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When I knew EMS was my calling

I studied pre-med, but when I ran my 1st shift as EMS provider, I was hooked

Editor's note: To help us kick off our EMS Week 2012 contest, Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh shares when he realized his calling in EMS.

Like many in my generation I grew up watching the seminal television show "Emergency!" While my childhood classmates dreamed of being firefighters or police officers, I was fascinated by the work of Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto.

At that time EMS was being provided by volunteers, and I assumed that I had no future as a paramedic in my hometown. So I began college as a premed student, assuming I could parlay my interest in medicine into becoming a physician.

During my second year, an opportunity arose to join a local first aid squad. The previous week I had received my Advanced First Aid certificate, which would allow me to work alongside an EMT. Figuring that it would be a good way to pad my college resume, I signed up.

But when I ran my first shift as an EMS provider, I was hooked.

I was nervous, excited and frankly a bit fearful about how the shift would go. Of course, the shift was quiet; we had no calls for the majority of the shift. And about an hour before the end, we received a call to evaluate an intoxicated college student at one of the dorms on campus.

As we headed to the scene, my EMT partner told me what we should expect — a cranky, obnoxious patient — and tasked me with performing the vital signs.

But it turned out that the young woman had experienced serious ethanol poisoning and was unresponsive and in respiratory arrest. To boot, she had vomited a copious amount of booze and dinner, which added to the ambiance of the scene (and our uniforms).

The call went by in a blur; we suctioned, ventilated and prepared her for transport, dry heaving the whole time.

Later, we found out that she was admitted for a short while. The emergency room nurse called to let us know we had probably saved the woman's life.

Despite having to wash all of my clothes, I felt really good about what had happened.

The rest, as they say is history — 31 years later, I'm still seeing patients and doing the job I love.

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