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When EMS calls leave you with a feeling of emptiness

This job does eat away at me every day; there have been days that the toll is taken in one fell swoop

By Anonymous Paramedic, Sacramento, Calif.

Some days it’s a lot to handle. It’s a hard thing to describe. I’ve never been one for talking about my feelings. The more important it is, the more powerful the feeling, the less I will say about it. The best I can do is to say that it is a feeling of crushing emptiness.

There is always a lot of talk about how this job can effect us. People die while we try to keep them from doing so. That is definitely a humbling feeling. I have worn other people’s blood on my skin. I have heard the last words of people I have just met. I have felt my paradigm shift, and my ego crumble when I realize that I cannot help my patient and I do not know why.

I have experienced many of the stereotypical, harrowing experiences associated with this profession. I do not mean to underestimate the effects that those experiences can have on us, but for me personally it feels a little self-aggrandizing.

Those are the stories people expect.

When someone sees me staring into space, lost in my thoughts, it’s easy for them to imagine those things running through my mind. I wish that were the case.

Make no mistake, I am struggling.

This job does eat away at me every day. There have been days that the toll is taken in one fell swoop, with a fast-paced, high pressure, traumatizing call.

Most days that isn’t the case. Most days I don’t have such a convenient target to point at when those feelings hit me. Most days it comes down like a light rain all around me.

There is no big wave. There is no crashing and breaking. Just a slow, steady rain, soaking into everything.

I see death every day, but it doesn’t always make for a thrilling story. I see elderly patients over and over, slightly worse each day. I see demanding, high maintenance patients who really only called because they needed someone to talk to, someone to focus on them for a while. I see patients ashamed of themselves. Ashamed of their size, their appearance, or their hygiene. Ashamed that they need us. I see so much sadness. Not the potent sadness of an acute pain or loss. Not the sadness that allows for catharsis. I see a chronic sadness. Less a sharp stab, more a dull ache. A sadness that I don’t realize is there until I begin to bend under the weight. Now I’m left searching for the source.

I do look back on certain calls and feel the twinge of the intense feelings that they evoked. I feel regret. I feel guilt. I feel incompetent. At least I feel a sense of understanding. I can understand the hurt of those calls. I can paint a picture in my mind. I can quantify the pain.

Those are not the thoughts running through my mind when I am lost in it all. Instead, I am left here wondering what is causing this. Why am I feeling this way? Why do the highs seem so much lower than they used to be? When did my life become the sum of so many minor injuries?

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.