When I decided to get into EMS, I don’t think I really realized what I was getting into. Sure, I knew I’d be going out to unknown places for people I didn’t know to help them on their bad days. But I don’t think I realized that I’d see people die right in front of me because they were so sick or injured that it had gotten to an extent that there was nothing I could really do to help anymore. Sure, if a person stops breathing or their heart stops, I can start compressions, defibrillate, and even push meds to try to get them back, but while we go through the motions, all first responders know that the chance of the person making it out of the hospital alive, much less make a full recovery with minimal or no deficits is slim. Sometimes the patient can seem completely stable and the next thing you know, you’re watching them die.If and when time of death is called, we know that the patient’s family will be destroyed. They probably won’t be going back to work, won’t want to joke around or laugh. They may not feel they can do anything other than simply exist. Yet we (and by we I mean all healthcare professionals that works hands on with patients) have to stay distanced from what’s going on because when all is said and done, we have to pack up our equipment, restock, and prepare to go on the next call, regardless what it may be.
Today I had a first. I had a call that came out as a single car wreck with possibly two patients. My partner and I were the first and only ambulance dispatched originally. We arrive on scene to find our possible two patients turned into to four critical patients. After calling for additional responders, we had to prioritize who was to get care first due to how “sick” they were. Having to decide who needs to be treated first due to severity of injuries while dodging the dreaded “is so-and-so still alive? S/he’s not answering me anymore” questions is a feeling that, to put it lightly, sucks. Today I had to watch my patient that was critical but alive crash on me while waiting on the helicopter. About the same time my patient’s heart and lungs gave out, I heard on the radio that the helicopter was mere moments away but it was too late for that. All we could do was provide CPR and provide interventions just trying to get the patient’s heart to restart while getting him to the hospital as quick as we could. Today I got to watch a person younger than I am die and there was nothing I was able to do to change the outcome.
What did my partner and I do after dealing with all this? We washed his blood off of our arms and equipment, restocked the truck, and prepared for our next call. Other than the dirt on our (well, mostly mine) clothes, there was no reminders left in the back of my ambulance about what had gone down just an hour before. The next patient had no clue that a person had died in that unit just a short time before. And that’s the way it should be, I think. It’s a burden first responders carry. We carry the hidden weight of all our past “rough” calls, the patients we’ve lost, and we use that to mold us in our future care. It makes the ones we save seem so much sweeter.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’ve seen and dealt with a lot. I’ve lucked out. In the two years I’ve been working on the truck, I’ve only had a handful of these really rough or crazy calls. And if I’m lucky, over the next two years I’ll only have a handful more. But I’ve heard the screaming family of a SIDS baby who was told the child was too far gone for any attempts to bring her back. I’ve worked a code on a man with his family watching and was able to (through teamwork with the other’s I worked with on that call) restart his heart and give his family 5 more days with him than they would have had. I’ve helped pull the body of a man out of a car where his body had been left unrecognizable after being burned by a car fire and had the smell stick with me for days, making me gag. And today I watched a kid die because he and his friends made a stupid decision and ended up rolling their car.
But I’ve also been able to calm scared parents of sick kids, hold the hand of little old ladies who could joke around even if they couldn’t tell me even what year it is. I’ve joked with my coworkers. I’ve had days where I’ve laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe and I’ve had days where I walked out of the station when I got off shift feeling empty and dead inside. Each shift we walk in and get on our truck, not knowing what we’ll see, hear, or smell during the day. All we can do is take it one shift at a time and lean on our coworkers when things get rough.
I know this post isn’t the most well written thing ever and there’s a chance it may not even make sense. Yet I felt like I needed to get it out somewhere.