Breakdown led to many personal realizations
For an EMT of 11 years the cumulative stress took a mental toll that was finally lessened by talking to other responders with their own burdens
By EMT-B, 11 years in EMS
I’ve been in EMS for 11 years; one year as an ambulance attendant, 10 as an EMT. I’ve been a volunteer at a fire house; I’ve been paid staff at a fire house; I’ve worked transport.
To look at me, you would never know anything is wrong. You would never know I suffer from anger issues, from anxiety, from depression. Only my very close friends know, and they don’t even know to the full extent how bad I can feel sometimes. My parents and siblings have no idea. My boyfriend has no idea. I’ve taken my anger out on my children by screaming and yelling at them when I get home, all because I’m so angry and sometimes coming down from an anxiety attack that I’ve had to hide all day at work.
My poor babies. But they never turn their backs on me. They hug me and comfort me and tell me they love me and they want to grow up to be just like their mama, to help save all the sick people.
I’ve been told I have a ʺbig personality.ʺ I’m the one everyone comes to for a laugh, for a good time. People have fought to be my partner at the fire houses and the transport companies because I’m such a ‘fun’ person to be around.
What they don’t realize is, while of course I can be fun and I enjoy having a good time, a lot of the times my ʺbig personalityʺ is just a cover up for what’s really going on. I have anxiety when driving through small construction areas where there are jersey barriers on each side of the road. I call it the cattle shoot. I used to be OK driving through them, until one day my old partner hit one and I thought the truck was going to flip … with a vent patient on board, a trainee, a medic, and an extra EMT, as it was a major transport.
Then a few months later my (now ex) boyfriend totaled his truck against a jersey barrier and the doctors said they didn’t know how I was able to get out of the truck.
Now I panic. If my partner is driving, I find myself closing my eyes as tight as possible and griping onto the door for dear life. If I’m driving, I’m white knuckled on the steering wheel, wide eyed, talking myself through it, and panicking the whole way. I have anxiety when driving in the city because both accidents I have been in with the ambulance have occurred due to buses not parking properly and small cars pulling out without regard to their surroundings.
I never liked driving my own car in the city; now I hate driving in the city period. My road rage is almost uncontrollable. My depression … I suffered from small bouts of depression as a teenager. My mother always said I was just being a hormonal female teenager and shrugged it off.
So I did. I started in EMS and it was like my depression disappeared. Helping others made me feel so good. I fell so deeply in love with this field of work. I have never ever looked back.
Yet two years ago my depression came back full blast. A newborn baby, a merconium birth, a mother who would not look at her child before we transported him in the isolet from the hospital – he was born in to a hospital with a NICU, a mother who said ʺJust get him away from me.ʺ
Bad circumstances surrounding the isolet, as the respiratory therapist accidentally leaked the O2 bottle and we ran out of O2 as we were pulling away from the hospital. An isolet setup that did not fit properly with the O2 bottles we had in our truck. A blue baby staring at me with wide eyes begging me to save him. A small BVM. My hands and the hands of the NICU RN keeping him alive. A memory of being a high risk pregnancy while going through a divorce and begging God to just let my unborn baby miscarry, the feelings of postpartum depression hitting me again as the NICU RN stated the baby was definitely not going to survive the night and thinking ʺWhy would you not say goodbye to your baby? And why would I ask God to take mine away?ʺ A successful transport as the baby made the trip alive. A NICU MD stating this baby is not going to live.
Telling my (now ex) boyfriend the next day. His response being ʺIt’s your job, suck it up or quit.ʺ My mother stating ʺIf you can’t handle one call, what makes you think you can do this for the rest of your life?ʺ
Apparently eight years of being an EMT, of having watched friends fall out during fire calls, of helping hundreds of people and tons that I knew personally make it through some very rough moments, of watching a high school classmate die right in front of me, of being the first on scene when my own sister was struck by a car, of bringing people back from death, was all crashing down in one moment because no one wanted to listen to me. I’m a talker. I talk out my feelings; it's what helped me cope when I was a ʺdepressed teen.ʺ
Now I’m a road raged, anxious, depressed individual who quite literally only knows how to be an EMT and has no desire to be anything but someone's first line of defense against the grim reaper whom her own mother thinks is not capable of doing her job. Who broke up with her then-boyfriend because he was unsupportive and I was so depressed. Who has yet to be able to maintain a relationship with a man. Who’s kids are now living with their father, my ex-husband, full time.
I finally broke down. I broke down and talked about it among my dearest and closest friends. I cried it out for weeks. It took two long years. They are two paramedics, an EMT and a PHRN.
Breaking down to them showed me they are not perfect either, as they shared their stories as well. We are a jaded group of individuals and we’ve cried it out together many times since my breakdown last summer. I will never be who I was before the baby call and the car accidents.
My breakdown made me realize how many other calls affected me, both good and bad. My breakdown made me realize how little help there is out there for EMS providers. My breakdown made me realize how many others are afraid to open up because of the things we are told by those who do not understand and by those trying to hide their own feelings.
I still carry my big personality. I still don't want people knowing I’m broken. I am still afraid to seek help from anyone but those close to me.
About the Code Green Campaign
The Code Green Campaign was founded in March of 2014 by a group of EMS professionals who have been growing increasingly concerned about the high rate of suicide among emergency responders, and the lack of discussion about mental health issues in general. Read and even tell your own story at CodeGreenCampaign.org and connect with others on the Code Green Facebook page.