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Silent night: A paramedic Christmas story News

December 22, 2011

The Ambulance Driver's Perspective
by Kelly Grayson

Silent night: A paramedic Christmas story

By Kelly Grayson

Editor's note: With the holiday season upon us, we're happy to share this excerpt from Kelly Grayson's book, A Paramedic's Story: Life, Death, and Everything in Between. Enjoy — and we wish all our readers and members a safe and happy holiday season!

We cooed over Seth's baby girl for nearly an hour in the NICU. Med Star called us twice on the radio, asking us when we'd be back in service.

"We're out of service for OSHA cleanup," I lied. "My rig is a mess. We'll let you know when we're ready to go." I winked at Seth and his wife as he rocked his little girl.

"We may get to bring her home tomorrow," Seth whispered. "Some Christmas present, huh?" I nodded and look pointedly at the clock on the wall. "I know," Seth said, sighing. "We gotta go."

"Sorry, Melissa," I apologized as he handed the baby over. "There are little old ladies out there who have fallen and can't get up." She said nothing, just smiled and hugged Seth with one arm.

Later that night, we got called to stand by while the local police dealt with a hostage situation. Seth parked the rig on a side street several blocks away, turned off the lights, and settled back into his seat. After a while, he turned to me and asked, "How long you been a medic, Kelly?"

"Ten years," I sighed. "It feels like more. It seems like I've always been a paramedic."

"What did you do before you got into this line of work?" Seth asked curiously. "I was a professional retriever trainer, if you can believe that," I laughed. "Some switch, huh?"

"I'll say," Seth chuckled. "What keeps you doing it?"

"The great pay and the chicks, of course," I said, deadpan. Seth just frowned. "Come on, man, I'm serious," he said. "I mean, here we are sitting in the dark on Christmas Eve, waiting for some guy to either shoot someone or get shot by the cops. Today an alcoholic nearly puked blood on us. You deal with drunks and derelicts and drug users. You pull broken bodies out of wrecks. You do boring transfers, shuttling little old folks back and forth between the hospital and the nursing homes. How do you do it without getting burned out?"

"Why are you a cop?" I asked him. "You see most of the same things, and you just took an EMT class. Why do you do it?"

He paused, reflecting. "I guess I just want to help people. But I've only been a deputy for two years. I haven't even taken my EMT exam yet. But you've been a medic for ten years. So stop avoiding the question."

I stayed silent for a while, unsure how to answer.

Why do I do it? Not for the money, certainly. I make good money for a paramedic, but it's hardly what I'd make as a nurse or physician's assistant. I dropped out of college, and I keep finding excuses why I can't go back. So why do I do it?

"I've been burned out," I began, not sure of what I intended to say."Maybe six years ago. The job just wasn't fun anymore. I didn't feel appreciated, I wasn't getting paid much, and I didn't feel as if I made a difference. I took some time off, and I got over it."

"How?" he pressed, unsatisfied by my answer.

"I figured out that I don't save lives," I explained. "Sometimes I get lucky, and we resuscitate someone successfully. Mainly it's luck and good timing. I came to realize that what we do isn't lifesaving. My job isn't about blood and guts. It's about helping people just like you do as a deputy.

"Your job isn't all car chases and armed standoffs. You may go your entire career and never fire your weapon. There's more to it than the adrenaline rush." I looked at Seth and saw that he still didn't get it.

"Look, two weeks ago I delivered a baby in the middle of the ice storm. It wasn't fun. The fun part was seeing the mother's face after I handed her the kid."

"Two days ago, I took an old lady to the clinic for wound care on her bedsores. They stank, Seth. She stank, and she knew it. But I cracked a joke or two, made fun of her nurses, and I made her laugh. I held her hand on the way to the clinic, and she smiled at me when I dropped her off."

"I started an IV on a six-year-old kid yesterday, and he didn't even cry. He was more scared of the needle than of his broken arm, but I talked him through the stick, and he figured out that the needle wasn't so bad."

"We picked up a combative Alzheimer's patient this morning, and the nurses were sure we'd have to restrain her, that she'd fight us. We talked to her for a bit, and she went with us without a fuss. We earned her trust."

"Today I got to teach you something. That's why I do it, for stuff like that."

"And what about the ones without happy endings?" Seth asked darkly. "What about the ones who you can't do anything for — the ones who die?"

"Well, you remind yourself that it isn't your disease," I answered. "You do the best you can. And you don't let the things you see harden your heart."

"Base to all units, stand down," the radio crackled. "Repeat, stand down. Suspect is in custody. Channel is cleared for nonemergency traffic." Seth grunted in surprise and flipped on the headlights.

"But that stuff will just eat you up," he protested as we drove back to our station. "I didn't say let it eat you up, Seth. I said don't let it harden you. You know those big, tough paramedics who don't let anything bother them? They never last, or they stick around but nobody wants to work with them. They never cry, but they forget how to smile, too."

"Keep looking for the good stuff," I advised. "You can always find something good, if you just take the time to look." Just then the radio crackled, and an anonymous voice floated over the airwaves.

"'And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.' Merry Christmas, everybody."

The radio clicked again and again as units around the parish keyed their microphones in response. I looked at my watch. It was just past midnight.

The dispatcher transmitted a moment later, adding only a quiet "Amen."

"See what I mean?" I smiled. "Merry Christmas, Seth."

About the author

Kelly Grayson, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P, is a critical care paramedic in Louisiana. He has spent the past 18 years as a field paramedic, critical care transport paramedic, field supervisor and educator. He is a former president of the Louisiana EMS Instructor Society and board member of the LA Association of Nationally Registered EMTs.

He is a frequent EMS conference speaker and contributor to various EMS training texts, and is the author of the popular blog A Day In the Life of an Ambulance Driver. The paperback version of Kelly's book is available at booksellers nationwide. You can follow him on Twitter (@AmboDriver) or Facebook (, or email him at

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Jason M. Rowland Jason M. Rowland Thursday, December 22, 2011 8:25:49 PM Good words.
Ken McNoe Ken McNoe Friday, December 23, 2011 4:16:00 AM Well said!
Corey James Harris Corey James Harris Friday, December 23, 2011 3:16:45 PM That was a good read, now I'm thinking about buying this one.
Michael Endres Michael Endres Friday, December 23, 2011 5:04:55 PM Amen.
Gigi Graham Beckett Gigi Graham Beckett Friday, December 23, 2011 5:46:28 PM :)
Ashley Hinson Ashley Hinson Saturday, December 24, 2011 8:32:17 AM This book sounds like it would be very interesting to read!
Nicole Sechrist Hopkins Nicole Sechrist Hopkins Saturday, December 24, 2011 8:33:02 AM This is awesome. Going to need to read this one.
Josh Bierman Josh Bierman Saturday, December 24, 2011 8:45:16 AM amen Merry Christmas every one.
Vicki Sensat Vicki Sensat Saturday, December 24, 2011 8:47:59 AM I like what you said here Kelly. Only a veteran would have that perspective. Merry Christmas to you!
Tami D. Bulik Tami D. Bulik Saturday, December 24, 2011 8:55:30 AM Amen. Well said my friend, well said. Merry Christmas to you Kelly and all my fellow family in EMS~~.
Leah Tyler Berry Leah Tyler Berry Saturday, December 24, 2011 9:05:17 AM Merry Christmas Kelly Grayson.
Leah Tyler Berry Leah Tyler Berry Saturday, December 24, 2011 9:07:40 AM Vicki how did you share this?
Cindy Calhoun Cindy Calhoun Saturday, December 24, 2011 9:41:49 AM Amen.....Merry Christmas to all!
Tyler Kirby Tyler Kirby Saturday, December 24, 2011 9:53:43 AM This is awesome, I know those hardened emts.
Yadira Martinez Yadira Martinez Saturday, December 24, 2011 10:01:12 AM I have to say tht very rarely u encounter someone on the field that has similar reasons to contnue in EMS as I still do.
Darcy J. Conley Darcy J. Conley Saturday, December 24, 2011 10:32:00 AM From one Paramedic to another as I work my 24 hr shift on this Christmas Eve. Thanks! a lot of truth for all of us in this. Merry Christmas
Jay Louise Prieto Jay Louise Prieto Saturday, December 24, 2011 10:56:51 AM I am looking forward to that day that I'd be able to say these things too. Merry Christmas!
DeeAnn Werre DeeAnn Werre Saturday, December 24, 2011 11:13:57 AM Wonderful perspective! Merry Christmas!
Douglas Alan Echternacht Douglas Alan Echternacht Saturday, December 24, 2011 11:23:23 AM Many a holiday I was on the streets dealing with the same, Amen and Merry Christmas.
Patty Curran Patty Curran Saturday, December 24, 2011 11:34:51 AM What a Great Story and a wonderful explanation! Merry Christmas to All and God Bless you for your Special Service to All!
Earlene Rubsam Earlene Rubsam Saturday, December 24, 2011 12:49:34 PM Beautiful
Sam Sanford Sam Sanford Saturday, December 24, 2011 1:05:58 PM your story hits close to home I have been a medic nearly 20 years & still working on a unit at least 48 hrs a week. merry christmas to you.
Shanna Woolf Shanna Woolf Saturday, December 24, 2011 7:03:52 PM Amen
Shana Beach Shana Beach Saturday, December 24, 2011 7:05:19 PM I read your book over a year ago. I really connected with your stories. I'm and "EMS'er" for life. I worked the field as a paramedic, for 25 yrs and the past 6 yrs as an RN in ER. Although I am grateful for the higher education, I have not found the happiness and contentment in nursing that I had in EMS. Took the medic out of the field, but can't take the field out of the medic. Tomorrow, my family will be carrying on the tradition of Christmas dinner at the fire station (for the 12th yr in a row) as my husband is still an active duty FF/PM (I live vicariously through him now :) ) Thank you for your book so many ways, you've told my story. Have a happy and safe holiday.
John Squires John Squires Saturday, December 24, 2011 7:54:37 PM Amen, Marry Christmas to all.
Patrick Lambert Patrick Lambert Saturday, December 24, 2011 10:54:06 PM Fantastic Story! EMS is the same everywhere. Merry Christmas!
Ruthann Harper Ruthann Harper Sunday, December 25, 2011 9:51:03 AM I had tear's in my eyes reading this thanks for sharing merry christmas.
Kathy Beilsmith Kathy Beilsmith Sunday, December 25, 2011 9:58:41 AM What a wonderful way to put things in perspective and teach us new EMTs on how to deal with the stresses of the job. Thank you Kelly for your insight. Merry Christmas!
Patti Carrington Tuey Patti Carrington Tuey Sunday, December 25, 2011 10:52:45 AM This is so true. You explained it perfectly.
Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Sunday, December 25, 2011 11:45:17 AM Happy Holidays to all who serve, Keep giving God a chance to change His mind.
Jason Heyboer Jason Heyboer Sunday, December 25, 2011 4:31:08 PM amen.
Claire E Hart Claire E Hart Thursday, December 29, 2011 5:20:47 AM Gods angels with wheels!
Kelly Grayson Kelly Grayson Thursday, December 29, 2011 1:54:36 PM Nope, not at all unusual. In Louisiana, you must be at minimum a First Responder to work as a crew member on an ambulance, but all you can do is assist the paramedic and drive. You must be at minimum an EMT-B to work in the back of a rig. In this case, the company looked at Seth's experience as a sheriff's deputy and long-time First Responder, familiarity with the area, radio procedures, emergency driving, etc., and hired him before he finished EMT-B class.
Tom Latosek Tom Latosek Monday, January 30, 2012 9:51:05 PM There's many times when I've come back from a rough call or a rough shift, and I open up to this page in your book and read it just one more time, let's just say that page has gotten pretty worn out but every time I read it, I get the motivation to carry on.
Michelle Anne Tanner Michelle Anne Tanner Monday, December 10, 2012 8:48:40 PM Wow Kelly!!! Been there brother!!! Worked NYC EMS for years as an EMT and dispatcher!!!
Michael White Michael White Tuesday, December 25, 2012 9:12:22 PM 20+ years in as a paramedic myself, and now mostly teaching. This story hits me where I live, and I try to pass on these concepts to my students as well....the good things found in every call, no matter how big or small, how critical or mundane. Peace to you all, my brothers and sisters this Christmas. Here's hoping for a "Silent Night."

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