No, I didn’t know.

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?)

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My first week on the job.  June 1998  My mom french braided my hair, it was a night shift I remember, yes…I was still living at home!

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.

Wait, WHAT?

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.

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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

www.wearyourlabel.com

 

 

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.

xo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

154 Comments Add yours

  1. Sam says:

    Sweetie, none of us know. It changes you, I believe for the better. You have to find a way to live with your ghosts, knowing you did the best you could for them. You were there to help, and you DID help, whether or not they made it. Be proud of yourself for risking it, for DOING it. What you have done has made you who you are. My deepest gratitude for all that you have done, and for being strong enough to have done it. What you do from here on out is whatever is best for you. But walk proudly, knowing what you have given is so much more than many can afford to give. Blessings, a fellow EMT and firefighter.

    Like

  2. Smokey Mike says:

    Thanks for sharing your self. And I hope you can heal, and so continue to teal others. I recommend getting yourself out in nature, alone (with your dog!) for hours. As often as you can. I hit the trails every chance I get and it helps to keep me sane. And lean on that work family of yours! They understand things that normal families cannot. -From an EMT firefighter who has seen too many things.

    Like

  3. Cressi says:

    I started the same time you did. The only girl in the good old boys EMS world. I don’t think I have PTSD, but I have a wicked autopilot and an even stronger ethical standard that won’t go away. People do not understand, they just aren’t able to comprehend the EMS lifestyle. I had a string of bad calls and one patient that died on me no matter what I did or how hard I tried to keep him alive, and afterward I sat with his wife at the hospital until their daughter arrived. Six months after the call they sent a thank you letter that just broke my heart wide open. Out of all the hundreds of cardiac arrests and taumas I ran in 18 years that ONE call will be forever burned into my soul. Follow that with a steady stream of drug abuse calls and really bad management and I walked away for good. NO ONE can understand the job until they have actually done it. People think we just “drive” the ambulance like a glorified taxi, but they are wrong. It is ok to do what you need to, whether it be walk away, stay or take a sabbatical. It is your life and you earned it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. chickymedic says:

      It’s difficult to walk away from a good paying job. (it’s a good job in Ontario at least) We get pigeon holed with little way out, except huge sacrifices, but with supportive family, I believe it can be done. Good for you for leaving for the sake of your heart, and not staying just for the pay cheque

      Like

      1. Chris Bayards says:

        Good response! We truly do not have many alternatives in this way of life we call paramedicine.

        Like

  4. William Joseph says:

    Thank You for sharing your story. I was recently diagnosed with PTSD after responding to an accident on January18 2015. I have been a Volunteer Firefighter for30 years and a Poljce Officer for27 years. I have experienced many aspects of life that have left me with terrible images. Little did I know on that day I would be at the accident that claimed my Mother In Laws life. As I approached the ambulance I heard the words trauma full arrest. I have heard that before but after I recognized the vehicle and saw a pair of wool socks on the patients feet did I finally realize it was my mom. She was an every day fixture in my home. Telling my wife and my children as the worst thing I have ever had to do. It took six months for me to realize I was having trouble. I see a therapist and feel better but I miss her every single day. I struggled every day but realize I can’t fix everything or bring her back. Healing has come at a cost but without my Friends and my awesome Family (blue and red) I would definitely be in trouble. I realize you can’t do everything on your own. I shall share your phrase and leave you with words Mom always said. Don’t Cry because It’s Over Smile because it Happened.

    Like

    1. chickymedic says:

      I am so sorry you had to go through that. I have picked up a lot of people I know over the years, some close, some family. It is never easy. I hope you are contuining to be well

      Like

  5. Suzanne says:

    Typo: sole/soul

    Like

    1. chickymedic says:

      thank you. I will edit that.

      Like

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