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Home > Topics > Death
March 18, 2014
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The Question
by EMS1 Community

What do EMTs know about dying that non-responders don't?

Read the response and add your own thoughts in the comments

A question posted recently on Quora asked "What do EMTs know about dying that non-responders don't? Former paramedic Anderson Moorer gave his opinion on the topic. Read his response and please add your own insight in the comment section. 

I don't think being an EMT in itself necessarily gives someone any insight into death and dying, it merely exposes one to it, and to the experience of trying to delay in another that fate we all share.

But it does hit home how many people die, inside and outside hospitals alike.

How many of us die? The answer is "all of them, sooner or later." That's something hard to grasp emotionally.

Witnessing death in the context of people's living rooms, their bedrooms, their car or airplane seat, at celebrations and gatherings, restaurants and restrooms — anywhere and everywhere people may be — demonstrates how inevitable it is, and hits home how unavoidable and merciless death can be. 

It’s sometimes agonizing, sometimes painless, sometimes a comfort, more often a complete and unwelcome surprise. Sometimes it can be delayed, but never defeated.

I once tried to guess how many dead people I have stood over in the years I was an EMT and paramedic. I guess it to be about 800. 

I don't really have any clue what it means, in any deeper sense, when these lives full of insight, experiences, emotions and connections end. An entire existence, gone; that's not something to take lightly.

But it's also hard to really comprehend, for so much to just suddenly be — gone.

I just know that it happens, to everyone. Every single person you know, speak to, see on TV or pass on the street.

But everyone knows this.

Right?

About the author

"The Question" section brings together user-generated articles from our Facebook page based on questions we pose to our followers, as well as some of the best content we find on Quora, a question-and-answer website created, edited and organized by its community of users who are often experts in their field. The site aggregates questions and answers for a range of topics, including public safety. The questions and answers featured here on EMS1 are posted directly from Quora, and the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of EMS1.
Comments
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David Habben David Habben Thursday, March 20, 2014 3:09:27 PM From the time we take our first EMT class, we are taught how to "save" someone's life. We concentrate so much on saving that new EMTs and Paramedics think they are going to save all their patients and feel inadequate when they don't. We need to realize that in some cases what we do doesn't work. How many cardiac arrests have you responded to that were not resuscitated? I think if we really pay attention to and care about the patients we are called for, we know that death is sometimes a good think; a release from physical and mental pain and suffering. I don't mean we should not do our jobs and give the patient every possible chance, but we need to realize that sometimes we lose. When a patient dies, it doesn't mean we haven't done our best. Sometimes our best just doesn't work. I am a firm believer in hospice for people with terminal illnesses. If I'm ever in that position, the last thing I would want done would be an attempt to prolong a painful life for maybe a few months. Quality over quantity. I think what the average person knows about death that is different that an EMT's opinion is that it's not always a bad thing.
Rob G Bell Rob G Bell Thursday, March 20, 2014 7:38:53 PM Very true, most people don't give it a second thought, we see it daily. Weather we want to or not.
Friday, March 21, 2014 7:06:24 PM Death is inevitable to us all I have in 21 years of service in EMS seen death and people expire, some prematurely. As a soldier and an officer Im now in the position of having to order the death of fellow soldiers underneath me.. I spent 21 years on an ambulance It was and is my faith in Jesus knowing there is a hereafter that kept things together and continues to keep things in perspective, Death touches us all we live we die ,some die because they get old and have lived and run their race. Others die prematurely as youngsters or as police officers, soldiers or victims of violent crime ect. To me its not the fact of how we die as a human race but rather how we lived . " You have not died till you have really lived every man dies "- William Wallace . " I go to my father to prepare a place for you" - Jesus Christ. Death for us is not the end but the beginning it doesn't get easier to accept but you learn to deal with the circumstances .Time heals all . I can remember an incident where an ld man who had a heart attack lived because all the right people were in place and an 8 year old child who suffered an accident died even though all the right people were in place ,in that situation faith really had to come into play, I questioned my faith and God why ? did the child die and not the old man the answer to that was I take who I take, eccel says "The sun shines as the moon and the seasons a time to live a time to die. - here's hope the best we can do under extreme circumstances reassure people that things will work out though they may not be okay right now.
Ginny Whitley Ginny Whitley Sunday, March 23, 2014 10:32:10 AM We always wonder "did I do it right?", is there more I could have done, what did I do wrong? I've never found that to go away. The difference between God and a Paramedic, is that God doesn't think He is a Paramedic. For me personally, it is my faith in God and the promise of a life after death that gives me the peace I need to deal with death of a patient. I trust in that, and turn my attention to the family members or my co-workers. I try to focus on them, what I CAN do for them. We go in, do the best that we can, but, have to know that we are just a tool in the Masters' hands......He is ultimately in charge. I don't understand the deaths of babies, innocent children or young people. I have to accept and believe that one day I will understand. It is often a double edged sword. We hurt and wonder about the ones we can't save, the ones that die so senselessly.....but, it also gives us the knowledge and insight that life can change or be taken from us or a loved one in an instant. Knowing this, we don't take life or the people we love and care about for granted. That is important, many don't think about it, they believe there are plenty of tomorrows. We know better. We see how people live, and we see how people die.....we are blessed to have the insight and to make our own lives better because of it.
Garth Ynwa Renecke Garth Ynwa Renecke Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:04:43 PM we dont know about dying what we do know about is trying our best to keep the pt alive or to try and bring him back from the edge it aint easy having to tell a family their loved one is gone so we try and keep them alive end of the story
Matt Elward Matt Elward Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:11:03 PM It always makes me shake my head when others say "save a life". In my opinion we are there to make a difference, whether it be for the patient or a family member. We do what we can but the author said everyone dies eventually.
Dave Grange Dave Grange Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:24:51 PM I believe that William Shakespeare said it the best, once you are born you also start to die. I learned 2 very important lesson when I join Fire/Rescue then moved to EMS that I would like to share. Lesson 1 people will die. Lesson 2 Firefights,Paramedics,Doctors and Nurses cant change lesson number one. It is engrained in training that all Emergency Services workers dont like to lose but sometimes it is a fight that we just cant win, so we accept that we have done our best, and move on and answer that next call. Thats our job, thats our calling not everyone can do the work that we do.
Eric Hadley Eric Hadley Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:31:32 PM I was discussing death dying and CPR last night with someone newer to the field. She stated she has had 2 CPR calls and that both were successful resuscitations. I told her that before this current high performance CPR model that my total of successful resusitations was also 2 but that the number of attempts was so many I cannot recall them all. Or probably a protective mechanism that I am unable to remember most of the faces and places which I have seen death, and tried to pull another one away from its grasp.
Pascal Hay Pascal Hay Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:47:58 PM I have seen more than my share of death. Sometimes it comes as the bearer of good tidings when people are suffering and cannot be comforted, at others it tears out your heart and tramples upon it. I have been to numerous courses, classes, seminars, and other educational opportunities about death and dying. I can tell you how the body reacts to death physiologically before, during, and after it comes. The only constant about death is that we all must face ours and that a large part of the American culture is afraid of it. I have faced my death many times and I am not afraid of it as I am right with my God. I don’t want to die because I have things to live for such as my wife and son. Christ said that death will come for us not based on if we are good or bad but just because it will come. Good people die as well as the wicked. It is a perception that the good seem to die more so than the bad in many people’s minds. I don’t know. I have found myself praying to God to send death for a patient because they and their families were suffering so. When a child died the family donated organs so we had to store him waiting on the harvest team to come. All throughout my shift I had to take different family members back to where he was so they could say goodbye. They would bring him his favorite toys, or some other thing to give him for his journey to the other side and cry at how they were going to miss him. Each time it was all I could do to be there as my heart was breaking for this family who had been so close to this child and now grieved as he had been torn away by a tragic accident. We each must face death in our own way based on our culture, religious beliefs, and past experience. To be exposed to death is to familiarize us with it but it does not make us experts on it.
Dave Lightner-Beitz Dave Lightner-Beitz Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:49:11 PM Hell my Ex-wife is Cardiac trained & can even tell you what meds you're on along with "how many" heart attacks a person has had. All this by just looking at the pt. She made claims of this mockery since she became a Emt (Transport) approx 10 yrs ago. I can only imagine "how many pts she claims to have saved just by her own expertise, along with how many she has seen deceased. In my case been an EMT for close to 30 yrs & can not even begin to imagine how many deceased pts I have come across. The youngest though was just 6 months old. I clearly remember her little face as I entered the room with a brand new (nose bleed numbers) Emt. Almost all her family was sitting in the living room not giving a care. They pointed towards down the hall. Walked into that room to find het uncle (as he claimed) making a drug deal over the phone not giving a care. The only person that did care & even crying begging us to help his little sister. She was my 1st peds arrest/death. I can never forget her.
Sandra Koenig Sandra Koenig Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:50:43 PM I volunteer at my local squad, but also work for a paid service that does 95% BLS transports... people to dialysis, doctors, hospital procedures and discharges from hospitals. We have lost at least 5 clients since January. That is very painful, as we see the same people week in and week out and get to know them (and often their spouses/families) very well.
Gina Butler Gina Butler Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:51:46 PM Don't forget...She also takes classes like River Rescue...when there is only a shallow creek in the town!
Kate M Bailey Kate M Bailey Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:53:41 PM My very first deaths were at terrible MVC where 3 young children were killed. I was actually running as a "third" and just finishing up my EMT-B classes. For months after I could not see three little ones together, or a little girl with curly blonde hair without being undone. Eventually the horror and hurt just faded and it became part of who I am to this day. I saw numerous dead and dying over my 20 years as a volunteer EMT, but none affected me as much as the very first ones. Then there was the accident where my son's 2 friends were killed and he was injured, along with a 3rd friend. We responded to that crash as a mutual aide call, and I knew my son was not home when I left and had a "feeling" all the way to the crash site. Neither of these accidents caused me to "give up" my EMT volunteer work, although the tragedy that happened 20 years into my tour of my Mom being struck by a car and lingering for 10 days before she died, did push me over the limit. I quit about 1 year after losing Mom. I still miss the job sometimes even after all that sadness.
Sandra Koenig Sandra Koenig Sunday, March 23, 2014 12:54:04 PM One of my main objectives is to try to make their time with me one of the bright spots of their day, whether that means letting them talk about what they need to, or just quietly holding their hand, and every thing in between. It's very sad and rewarding at the same time.
Trish Newsome Trish Newsome Sunday, March 23, 2014 1:15:35 PM I've learned there are worse things then death
Curt Parsons Curt Parsons Sunday, March 23, 2014 1:34:19 PM Having wittnessed many people pass from this life in thirty years of rescue /EMS it makes you appreciate the day your are given, take nothing for granted.
Chris Burnett Chris Burnett Sunday, March 23, 2014 2:38:53 PM I have seen death in my family. My Mother to Cancer, My First Son d/t premature delivery, My Grandparents to alcohol and cardiac issues, My Father to CHF. Then I have seen in my career in EMS patients young and old die, some by the choices they have made, some by the schedule of a higher power. We are conceived and born by the grace of God. We live and as we are taught and choose. I believe all of those that have gone on before me, have gone to places that they were intended to go. I will always remember.
Miguel Flores Miguel Flores Sunday, March 23, 2014 2:51:22 PM I belive that every one has a date with their maker, but the biggest pet peeve of mine, is dealing with first responders, Rookie EMT's and Paramedics who think they are GOD! I Have hatred toward 95% of the nursing homes in NYC, who tend to start CPR on thier patients despite the fact they have A DNR present! Death for some is a moment of chaos and or peace! A sound EMT or Paramedic Should ask the Family as soon as they walk in if there is a DNR present! One should maintain total professionalism during the code, and once they are done, they should pay their respects to the family! That can make the difference, I have had experiences that I allowed the family witness us to attempt to save their loved one, and in not being successful their was a sense of closure! My experience with several first responders has been nerve wrecking! I just don't think it is fair to Do CPR on a patient who has obvious signs of death! Professionalism, and asking For a DNR before you start running a code should be second nature as soon as you walk in!
Karen Sue Hotchkiss Karen Sue Hotchkiss Sunday, March 23, 2014 3:06:05 PM I agree that is how I feel about it also, very well said....
Daniel Larson Daniel Larson Sunday, March 23, 2014 3:12:45 PM One phrase I don't remember where I heard (I'm thinking a past preceptor either in post-medic school ride outs or maybe with a service as a new employee) that has rang true thus far in my career: "You forget the ones you save, but you remember everybody you couldn't." I also think it's natural (couldn't even guess the cause at the root of it) to feel as if you've failed when you lose a patient. I agree with the above comment that perhaps it has to do with the way we're trained/educated somewhat leads us to the mindframe that "Do this for this, and the pt will be okay." I think a large part of it is also our nature both as humans as passionate caregivers (referring to the ones that are in it to help people and not just to go whoowhoo for 2 years and hop into something else). Alpha type personalities, which run rampant in EMS, like to feel like they're in control of a situation or at least that things aren't going to happen unless they want/allow it to. Some people have a harder time relinquishing this control they believe they have, it's much easier to look at yourself searching desperately for a mistake so you can tell yourself "Okay, I fucked up and it cost the patient, but now I'll never do it again" than it is to say "I can do my very best and the very best possible and all that effort could still mean nothing because I'm not in control of the outcome".
Kody Whitt Kody Whitt Sunday, March 23, 2014 4:05:21 PM To me the bigest thing that effects me that no other non-responder could say they have felt is the sense of watching and working this situation so hard and with so much faith and hope that this will be the one, the one you finally safe, the one you have been hopeing for sine you started this job "x" number of years. only to have it snatched away by death and then in the end watching the doctor say those dreaded words almost in slow motion "Time of death" and seeing that nurse cover this once living, breathing, thinking thing that is reduced to this shell with that pure white sheet and then standing there powerless to interfere able to do noting but ask yourself, What did i do wrong?
Frederick Hillman Frederick Hillman Sunday, March 23, 2014 5:30:45 PM A few times while on duty as a paramedic I visited a cemetery just to see how many head stones where there, there was a lot. Next it hit me with so many cemeteries the families tears over years could fill a large lake. I did not fully understand the pain of loosing a love one until my mom died followed by my dad 18 months later.
Mark Helmer Mark Helmer Sunday, March 23, 2014 6:06:09 PM I feel that we have a better insight into just how quickly and randomly life ends.
Bonnie Ball Bonnie Ball Sunday, March 23, 2014 6:07:14 PM Yep everyone passes and in my heart i believe god calls us home when its on his time when he says its time to go it is. Alot of people arent scare to die most people what their scared more of is how they are going to die and maybe where they will pass. But yep everyone will pass its gods way.
Tracy Ruth Tracy Ruth Sunday, March 23, 2014 6:12:42 PM Funny that you say that because I was thinking just this morning about all the death I've seen and how it didn't effect me at all until I had a child of my own.
Dennis Sanders Dennis Sanders Sunday, March 23, 2014 6:34:33 PM your mom and dad were very special people in my life for many years. i too feel a pain over their passing. not only them but the broadnaxes, jones, rogers, simpkins, and others i knew from my young manhood. there are others too but i wont list them. my mom is now 93, and my mother in law and father in law are in there last days. life brings an end to those around us as it begins new lives in the form of children. still so sad to think about.
Zach Wilson Zach Wilson Sunday, March 23, 2014 6:56:13 PM I believe that everything that has happened or going to happen has already been preplanned, a destiny. Personally, it's my faith in God that gives me peace with it. Being a rookie at this job, I have only seen a few deaths happen on the job but what has helped me was losing my dad about 6 years ago. My dad was my hero, I was closer to him than anyone else, It was because of him that I grew around the fire service and EMS my whole life, the reason that I was born into this career. He had passed away after 2 years of battling cancer. I don't mean to sound heartless but since then, death really has lost it's sting. I have lost friends from high school in car accidents, I was lucky that I wasn't working at the time so i was not exposed to that aspect but their deaths really didn't hurt me that much and I believe its because I witnessed death take the one I was closest to. It's my faith in God that has brought me to peace with his death and I believe that I have been able fully let go of it all, I'm not angry or upset, I'm happy, I can rejoice now. I believe there is a time to grieve and I did about 3-4 years of grieving before I realized I needed to move on. There is also a time time move on or carry on. It may not happen for all of us at the same time or anything but there should come a time that you get up, dust yourself off and carry on. You can't waste away precious time that we have on earth grieving. Life is too short to waste, we need to make the most of every minute we are blessed with. I am in no way trying to push my religous beliefs on anyone or trying to preach to anyone, this is completely my opinion on the matter, Thank you. Be safe.
Cölton R. Dean Cölton R. Dean Sunday, March 23, 2014 7:20:10 PM One this is for sure, if you work in EMS for about a year you have seen what will eventually be your death. Heart attack, cancer, accident, et cetera...
Lorna Dixon Lorna Dixon Sunday, March 23, 2014 8:03:24 PM So well put Dave and I truly Believe the work of these people, make each and everyone of them very Special. First, they Love, and second, they care, or they wouldn't do what they do. I'm very proud to call you my Friend, and very thankful for the work you do! God Bless Sweetie! :)
Adelina Perez Leon Adelina Perez Leon Sunday, March 23, 2014 8:19:43 PM Getting home from the viewing of a friend waw...i read this question on my son.s page waw and read this ...very difficult to explain whst i feel...but i do know thst we must be and do the very best we could so our legacy and memory we leqve can be a nice one !!! Writng our memoirs for future generatiions
Bryan Koonce Bryan Koonce Sunday, March 23, 2014 8:20:47 PM Ginny Whitley said it the best....... Sad thing of it is.... There are some Medics, that think they are GOD.......
Matt Thoman-Reynders Matt Thoman-Reynders Sunday, March 23, 2014 8:52:53 PM Death is something very difficult to understand and to grasp. It is often viewed as being a terrible life altering even. However, after recently being on the confirmation of my friends mother, I have realized that it can also be very freeing. She had been sick and bed ridden for some time. In death she looked as though all the stress, worry and despair was gone. She looked young again. Her husband, though sad, seemed to stand a bit taller. As though he could finally breath in peace again. Yes death is sad. But, in some instances, it can free more than one soul. There is often a great truth in the face of the dead. Sometimes just by looking, you know that they have moved on to somewhere more peaceful and that things are now better in a way. The unfortunate side to this is that you may have to see it many times before an understanding like this can be reached.
Tessie Odom Smith Tessie Odom Smith Sunday, March 23, 2014 9:39:16 PM I guess my thoughts on what responders VRS non responders is this---- yes we see death sometimes on a daily basis and see people at their very worst sometimes. But I have experienced in the 20+ years of my EMS service is that most non responders don't think that death affects us responders. A lot think "guess you are use to this"....well no matter what some say....EVERY death does affect us. When it stops affecting you as a responder, it's time to get out of the job. I have held the hand of an 88 yr old mother/grandma/great grandma as she slipped quietly away and I have also held the tiny baby of two weeks old that died of SIDS. We still have feelings too and it does bother us too. You may never see that side of us....but I can promise you that there have been many of us that quietly cry our hearts out where no one sees.
Cody C Collopy Cody C Collopy Monday, March 24, 2014 3:06:04 AM Very well stated. Just because we cope with it in different ways does not mean that we are unaffected. The sights we see that can not be unseen stay with us; and each death (young or old) hurts.
Harry A Struppa Harry A Struppa Monday, March 24, 2014 5:51:32 AM The difference between responders and non responders is simply guilt and the what if game because when you have the training and skills and equipment you take it to a different level to where is personal and you fight and not always will you win and then there are the times where you have to ask yourself should have that person been brought back we often don't think about that aspect but every death effects you differently especially when it's a child the day that it doesn't you need to get out.. Just fight the good fight and don't hold it in always talk to someone you don't realize it but they all will effect you at some point. This is a constant learning field.
Daniel Evans Daniel Evans Monday, March 24, 2014 9:34:07 AM I been an EMT for 3 years now. I have been a firefighter for 7 years now. I may not have as many calls under my belt as seasoned EMT's who have 20+ years in. With that said in just the 3 years with ems and 7 with fire,,,i can say that I have the right to state my opinion. I think EMT's have the upper hand in knowing how to enjoy life over someone who doesn't have any medical backround. Why? Because we have seen death. I have seen death. Ive responded to calls where someone is laying lifeless on the floor with there family members crying right there over them. After going through that any other calls where you ask why did this happen, you start to really appreciate the life you have and really live each day thankful you woke up breathing again. You cherish every moment you have with no regrets. TO think some people out there still butcher and abuse emergency services. People who find out im an EMT and they respond "so your an ambulance driver huh?" Some people don't realize that EMT's / Paramedics can save a life before its lost. That they can do life saving procedures to prevent death. People who call and take an ambulance ride just because medicare/Medicaid will pay the $1000 bill so they can get a new prescription at the hospital. I think our nation needs to be educated more on what all emergency services do and when they use them. Save the ambulances for true emergencies. I cant even tell everyone how many times an ambulance will be tied up on a call for knee pain, when suddenly 2 minutes later the call for a full arrest goes out. EMT's you know what im talking about.Happens all the time
Sharon OHara Sharon OHara Monday, March 24, 2014 12:13:52 PM The hardest thing to except is when your time has come no matter what interventions are given, nothing is going to change it. We start dying from the day we are born. It is the only thing in life that is guaranteed.
Scott McCarthy Scott McCarthy Monday, March 24, 2014 3:39:05 PM Nailed it, I was going to go with the inevitability of it. I'm more candid about death than I used to be, because now i look at it is any other bodily function. One way or another it happens. Accept it and you have beaten it.
Dana Arbeit Dana Arbeit Tuesday, April 01, 2014 7:19:28 PM What do EMTs know about death that non-responders do not? That it is normal. Most people see death as an exception in their life like the family members that "can't believe" that their 93 year old mother died in her sleep. People in EMS see and deal with it every day they work. It doesn't make us smarter or "used to it". I had 23 years in EMS when my brother died of cancer. It wasn't any 'easier' than when my Mother died of cancer 13 years before that or when my father dropped of a heart attack 20 years before that. What do we have about death as EMTs? Perspective. One thing that did help me a lot was some instruction by a teaching doctor in my initial training to work for LAFD as a Paramedic. At that point, I had 3 years of private ambulance experience and had seen many deaths. I was still fairly confused about the subject of 'saves' vs 'losses' at that point. The doctor told us to never forget that we had the high 'privilage' of attending patients at the most important moment of their life-their death. That helped me find perspective and realize that EMS may 'save a life' but our real job is to help people that are in distress. It has never ceased to amaze me through my years of working with EMTs/Medics and reading the posts here that we all have this sense of perspective in common. If you are a new EMT, you will discover that it is the most rewarding and heart-breaking profession in the world. It has but one saving grace: it is worth it.
Matt Chavez Matt Chavez Saturday, April 05, 2014 10:34:21 AM I always tell my students that we just prolong lives and not save them, as we will all die eventually. We will beat Death in many battles, but he will eventually win the war. My perspective is I do the best I can, evaluate what I did right and/or wrong, then stop feeling guilty I did not do more to bring them back. It's like everything else in this job, we can't take death personally. I have also learned that I need to live life to it's fullest and not take it for granted.
John Renaud John Renaud Tuesday, June 03, 2014 5:38:59 PM No matter how good an EMT or medic you are there is no good way to tell someone that their loved one is dead.
John E Flesch Jr John E Flesch Jr Tuesday, June 03, 2014 5:48:58 PM As an EMT in Seattle we are are all exposed to death of patients, civilians on a daily basis....I've done multiple CPR's in which people have passed on and it's not something to get use to....I still carry that we with me everyday, it actually makes me try to do better in my life, to be a good person and to treat others in my life respectfully as ican because you never know when our time comes...
Kasey Vincent Kasey Vincent Tuesday, June 03, 2014 6:40:46 PM Death is inevitable. I merely try to help as only God sees fit.
Eric Sampson Eric Sampson Tuesday, June 03, 2014 6:50:13 PM Personally, I wouldn't say we know more. We see birth, death and everythng in between. We just have more experience with the event of death than most. And most the time we are trying to intervene. Sometimes not so much. But with experience comes wisdom as well as developing your perspective and philosophy on life...and death and spirituality as well as health and wellness. Same goes for firefighters and LEO's. They answer the same calls we do. In fact, lots of times they get their first. So do we know more? No. Everyone knows we die. We just witness it a lot more than the average person. And we have more stories then most.
Jonathan Harris Jonathan Harris Tuesday, June 03, 2014 6:54:45 PM I think the biggest difference is, for me anyway, after seeing so many people die you become numb to it. Honestly its sad.
Katie Corrigan Katie Corrigan Tuesday, June 03, 2014 6:57:30 PM Everytime someone asks me what it's like to do CRP I compare it to attepting to rip the grim reaper out of someone's body.
Pete Gutzmann Pete Gutzmann Tuesday, June 03, 2014 7:19:55 PM That's it? Being thrust into the most intimate of all experiences of a strangers life and this is all you can come up with?
Becky Heath Becky Heath Tuesday, June 03, 2014 8:03:23 PM They're the foolish ones, Bryan... Really.
Colleen Hughes Colleen Hughes Tuesday, June 03, 2014 9:16:40 PM I still remember the first person I saw who was dying. It was in a nursing home & even though she had a DNR they called 911.
Trey Harris Trey Harris Wednesday, June 04, 2014 1:36:22 AM I dont consider myself a (life saver) but hopefully a difference maker.
Duane Wilbur Duane Wilbur Wednesday, June 04, 2014 4:14:04 AM Did CPR on a 19 year old girl the other day, Doctor made the call she was dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. Gave everything we had to keep her, death has a strong hold that is for sure. The next day I picked up a young man who was told doctors can do no more for him & he needed to go on hospice. In the back of my squad he began to weep. I told him that in the bible Adam & Eve were given a choice. Eat of the Tree of knowledge which would bring death or eat of the Tree of Life. Adam chose death. Jesus died on a tree to offer us life & it was his choice. I just wish I could have given that hope to that girl that overdosed.
Stephen Richey Stephen Richey Wednesday, June 04, 2014 5:15:18 AM I think EMS predisposes one to think that most deaths are sudden and unexpected since we deal mostly with people who are suddenly hurt or collapse or are found dead with no significant health problems so far as the person who found them is aware. Spend some time as a deputy coroner where you literally hear about every death in a county because you have to decide whether it warrants going out to it or not regardless of whether it is in a hospital or if the doc is willing to sign the death certificate. You very quickly realize that most deaths are the end result of a slow and progress downward slide into oblivion and most folks are well aware it is coming. Probably 40% of the deaths reported to the coroner's office back when I worked there were in the "expected" category often with the bedside vigil of family or nursing staff and another 20% were in the "everyone knew he was going to die soon but he didn't bother to make a reservation for the time". Chalk up a few more percent for the folks who knew they were facing a slow painful death from cancer, Parkinsons, Alzheimers or something like that and decided to speed things along with an overdose, self-inflicted high velocity lead therapy or something else. Not exactly unexpected but definitely was not expected quite so soon.... One of the things you will never hear me say is that, as a group, my EMS brethren are lacking in technical ability at whatever level their certification and their medical director will allow. What I did notice is that most of us- especially those like myself who got their start in EMS straight out of school- are horrible at dealing with families of the deceased. Because of the focus on saving lives, we all too often see any death as a "failure" or a black mark against our skills (as Ginny Whitley pointed out with her comment about wondering if we could have done more or if we did it 'right'), no matter how jaded or burned out we might be. After I left EMS, one of the jobs I drifted into before settling into a comfortable career as a trauma biomechanics researcher was working as a funeral director's assistant. The reason I mention this is because I always say that 90% of what I know about "bedside manner" came from that job and not from working EMS or as a respiratory therapist. The main takeaway that I got from my boss was the realization that even if you can't change what has happened but how you handle things can change what will happen. It's kind of the point behind a funeral and a viewing. You are giving the family a final memory of that person being at peace and no longer suffering. It is not going to change the fact that they are gone and will never come back but it, and how the family and friends are treated by all who deal with them during the grieving process, can change how quickly (if ever) they can adjust to the "new normal". This is a lesson that few EMS providers seem to learn which is sad because it has a fair amount of cross-applicability to calls that don't involve death. I don't mean that as a condemnation or a criticism. It is simply something that is not taught, is not discussed and doesn't appear in the protocols so it is overlooked by all but a few who pick it up through outside experience (such as what happened in my case), personal experience with a death or by being one of the extreme minority who are simply that gifted with bedside manner that it is second nature. Nobody likes to talk about those awkward moments of stony silence as you stand around with a body and the family waiting for the coroner or local PD to release you. That means no one realizes that there's a better way of doing it other than standing there silently and trying not to look like we failed somehow. One of the best ways, at least in cases of non-traumatic death or where the death was not unexpected, is to talk to the family about the person they lost. Get them to focus on the positive things that person did and often things will come out that are touching, amusing or outright funny. You are not trying to deny their loss but you are getting them to look at it through a different perspective. It's stuff like this- not terribly hard to do but frightening or uncomfortable for those who have never done it before- that helps a family deal with the crushing weight that is a loss. Given the infrequency of survival after cardiac arrest in most jurisdictions (read as: given how Seattle continues to make the rest of us look bad), I have often said that I think "death care/familial first aid" should be as much a part of the training curriculum for ACLS as the drugs that get switched around every so often in hopes of finding a magic bullet. Over the years, I have even given a couple of presentations on this (jokingly titled "Everything I Needed to Know about Bedside Manner, I Learned in a Funeral Home"). I apologize for rambling so much as I originally intended to only say the first bit about the frequency of unexpected death but the whole way we deal with the deaths we see is something that I think we don't spend enough time talking about or trying to make into a way we can further serve our communities. Like Anderson pointed out, we deal with death but I am not certain that most of us know any more about it or are any more comfortable dealing with it than your average person. Perhaps it is time to change that by realizing that our duty to care doesn't cease with resuscitative efforts?
RJ Robinson RJ Robinson Wednesday, June 04, 2014 5:24:43 AM I have never felt that when i couldn't save someone that it was my fault. Have I been emotional about a call. Sure. What really came as a shock is how I handled when my family members died. My family has a long Hx with CA. I have had more then my fair share of early passings. I guess I just accept it. At first this bothered me. That when a member passed , I wasn't really upset the way the rest of the family was. I was more upset that I wasn't upset. It help me be the rock for my family. I think I really understood what they were going through and ( sorry, not a believer of Him) was more happy that they no longer had to suffer.
Norma Grant Norma Grant Wednesday, June 04, 2014 6:30:39 AM My husband had a sudden cardiac death right in front of me (RN) and our friend (EMT-I) he called 911 while I started CPR- EMS came in did the first line of drugs and shock but none of us were able to bring my husband back- my husband had a large posterior MI- I still question today if I did enough- esp. when I look at my children and grandchildren
Alastair Parker Alastair Parker Wednesday, June 04, 2014 7:15:33 AM Well written my friend. I feel we have great duties on Earth by each of our individual callings in our lives to become first responders. Each of us being in service, volunteer or paid, felt the calling to assist people in the best of times and most certainly through the worst of them as well. We can't get caught up in the times we don't "make the save," it is often times a learning experience both professionally and personally and we have to move to the next event with as much clarity and professionalism as ever before.
Aaron Gutzmann Aaron Gutzmann Wednesday, June 04, 2014 2:36:57 PM Yeah, I knew this article would come up short when I clicked on it and it was all of 400 words.
Alice Stephens Myers Alice Stephens Myers Wednesday, June 04, 2014 6:54:25 PM I do not work in this field or know a lot about the work they do but I am so thankful there are persons who can and like doing this job. My only complaint is the very low wages they receive It is a disgrace to pay people that have the knowledge and compassion to do this work. PROTEST!
Steve Cole Steve Cole Sunday, June 08, 2014 8:48:54 PM My thoughts: http://croaker260ems.blogspot.com/2013/04/ems-thoughts-vacancy-of-death.html
Rick Palmer Rick Palmer Thursday, June 19, 2014 9:24:20 AM I can't look at it from an EMT's point of view, but I can from the law enforcement side. This article made the point that people die everywhere. When I was a rookie officer (many years ago) one of the many chiefs and supervisors I worked with over 33 years and I were talking about inmates dying while in custody. The Chief pointed out that (like in the article) people die in hospitals and out of hospitals, hence even with trained doctors people will still die. They die in homes, restuarants, churches, gas stations, alleys and even jails, every other place where man sets foot. The point he was making was that if someone dies while in custody, and you did not do anything to attribute to that death, then there is no reason to worry that it happened. It can be handled the same as any other death. Sad maybe, but a fact of life. As someone once said "Ain't none of us going to get out of life alive!". Stay safe brothers and sisters of the badge
Shilah Bat Eliyahu Shilah Bat Eliyahu Monday, June 23, 2014 6:33:28 AM I really appreciate your point - that EMS care doesn't end with the pateint's death. Thanks. :-) I will be much better prepared now.
Hanne Hetzel Pearson Hanne Hetzel Pearson Tuesday, August 12, 2014 2:17:42 PM Being in EMS as an EMT first, then ground medic and now a Flight Paramedic, for 22 years, I too have seen my share of death. It isn't something I have ever been able to explain to people. Why some one has been taken so suddenly or at a young age or made to suffer in pain for years but I have learned that it is not always my job to "save someone" it is my job to make sure everyone is treated with respect and dignity no matter what stage of life they are in. I really believe all patients should be treated the way I would want to be treated or the way I would expect my family to be treated. I don't wonder anymore "did I do the right thing". I wonder did I make there transition comfortable, did I make them less afraid, did holding their hand or crying with their family make any difference at all. The calls that I beat myself up about the most are not the ones we couldn't "save" but the ones we save and their quality of life after is nothing but a vegetative state for families to look at and hold on to hope that a miracle will bring them back to what they were before. I know there is something after this life, I have witnessed spiritual things occur during the dying process that can't be explained. I am not a religious person but I do believe there is a god that has a plan for each one of us and when we have served our purpose our time is up. It's funny how over the years I have been able to come up with different thoughts to help me deal with loss. My favorite that everyone has heard a thousand times before is "everything happens for a reason, even if you don't understand the reasoning now". I am a Paramedic for life, it is the very best profession I could have chosen and I will never regret a day of my career, even with all the bad things I have seen. With the bad have come great calls to help move forward, baby deliveries, calming the first time mom who needs to be reassured she is doing everything right, etc. I have learned something from each and everyone of my patients and that is the greatest reward of my job. The only person death is hard on is the ones left behind.

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