I’ve been off work since May. I’m a paramedic, it’s the only real job I’ve ever had. I’ve been doing it since I was 20. That’s a pretty big responsibility for a kid don’t you think? What did you know at age 20? Probably EVERYTHING! (or so you thought….) I graduated college with Honours, on the Dean’s List, and passed my provincial exam all before I truly knew what this job entailed. I was so very fortunate to get a job right out of college, in the same small community I grew up in. I knew I wasn’t built to live and work in a city. That’s about all I knew. I got into it with a naive attitude, that I could truly handle whatever I was called to, because after all, the college and provincial exams told me I could! My parents were insanely proud, my friends (who were at this point still in college or university) were green with envy, my community embraced me as was the second (and sole) female paramedic our town ever had. (this was 1998, seems archaic right?)
I started getting pay cheques real adult paycheques. WTH? I wasn’t an adult! I remember asking my dad one day, “how much money is too much money to have in the bank?” My parents took me to see their financial advisor about purchasing mutual funds. I’m not trying to sound like some big wheel, I was young, living at home, had no bills, not even OSAP, and I was getting a paycheque like an adult! At the ripe old age of 22, I bought my first home. The money was easy. The job was respectful, but even then, looking back, I remember trying to come up with a way to get out. I didn’t know why I felt that way, or how I’d get out, but it would be a thought that occasionally popped into my head for years to come.
You see, when I was little, I didn’t dream of becoming a paramedic. I wanted to be a vet, or an artist, or whatever else was jotted down in my school memories scrap book mom kept. I was a lifeguard and swim instructor in high school. When faced with the college applications, paramedic seems like an easy program. At the time, I thought I would just do it, and continue on with something else after. But dammit, I got a job and the money came in.
When my friends were struggling with getting real jobs, and paying off OSAP, I was doing night shifts, and planning out how to decorate my living room.
So, as life goes on, I stuck with my career choice. I gained experience and seniority,vacation days and benefits. I gained amazing coworkers, a pension plan and PTSD.
Back to the start of my story…(geesh, that was a small detour around the world wasn’t it…) As I said, I’ve been off work since May. My doctor diagnosed me with the sexy diagnosis of PTSD, and told me I need some time off. My therapist tells me I’ve been collecting traumas for my ENTIRE CAREER.
But that can’t be true. I’ve prided myself on “not bringing my work home” I very proudly tell my family that I “leave my work crap in the car” I thought that was true. Imagine how I felt when I found out what a crappy job I’ve been doing all these years. Turns out my work permeated my thick shell and started to mess with me. I felt betrayed by my own dammed self.
Honest people ask me “Didn’t you know what the job would be like?” Well, ya, I would drive fast, take care of the sick and injured, get a lot of time off, and get paid well.
But honestly? No, I didn’t know!
How does one EVER know, entirely what it feels like to watch a human take their last breath? I don’t remember that course in college.
How does one EVER know, how it feels to be verbally abused by a patient while you are trying to help them.
How does one EVER get the sound of someone’s screams out of your head at night after you’ve untwisted their mangled leg.
How does one EVER know the feeling of finding a friend at the ER entrance, and holding her, because you’ve just brought in her husband, who sustained a horrible life threatening injury.
How does one EVER know how it feels to clean up THAT MUCH BLOOD off the floor of the ambulance.
How does one EVER know how it will feel when holding the hand of alzheimer patient, and explain to them over and over that the nursing home IS their home. There was no course in college that taught me how to handle that.
How does one EVER know how to feel when called to your coworkers home, because his wife found him without a pulse. How do you get her sobs out of your mind?
How does one EVER know how it feels to care for an injured child after her father put the entire family in the car and drove drunk in the middle of the night. I think about her often, I wonder how her face healed, and I wonder what became of her father.
How does one EVER know how to feel after plucking a 2 year old out of a pool? And spending the next 10 hours counting down until you get home to hold your own 2 year old?
No, I didn’t know how it would feel to drive my daughter to the beach, and see the spot where I did a call that took a young man’s ability to walk. I think about him every time I drive past.
How does one EVER know how it feels to tell the family that their loved one has died. That there is nothing left for us to do for them. How did you know that you would see their grief stricken faces as you try to sleep that night.
How does one EVER know how it would feel to arrive at someone’s house, and share with them the WORST. DAY. OF. THEIR. LIFE. Nobody calls 911 to share joy and good news. They call on the worst day, and my job is to help them. I never knew the sort of weight that had on me.
No, I didn’t know that my job involved comforting a child while her mother gets restrained by police. No, I didn’t know that my job involved listening to a woman tell the story of how her husband beat her so hard she had permanent hearing loss. No I didn’t know that I have to explain to an elderly man that he should have called the ambulance sooner, maybe if I arrived a little sooner, I could have helped his wife.
So to answer? No. I didn’t know what it would be like. There’s no course, or book, or university degree that will prepare you for how you will feel. And to say that you did know? That’s naive, and it’s not honouring your ability to feel. It is not honouring yourself as a HUMAN. What is so wrong with FEELING? When did we stop honouring our feelings for the sake of being STRONG? As first responders, we need to be strong, yes, we need to put on the armour, and go to battle, multiple times every day. But what we suck at, what we REALLY REALLY suck at, is taking the armour off, and giving ourselves permission to not be ok.
My friend Nicole, bought me this shirt. I love it, and wear it proudly. Only a real friend can give a gift like that right?
Harley give it her stamp of approval too
So I guess I had something to say. It’s ok, to not be ok. And if you ever want to know? No, I didn’t know what it would be like.