I Cried Today

I cried when I got home from work. Nobody died. It was an incredibly busy shift, but this one call stood out from among the rest. Yes, 98% of the call itself was totally drama. But it was the underlying reason for all the drama that tugged at my heart strings.

This girl clung to me, for whatever reason. I was frustrated but didn’t let it show. Others did let their frustration show, and maybe that was why. I don’t know. We walked out to the ambulance together to get away from everyone to talk. That ambulance door shut and she opened up. My heart broke for her.

I told her that even though it didn’t happen today, what happened way back then wasn’t her fault. I made sure she heard what I had said because sometimes it is difficult to hear the actual truth in the midst of all the chaos in one’s brain. I also told her she wasn’t alone in what she was dealing with because I had been there too. It can be hell dealing with what happened and learning to handle the memories. But it is possible. There is hope.

I asked what she wanted to study in college to which she said she wanted to be a pediatrician. One day, you will get through this and be able to help a boy or a girl through the same thing. I gave her a hug and held her as she cried.

After the call was over, I learned “the rest of the story”. It frustrated me, but you know something, this girl is dealing with her trauma in the best way she knows how. It isn’t right, nor healthy. But I hope she takes the help that was offered to her. Then the drama will become her driving force in how she in turn helps others. But no one, boy or girl, man or woman, should have to live with the memories she has.

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Where I’m supposed to be.

Years ago, when I came home from college and told my mother that I wanted to be an EMT and wasn’t planning to go back to college after the winter break, I was met with WWIII on my hands. My parents told me things like “EMS was a man’s world” and “you have to have a college degree to have a good job”. This was really the first time I had gone against them in my 20+ years of life.  They had wanted me to be a school teacher, but I hated all the speech classes and having to be in front of everybody. Through the years, I’ve been told things like “you’re too quiet for EMS” and “you’re too dumb”. Seems like most of my life, I’ve been too much or not enough for one group or another of people. But I’ve worked hard to get to where I’m at, and at times, it has been an uphill struggle through a lot of junk.

I grew up going to church but walked away from it when I left home in my 20’s. If God was the god I grew up with, I didn’t want anything to do with him. Since then, I’ve meandered into a church here or there, most of which tell me things to the extent of “you need to find a different career so you can be in church every Sunday”. I walk away from that because that’s nails on a chalkboard (I’m old, ok) to me.  (Sounds like another blog topic.)

Every so often, something happens that lets me know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Many times, it’s a call I respond to at work. Sometimes it is something else. But this weekend, such a call occurred. To me, I was just doing my job. But to my partner and to that family, apparently it was more than “just doing my job”.  Yeah, anybody else could have responded to and handled that call. But maybe a different crew wouldn’t have been as patient or calm like that family needed in that moment. I honestly believe that there’s a specific reason why I respond to the calls that I do. Sometimes I know that reason, most of the time I don’t. But like I’ve said in a previous blog, a paramedic wears many hats. Most of my job as a paramedic isn’t about giving medications or putting a breathing tube down somebody’s throat. Most of my job is simply being a decent, caring, respectful human being that simply cares about others.

I’ve been through a lot of ugliness in my personal life…some because of the choices of others, some of my own doing. But through it all, I know that all the shit I’ve been through and have had to deal with in my own life has made me a much better paramedic. I’ve had two choices: become hateful and bitter or let it make me a better medic. I choose the latter.

I’m not writing this to toot my own horn, but to encourage you, as well as myself, to keep moving forward. Wherever you are at in this moment, it may seem like a hopeless, never ending battle. But if you know for sure that you are doing the right thing for you, keep pressing forward. People will always be negative and attempt to discourage you, and hold you back. In the end, you will get to your goal, if you don’t quit.

Do I trust you?

There’s been two first responder suicides this week in Rowan County, NC. It’s sad, yet frustrating to be honest. So many unanswered questions that will remain unanswered for the families and friends of these firefighters. There is help available if one looks hard enough. But that’s a problem too. Good, quality help often takes a lot of time digging through all the bullshit to find. But finding the right help could be so simple. Everybody says “reach out if you need to” or “It’s ok to not be ok”, which are very true. But reaching out isn’t that easy and simple. Too many people want to be the helper for all the wrong reasons and have inappropriate motives.

If I can’t talk to you about the little, everyday stuff, then there is no way under the sun I am going to tell you that I’m in a dark place and need help or that I’m thinking about suicide and may have a plan. If you talk about me behind my back at work, if you have your nose so far up your management’s asshole that you can’t tell the difference between day and night, or if you are disrespectful towards a patient after dropping them off, I’m not going to talk to you.

But if I see you go the extra mile with a patient, or maybe take an extra minute with a family who just lost a loved one, or other little things that show you care more about others than yourself, I may reach out to you. If I hear you correct a coworker who is talking about a patient in a disrespectful manner, that tells me you may fight for someone who can’t fight for themselves.

See, it’s the little things that build trust so that big things can happen. If you can’t be trusted in the little things, no one will trust you enough to keep the dark secrets safe and hold them with respect. Want to really help someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide? Be a real friend. That is a lost art in today’s world with most people only thinking of themselves. Build trust with the little things. Help friends out with the little things when they need it. And then when the shit hits the fan, they will be more likely to reach out to you for help…..hopefully.

It’s too late to help these two firefighters. But what about your coworker who’s struggling? What about you? As long as you are breathing, there is hope. Please talk to someone you trust. Talking can be a huge help.

That Dark Place

Have you ever been in a place so dark that the only way out you can think of is suicide? Anyone who has been a first responder any length of time is likely to have been there. It may have been a quick thought that you quickly pushed out of your mind. Or maybe it was a thought you pondered on for a time. To be at that point likely means you have exhausted all other resources. Or it could mean you’ve kept it totally to yourself because of what your coworkers, friends, and family have said about similar circumstances.

When I was young and naïve in my career, I agreed with those who said that those suicidal patients we picked up were just attention seekers. Seriously, how could anybody’s life be really so bad that they would kill themselves over it? Why would a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend make one feel like it was the end of the world? That’s just them being selfish! Right?!?!?!  But oh so wrong!

One never knows what struggles the person standing next to you at the grocery store, your neighbor, or your partner at work is really dealing with. They may talk about personal things, if they trust you. Or they may not. In the first responder world, rumors and gossip are constantly flying around. You have to be extremely careful who you share your personal life with.

What does your partner hear you say after you’ve dropped of a psych patient, or any patient,  at the hospital? Are you belittling the patient or their situation. What you say to your partner could be a game changer for them, either then or down the road. When they are in their dark moment, they may seek you out for help or they may avoid you.

 Your suicidal or depressed patient is in a vulnerable place. They may not feel like talking and may not feel safe opening up to you as they take the ambulance ride, that may or may not be their choice,  to the hospital. But what you say to them, or don’t say, could be life-saving. If you’ve been in a dark place like they are at that moment, then be vulnerable yourself and share that. Let them know they aren’t alone in their darkness. It could help them feel safe enough to open up in those few short minutes they spend in your ambulance.

Why am I writing this? Rowan County lost one of our own yesterday. There are too many first responders ending their lives by suicide. It’s the ugliness of the job. Often spouses don’t understand the job and don’t attempt to understand, which can put a wedge in the relationship.  Crummy hours and pay. Poor management. Little uninterrupted sleep. It could be anything, but it all adds up. We see humans at their worst, whether its illness or injury, or in how they respond to another human. We see the worst but are expected to act as if we’ve seen nothing at all.

If you need help, please reach out. That’s what everyone says right? But I mean it. I don’t care what time of day or night it is. I will talk to you on the phone or meet you somewhere. I will make sure you aren’t alone in your darkness, because I will sit with you in that dark place. If you need more help than I can offer, I will find that help for you whether it’s a therapist, minister, or family member. And contrary to what seems to be popular belief, just because you are thinking of suicide doesn’t automatically mean you absolutely must go to the hospital. In my opinion, the psych ward can be the worst place for a first responder. Yes, it’s a place to go to make sure you are safe. But there are better resources out there. I won’t talk about you or your circumstances to others, even if its family. You aren’t alone.

Suicide doesn’t end your pain. It passes it along to others. ffffffffffffff

January 23, 2018

FYI: This post contains a few cuss words, totally appropriate for the topic.

Seeing death so frequently in my job has taught me to value life. Death doesn’t care if you are 7 days old or 103 years old. Death doesn’t care what color your skin is, your sexual identity, your religion, or your family background. It affects all of us the same. But we never know when death will strike.

I have lost close friends and coworkers and family members. But I never dreamed I’d come close to loosing my identical twin sister. It is one of those things I assumed we would always be around for each other. But January 23, 2018, she should have died (by all human perspectives) when a then coworker shot her twice in the back of her head. She held the back of her head with her hands in an attempt to control bleeding, while he took a baton and beat the s#@% out of her hands causing multiple fractures in two fingers. Then he left her alone, probably thinking she wouldn’t survive much longer, went outside and killed himself. This tells me that regardless of the type of life anybody thought he was living, he was absolutely a selfish bastard and pansy.

There are so many questions swarming my brain, even today, that will likely always go unanswered. Evidence and circumstances prior to this tell me this was something he had planned for several months. He went to TWO family members that day and told them he was going to kill himself. They did nothing. Several months prior to this event, he posted this on his FB page, “if its got fur….I can kill it…if its female….i shoot it twice to be sure.” I understand that doesn’t say he’s suicidal or homicidal. But if one of my friends posted something like that, I would be all over them making sure they were ok. If nothing else, that raises a massive red flag. And, that’s exactly what he did.

What could have been happening in his life that was so horrible, that he not only would want to take his own life, but he wanted to destroy the life of someone he claimed was his best friend? He told her that he had cancer for the second time and convinced her to move from Tulsa to Miami, OK into the apartment complex owned by his family, in order to help him fight his cancer battle. But she never saw any paperwork or medications from a doctor that one would normally have if they were truly battling cancer. She was never allowed to go to his appointments or treatments, but he would request to use her car to get there.  He had told her he was in the military, but told her not to talk about it with his family because they hadn’t known about it. That’s a red flag because someone will know. Seems to me he tried to be someone he wasn’t.

Maybe he had PTSD as an EMT. Most first responders who have been in the field for any length of time have symptoms of PTSD to one degree or another. But can PTSD really make someone plan a murder/suicide for months ahead of time?

What happened the week before, the day before, even minutes leading up to him deciding to follow through with his plan? Did they have a fight? Maybe a difficult call on the ambulance? Family troubles? Was the family business going down hill? She doesn’t remember. She may never remember. But what would cause anyone to have that much hate to decide to do something so dark?

The doctors said she wasn’t supposed to survive her injuries. She was intubated in the ambulance and had a seizure on the way to the hospital. She also had a stroke, a skull fracture, and a head bleed. She’s had multiple surgeries on her fingers to repair the fractures and still goes to physical therapy for her hands. Less than a month after getting out of the hospital, which she was only there for 8 days, she walked a 5k. She continues to deal with seizures, headaches, dizziness, moderate hearing loss, extreme exhaustion, as well as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. She’s lost her job, her independence, her car and driving privileges. She has fought for everything she has today.

 I almost lost my Twinny because of some asshole’s selfishness. That wasn’t the first time I’ve been in a hospital room watching my twin laying in a hospital bed in pain, nor was it the first time she could have died from an event, but this was the most critical and the most evil. It rips my heart into pieces when I’ve had to watch my twin lie there in pain.

How do I deal with it? I talk about it, write about it, be angry, ask my questions that I know will more than likely always go unanswered. I ignore it, bury it, think about it, pray about it, and then talk about it some more. But I’ve learned I’m careful about who I talk to about it, not everyone wants to listen. Yes, it was my twin sister’s traumatic experience, but trauma always effects more than just the intended target. Always.

Being a Paramedic is more than just medicine.

Many people wonder what a typical day is like in the life of a paramedic. Without using patient information and violating HIPAA, I will attempt to give you a glimpse of just that. Much of this job isn’t about giving medications, starting an IV, or putting a breathing tube down someone’s throat. That’s the stuff they teach you in class. But a paramedic wears so many more hats. We are counselors, cooks, babysitters, a friend, or a shoulder to cry on. We are ministers, a listening ear, a swift kick in the pants, and your cheerleader. Some days are slow, some are slammed busy. Some days we don’t get to eat until almost time to go home from our shift. But every day is totally different than any before.

My day yesterday started before I was able to clock in at 0600 with a cardiac arrest. We got a pulse back, and transported to the hospital. Usually, this is good. But sometimes, and you may not agree, it would be better to just let the person go than to put their body through the trauma of a cardiac arrest. This person won’t have any quality of life because of previous history, and even more so, because of being in cardiac arrest. But, I do my best even when things don’t seem fair.

We ran 8 calls yesterday before we were actually able to sit down and finally catch up on reports. Each call we are dispatched to requires a report, some more detailed than others. The more we do, the more we have to include in our report. It was after 3pm. We had responded to a couple of chest pains, a back pain, a medical alarm, a fall, and I don’t remember what else honestly. Some days it all runs together. I didn’t finish my breakfast until we had gotten back at 3 pm. Some days you don’t get a chance to pee, unless you go at the hospital after giving a report to the nurse.

It was one of those days that was incredibly frustrating. But I love my job most days most of the time. Some days I hate people because we are an incredibly selfish species. All someone can think about is themselves instead of being thankful they have to wait in the waiting room at the Emergency room since waiting at the hospital means you aren’t dying or have a life threatening injury. Too many use the ER as their family physician instead of only coming to the ER for a TRUE life threatening emergency.

My back hurt after yesterday’s shift. It wasn’t any particular thing, it was more of a tired ache. After 18 years in this job, I guess it is allowed to ache now and then.

There’s a lot of ugliness to this job since the human race is a generally selfish and hateful species. The innocent are hurt or killed because of a thoughtless act. Drugs control a life and become the highest priority instead of the children in that family. Life can seem overwhelmingly dark with no way out except for putting that gun to his head, but his pain doesn’t stop. It is only passed on to his wife of 47 years and family when he is gone.

But there are many moments that make all the ugliness worthwhile , like delivering a baby, which I’ve been able to do 3 times. That is my all time favorite call! It is the moments of being able to connect with a patient on a deeper level, even if only for a moment, and let them know they aren’t alone because you have also been where they are currently at.

A woman was on the stretcher in my ambulance one day with a irregular and fast heart rate. This was a totally new experience for her and she was terrified, to the point it was hindering me from being able to give her medicine to fix her heartrate. I held her hands in mine, looked into her eyes and told her that thousands of people walk around every day with this irregular heartbeat and that she would be ok. I gave her a hug and she calmed down. Her heartbeat also converted back to a normal heartrate on it’s own. By the time she had arrived at the emergency room, she was feeling so much better and her other symptoms had begun to subside. I hadn’t done anything for her that I had learned in paramedic school, but I had taken the time to hear her fears and be a decent, caring, human being. That’s what this job is about. That is what so many of the young’uns in this field are missing.

There have been times through the years where I’ve gone to visit a patient at the hospital later on to check on them. I’ve taken stuffed animals to the kids or even written a note to a mother who lost her baby to SIDS. I go with my gut, because my gut doesn’t lie. Look out for your friends and family, even the strangers around you. Be caring and thoughtful. Let the people you love know that you love them, because you never know when today will be your last, or their last.