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I don’t like sharing EMS stories anymore

I used to talk about the work to anyone who would listen; now I feel like I’m infected and sharing my stories will spread the germs


By Paramedic, 7 years in EMS

When people talk about the stress they encounter in EMS, everyone seems to have a story. I’ve spent many long nights sitting in dark parking lots in the ambulance trading war stories with my partners. I suppose it’s therapeutic, in a way, to just air your dirty laundry with someone else who knows what you’re talking about. Somebody else who’s seen the same kinds of things.

When I first started in EMS I remember that I loved to talk about the work with anyone who would listen. But over time I stopped talking about it. I realized that most other people don’t really want to hear about the truly heartbreaking things we are witnesses to. When they ask, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?” they want uplifting stories of dramatic rescues or funny stories about people’s’ antics.

They don’t want to hear about limp kids, or a dead 16-year-old whose phone is ringing, ringing, ringing as his mom tries desperately to reach him because she heard the crash down the street. They don’t want to hear about abuse and neglect of the elderly who are left to rot on moldy mattresses with ulcers down to the bone on their legs, butt and back. People don’t know how to react to those stories. Those kinds of stories are only met with silence or a quick change of the conversation. So I stopped talking about the things I saw.

I don’t even like sharing with co-workers any more. I feel like I’m infected, and sharing my stories will just spread the germs of stress around to other people.

I still tell people I love my job. That it’s fulfilling and fast paced. And it is. But some of it also feels like it picks away at little parts of me, slowly eroding something inside my heart. There feels like there’s a hollow ache in my chest sometimes. I’ve started having nightmares too. Some of them I remember, but there are other nights where I wake up screaming or feeling panicked and I don’t know why. I get startled easily and even when I’m home I feel hyper vigilant, going outside to investigate any little bump in the night. Even the job doesn’t seem as fun as it used to, and there are days when I dread going to work.

I guess the crux of it is that I don’t really know what to do at this point. I’ve started seriously considering getting out of EMS, going for a change of pace for a while. I don’t want to literally run away from my problems, but the option is there, and it’s beginning to really appeal to me.

Logically, I know that what I’m feeling is a normal response to being thrust into illogical and stressful situations. I know that there are resources out there for me to use to try and “get help.” But there’s still that stupid, stupid voice inside that says that getting help or running away is admitting defeat. That I wasn’t strong enough, or that the job broke me. There’s that streak of vanity and pride that keeps me going back for more, and doesn’t want me to deal with these feelings in a logical manner.

So I guess that for now I’ll keep going back. I’ll keep accumulating more war stories until I reach the day where I don’t want to see any more. Maybe when that day comes I’ll get help.

This is the most I think I have ever shared about the way I feel. Maybe when I’m ready to leave EMS I’ll also be ready to share more of what I’ve experienced. But until then, I don’t want to admit defeat.

The Code Green Campaign calls a ‘code alert’ on the mental health of EMTs and paramedics by breaking the silence about mental illness in EMS by sharing the stories of those who have been there. The Code Green Campaign has selected this story and we are glad to share it with EMS1 readers. Learn more about the Code Green Campaign.