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Home > Topics > EMS Advocacy
February 27, 2014
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The Ambulance Driver's Perspective
by Kelly Grayson

Suicide and salvation in EMS: How to save a medic’s life

No one understands the pressures we face like a fellow EMT; respond to depression and burnout with more than just words

By Kelly Grayson

A few years ago, I ran over someone in an ambulance.

It was dark, late at night, on a lonely section of a highway. At first, I thought it was road debris. When I stopped to inspect the ambulance for damage and found none, I was convinced I had run over a shredded semi-trailer tire.

It wasn’t until I reached the hospital an hour later, and found blood spattered all over the back doors of the ambulance, that I thought otherwise. Still, the human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, and on the drive home, my partner and I had halfway convinced ourselves that I had run over a road-killed deer.

When we saw the state troopers and crime scene unit on the way back home, that delusion was shattered.

I’m here to tell you, there is no feeling more horrible than the realization that you may have just killed someone.

Company response

As it turned out, the state police determined that I was the second or third vehicle to run over the body, and that he was almost certainly dead before I hit him. Still, the supervisor called to the scene was supportive, and concerned about my emotional welfare. I took a legally mandated drug test administered by the state police, and rode home in another ambulance, since mine was impounded for evidence collection.

Acadian’s crisis counselor called me before I even got back to the station. My local supervisor told me to take the next shift off. I told him I was capable of working, and I’d be there at shift change, as scheduled.

I went home and crawled into bed, and stared at the ceiling for nine hours. Two hours before my shift was scheduled to start, I called in sick. My supervisor immediately called me back and told me not to worry about it. No mention was made of the fact that calling in two hours before my shift violated Acadian’s call-in policy.

The crisis counselor called me again, as did my partner and the crew who gave me the ride back to my station. Everyone was concerned about my welfare, and made it clear that no matter what, they had my back.

Of course, the rumor mill being what it was, a number of other co-workers spread it around that I had mowed down a pedestrian and gotten away with it. The same guys who called to check on me set the rumormongers straight.

A suicide

Recently, an Acadian employee took his life behind one of our ambulance stations. His partner discovered the body, and attempted resuscitation. I can only imagine the mental and emotional anguish he went through, second only to the mental and emotional anguish that led a young, promising paramedic to take his own life.

And as in my case, Acadian took care of its own. They provided emotional support for his partner, arranged for crisis counseling, and took him off the rig. Since an ice storm had shut down local roads, they put him up in a local hotel, and then arranged for him to get home.

And of course, the rumor mill being what it is, most of Facebook heard about it before many Acadian employees and managers. It was widely disseminated that Acadian was heartless enough to make the partner complete his scheduled shift, even though the exact opposite was true.

In both his case and mine, the response flipped the paradigm about colleagues and corporations. In both cases, the supposedly heartless, profit-centered corporation was the first to reach out and assure the well-being of one of its employees.

Plenty of other commenters on Facebook offered their prayers and support for the medic who took his life, and the partner who found him. Just as many offered their scorn for Acadian, accepting at face value that a company would force an EMT to complete a shift after his partner killed himself.

Thoughts vs action

But I wonder how many went any farther than that? Has this phenomenon we call social media actually disconnected us, instead of bringing us closer together? How many people typed “How sad, praying for you!” and left it at that?

Is that enough? And what kind of anguish did it bring to the local manager who had to deal with the horror of that day, especially after reading hundreds of comments condemning him over a heartless act he didn’t commit?

I wonder how many people reached out to him and said, “Hey, are you okay? We appreciate everything you’ve done. Way to look out for your people.”

My gut tells me that plenty of people did, just not publicly. I imagine people volunteered to cover shifts for the medic’s partner. Probably those who knew the medic outside of work offered support to his family.

This being Cajun country, I’m sure someone brought food, because nothing says “I care about you,” quite like a covered dish and volunteering for babysitting duty.

But none of that came early enough for a young man with a full life ahead of him. When you’re isolated and depressed, it’s easy to convince yourself that you are truly alone, and that no one cares, and that, God forbid, your loved ones would be better off without you.

Depths of despair

Despair should never be allowed to whisper in a friend’s ear without a contrary voice assuring him that those dark thoughts are lies. I’ve suffered from depression, and I spent those dark months glued to the computer. Surfing the Internet and chatting online were easier than actual human interaction, even though the outside world was exactly what I needed to drag me out of my funk.

It takes action. It requires re-engaging with life. Prayers and support after the act ring hollow. We should care enough to intervene before the act.

On Feb. 2, one of Bryan Bledsoe’s 4,845 Facebook friends posted a cry for help on his page.

Bryan acted, and sought to get the guy the help he needed. One hundred and eighty-eight of his friends posted supportive comments. A handful of those actually went beyond that, and found the guy’s employer, friends and family, and had the police intervene. That man has a second chance, and I pray he makes the most of it.

And I applaud the people who went beyond words of support, and took action. Quite likely, they saved a life.

Peer support

No one understands the pressures we face like a fellow EMT. Not your friends, your family, or your priest. I may discount the effectiveness of CISM and debriefings based upon the scientific evidence, but one tenet of CISM is invaluable: peer support.

Look for the signs of depression and burnout in your co-workers. Be alert for inappropriate anger, or flat affect, or the other physical manifestations of stress.

And when you do, reach out with more than words. Take them for a workout. Indulge in a little retail therapy. Go turn some ammunition into smoke and noise. Drag them out for a meal after your shift. Let them decompress, safe in the knowledge that their rant goes no further than the two of you.

Beer and nachos are an excellent remedy for burnout. The healing isn’t in the hops and barley and the cheese and chili, it’s in the fellowship with the person that has your back.

Look out for each other, because often, each other is all we’ve got.

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 (www.facebook.com/theambulancedriverfiles), or email him at kelly.grayson@ems1.com.

Comments
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EMS1.com 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.
Donna Baer Donna Baer Friday, February 28, 2014 6:38:41 PM Well said and a wonderful challenge to go beyond the routine "prayers sent" concept. Getting involved personally is what it comes down to, and I appreciate the glimpse into what that means. Thank you.
Gary Walter Gary Walter Saturday, March 01, 2014 12:38:57 PM What a horrible situation. I've always heard good things about Acadian - I'm glad you got the support necessary. Many don't.
Heather Jones Wendy Lampley Heather Jones Wendy Lampley Saturday, March 01, 2014 1:52:43 PM Very well said....
Tanya Cutting Tanya Cutting Saturday, March 01, 2014 2:30:52 PM Great employer. Wish they were all like that.
David Schick David Schick Saturday, March 01, 2014 3:47:25 PM yeah, but how many people don't keep confidences on ranting?
Chris AndAmanda Mongognia Chris AndAmanda Mongognia Saturday, March 01, 2014 5:51:21 PM I commend you on your article. Very well said. I believe several EMS companies could learn from it as well as fellow EMS "families" aka coworkers.
Amanda Kate Amanda Kate Saturday, March 01, 2014 6:24:11 PM Beautifully written.
Melissa Christiansen Thurgood Melissa Christiansen Thurgood Saturday, March 01, 2014 8:08:21 PM Thank you.
Betty Barrett Betty Barrett Saturday, March 01, 2014 9:27:33 PM VERY NEAT VERN SOME PARTS ARE SAD , BUT GOODNESS AND CAREING IS A GREAT HELP .
Joshy Poshy Joshy Poshy Saturday, March 01, 2014 10:51:31 PM This has opened my eyes. I often find myself guilty of "sending you prayers" or "my thoughts are with you". I think of how lame I must sound echoing the same sentiments that this person has read over and over. How many opportunities have I wasted to console a friend in need? How many patients have thought me to be heartless. I'm going to make an effort to be outwardly compassionate and show just how must I care. :) P.S. This article really is very well written and organized. Thank you.
Tricia Bailey Tricia Bailey Saturday, March 01, 2014 11:38:37 PM Aww,love ya Josh <3
Robert J. Buckley Robert J. Buckley Sunday, March 02, 2014 12:10:42 AM Excellent work Kelly...
Melinda Teaster Williams Melinda Teaster Williams Sunday, March 02, 2014 8:11:15 AM Thank you for this reminder Great read
Tacienne Lapointe Tacienne Lapointe Sunday, March 02, 2014 5:30:32 PM Too true! Also applycable to military life style.... I see it so often it makes me sick! You see so many `health care`''PROFESSIONNALS..'' that are teaching all the nice nice things but are unable to see it in a member across the room they are in, member they spend the entire day with, member they see daily but totally fail to see the distress he is in.....
Steve Urszenyi Steve Urszenyi Sunday, March 02, 2014 8:00:45 PM Thank you for your courage, Kelly. It's important to keep shedding light on these stories so that the stigma associated with CIS/PTSD/cumulative stress, etc., can once and for all be eliminated. And, yes, who better to look after our own but ourselves. 30 years a medic and counting...
Cheryl Limer Miller Cheryl Limer Miller Monday, March 03, 2014 8:39:40 AM Thanks for the article. Not only does substituting social media for real life often disconnect us, it seems to free people up to believe and spread rumors and lies -- as if we needed the help with that. I truly wish it were used only to build up and connect rather than tear down and disparage...but such is not human nature I guess
Snicker Doodle Snicker Doodle Monday, March 03, 2014 12:54:25 PM I lost a co-worker who was a 60 year old grandmother working as a 911 dispatcher to suicide. Our County was merging EMS/FIRE and Law Enforcement to one entity and one huge building. The 'seasoned' dispatcher's didn't receive anything more than a one day class to help them take the LEO calls. It was a true nightmare! I have over a decade as a road Firefighter/EMT and almost 5 years as a 911 dispatcher and I've never experienced such disregard for the human soul as I did with our employer. I'm not blaming anyone anymore....but something has got to be done for the humans giving their souls & energy for the other humans in need. Military personnel have finally gotten the psychological help they need....it's time that concrete, excellent mental health services are offered to the first responders. I was an excellent employee but finally had to leave the organization for my own well being (and the sake of my children). I cannot believe how we have become so cold to just disregard people as "crazy" or "gone off the deep end" instead of reaching out to our brothers and sisters. My friend, a devote catholic took a .38 planted it in her chest and pulled the trigger......she was the LAST PERSON any of us thought would do such an act. Wise up peeps...look around and listen!! When I became a FEMALE Firefighter in 1989, I remember one of the male instructors saying to me....YOU BEST PUSH THROUGH IT HONEY, WE FIREFIGHTERS DON'T HAVE THE LUXURY OF A 'STOP' BUTTON!...Maybe it's time that someone issues a STOP button as part of our gear!!!
Art Hsieh Art Hsieh Tuesday, March 04, 2014 12:51:31 PM We have to take care of our own, even when we don't "know" them personally. There is very few of us out there and we spend a lot of emotional capital helping others through their crisis. Even with today's mindset of debriefing and follow up, there are still many in our industry that feel that "toughing it out" is the only way to manage such issues. Thanks for talking about your experience and showing that there are other ways that are far more effective for long term mental health.
Doug Poore Doug Poore Tuesday, March 04, 2014 12:54:42 PM Art, I wish more people understood this. Having lost my son to suicide 4 years ago, I have begun doing a lecture to help others understand this mental health issue.
Amy Vanderryn Amy Vanderryn Tuesday, March 04, 2014 3:21:48 PM So true and so well said. We have to take care of our own first.
Julie Suiter Julie Suiter Tuesday, March 04, 2014 7:20:42 PM Very well written article. Many truths are in it. We all must stick together in good and bad. Medic2286
Carl Tracy Carl Tracy Wednesday, March 05, 2014 6:13:01 AM Very good article, as you say " we need to look out for each other, because often, each other is all we got" . But lets not forget our ER personnel they get slammed all day. As a volunteer group we are very lucky in having a Pastor who is trained in Critical Stress Debriefing and also active in our EMS group and volunteer Fire as well.He watches all of us like a hawk. awesome individual.!
Beth Ann McNeill Beth Ann McNeill Thursday, March 06, 2014 12:30:29 PM I applaud your efforts to write so candidly about a topic so many of us (EMS, fire, police) don't ever want to talk about: depression, mental health and, gasp, suicide. My best friend ended his suffering of mental anguish, despair and years of depression. Many offered their condolences but many others were (and still are) quick to judge him. Forget that the life he led as a firefighter and EMT were exemplary. Forget that he would give you the shirt off his back. Forget that he was a kind, caring and compassionate friend and brother and firefighter. We need to be more aware of our mental wellness health and needs. Kudos to you for sharing.
Valerie Karnisky Valerie Karnisky Thursday, March 06, 2014 12:49:36 PM And to those who are quick to judge and still do - shame on you. Read the article.
Hank Kula Hank Kula Thursday, March 06, 2014 1:06:10 PM Well done. Well. Done. Thanks for sharing Beth.
LaeAnne Farnsworth LaeAnne Farnsworth Thursday, March 06, 2014 6:05:57 PM What a well written and knowledgeable article. My prayers are ALWAYS with the medics both fire and private but as said sometimes that's just not enough! I'm no longer in the field but I still "GET IT".
Tracy Marchese Tracy Marchese Thursday, March 06, 2014 7:25:34 PM Thanks for sharing. Mental health issues affect nearly everyone. It is so sad to hear about someone losing this battle, but it highlights the need for people to be aware and supportive of those around them. Thank you for all you do.
Tina Noack-Greiner Tina Noack-Greiner Friday, September 19, 2014 4:49:01 PM Wonderful article and so very true. As emergency workers we see mostly the worst that life has to offer in human suffering. Yes, nurses and doctors see their share. But what they don't see is what we leave on the side of the road, in the back bathroom, the garage or on the living room floor. Nurses aren't typically responsible for declaring someone dead after running a code or finally extricating that trauma patient who stops breathing just as they are pulled from the car. These are the things that make me cry, give me nightmares, keep me from sleeping and yes, doubting myself as a medic... "could I have done something differently, something more, to have changed that outcome?" I'm surprised that more EMS (fire and police) workers aren't suicidal or at the very least on some sort of anti-depressant at some point in their career.
Andrew Kahananui Andrew Kahananui Monday, September 29, 2014 7:36:52 AM Thank you for this article.

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