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When a nightmare call pushed me past my limits

I come from a family that has a significant history of depression and PTSD, and I always swore it would never happen to me

By Anonymous, 5 years in EMS

It turns out that we are all human. No matter how much you think you have everything together, you don’t. Plain and simple.

Without getting too descript, I work in the medical profession in two capacities. I work full-time as an ALS provider and also investigating out-of-hospital deaths. Both of which I was proud of being able to do and do them well. I never intended to end up in these positions when I was young, I always wanted to be a lawyer or do things like they do on “criminal minds.”

I was gently pulled into this profession and felt very comfortable with it. I enjoyed the time helping people. I enjoyed telling people what I did. I enjoyed the thrill and the rush of showing up on scene and knowing that I was able to “help” even when there was not much I could actually do.

I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go into EMS full-time even though I have a bachelo’rs degree in a completely different field. That was hundreds of patients, many gruesome fatalities, many screaming family members, less guilt, 2.5 years ago and a completely different person.

I was always a serious person who analyzed and questioned everything. Even from a young age, I remember my parents and teachers being exhausted by my constant questioning of everything.

I find joy in things but it is usually very sarcastic and I truly feel sorry for those who don’t understand my sense of humor. After this last seven months, I can only imagine how frustrated my parents, teachers and supervisors must have been with me. I question myself and my decisions about as much, I imagine, as I questioned them.

This questioning began when I responded as an investigator on a multi-fatality accident involving a child and has continued to carry over and haunt me with each time the tones go off for my full-time position on a 911 service. Since then, I have been part of multiple fatalities and suicides, but we all have that one that sits with us. The saying “I wish my mind could forget what my eyes have seen” is overused, but not understood unless you have been there.

This concept has been very hard to communicate with my family, especially my spouse. This has been the most hard on me. I come from a family that has a significant history of depression and PTSD and I always swore it would never happen to me. I always swore that I would “get out” if I started not to be able to handle the calls.

My spouse supported me and listened as I brushed one code or fatality after another off my shoulders. Things like this didn’t bother me, I was stoic, I was strong, some say cold-hearted. I had the ability to compartmentalize. I was/am good at my job. I hid things. That was until I was no longer able to “stay strong, stoic, cold-hearted” and those compartments collapsed on themselves. All of this, right at a year after my “nightmare” call occurred. I had spent so much time telling my wife to “not worry, I got this,” that she became the same way with me.

When I finally had enough of the way I was feeling, the sleepless nights, the self doubt, the sense of horrible self worth, and guilt I approached her about it. Her response was “it’ll buff.” This was not her fault in the slightest. I had spent the last 4.5 years telling her the same thing and when I decided to make this a full-time profession, she voiced her concerns and I said the same. However, I resented her for it. I resented myself for it. I resented patients for being sick. I let this one response single handedly ruin 4.5 years of marriage.

Any and all trust that my wife had with me was lost through the last seven months of my own self preservation. I will be the first to admit, I have shut down. I have lost any interest in EMS and have lost a lot of faith in human kind. The biggest issue for me is trying to figure out if this is temporary or something that I will have to live with. My wife is pushing and pushing for me to get out of EMS, but at times it feels like it’s the only thing that can hold me together thanks to my coworkers and the sense of them “knowing.”

Most days are a struggle. How did I allow myself to feel this way? Why me? Do I actually have any emotions at all when it comes to people? What’s the point to all of this?

When asked if I had ever thought of suicide, my response was much like others. Yeah I have, it’s often too messy and selfish, and I’ve seen what it does to families, I’d never do that to my wife and children. This, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t thought of my absence if I were to become part of life’s great tragedy.

After all, life is a terminal diagnosis. I have worked hard to shake these feelings but every day is a struggle. All I can do is reevaluate my decisions from here forward, hope and pray for support from my wife and that the pager doesn’t go off for something other than a trip from facility to radiation. But in the end “it’ll buff,” right?

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.