us ain’t human.
Or “Reflections on an Easter Morning” – another post about a bad call.
Also, don’t forget to check out Medic Trommashear’s co-post on this. You can check it out at her blog: http://lookingthroughapairofpinkhandledtraumashears.com/
(Note: I’ll link to the post directly when it’s up)