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A holiday season we will never forget

EMS will continue to respond, adapt, innovate and lead


We will muddle through these dark times. But the day will dawn when we’ll look back at the pandemic and see clearly how much we have grown.

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My mom was a nurse for over 40 years, from the early 1950s until her retirement in the mid ’90s. I recall a conversation with her, sometime in the 1980s. Reflecting on the changes in medicine during her career, which included the Korean and Vietnam War years, she observed the irony that, “as terrible as wars are, that’s when the most medical advances happen.” That was definitely the case with EMS, with monumental improvements coming during those war years.

The war we are engaged in today is with the coronavirus. COVID-19 dominates the medical, social and political landscape. The experience of tumult, chaos and uncertainty pushes us to respond and adapt at a quicker pace than we would otherwise.

Our work here in EMS is daily impacted by the battle we’re engaged in, both in our clinical practice and in our behaviors. New medical realities and new social realities challenge us to move faster, just to stay in place. Otherwise we get left behind.

A friend describes 2020 as “messy.” As we approach the year-end holiday season, it looks like things will continue to be messy. Indeed, COVID-19 has made a mess of everything. This holiday season will not be like any year we have experienced, with tight parameters on our get-togethers. Even in pre-pandemic times, the holidays can be a time of sadness for some. And now COVID-19 has crowded into that emotional landscape as well.

Finding the good

When surrounded by so much chaos and uncertainty, it’s hard to see anything good in all of this. Yet I have to believe that in 5, 10 or 20 years, we will look back at this present time and echo my mom’s sentiment. As terrible as this is, EMS will see some amazing things come out of it. Maybe you see them already. Maybe the ways we are adapting to the new reality will become permanent, and our work will improve in ways we hadn’t imagined even one year ago. In ways both complex and simple, our practices, behaviors and attitudes are changing.

Already I’m hearing some of you wonder – maybe in addition to gloves, we should wear masks every time we interact with a patient, for their safety as well as our own, COVID-19 or no COVID-19. Maybe. I’m not a medical clinician, but I hear you wondering. What else do you wonder about? I’m confident that, as messy as 2020 has been, EMS will continue to respond, adapt, innovate and lead.

We don’t look forward to returning to the way things used to be. Our trajectory has shifted and we aim higher. There’s no going back. Dark days are ahead, until a vaccine is available. We will muddle through these dark times. But the day will dawn when we’ll look back at the pandemic and see clearly how much we have grown. As terrible as this is, we stand on the shoulders of countless paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers who faced their own dark times and entrusted us with their wisdom and strength.

These holidays, I’ll light a candle and thank them. If they could do it, so can we.

Read next: What changes in EMS will persist after the national emergency is over?

This article was originally posted Nov. 25, 2020. It has been updated.

Russ Myers is a chaplain with Allina Health EMS, St. Paul, Minnesota, and author of “Because We Care: A Handbook for Chaplaincy in Emergency Medical Services.” He can be contacted at