The one call that reminds us why we do this job
I got to meet the woman that I had convinced myself had no possible chance of surviving
By Sean Eddy
Earlier in my career, I was going through what I call “The Circle of Burnout."
I would go very long periods of time where I felt like my only purpose was to cart pain-medication seekers and system-abusers to their hospital of choice. I didn't feel like I was being challenged. Actually, I was convinced that a monkey could do my job. This line of thinking would continue for months on end until that one call showed up that would remind me of just why I do this job. This feeling would eventually fade over the course of a couple weeks and the cycle would start all over again. For the longest time, I was convinced that the “EMS Gods” were just throwing me a bone at the right time to keep me doing this line of work.
That is, until I had my wakeup call …
I was filling in for an instructor at the local college the first night of the new EMT class. The students were taking turns explaining why they wanted to become EMTs. I was halfway listening as 90 percent of them talked about how they're doing it because the fire departments require it. I was already irritated as I had felt the EMT program had become nothing more than a rubber stamp for aspiring firefighters and hearing everyone's stories certainly didn't help. This all came to grinding halt when one student stood up and asked if he could tell a story. I didn't know why at the moment, but something about this kid grabbed my full attention. I gave him the go-ahead and listened as he told the story that forever changed my outlook on my career.
He started telling a story about how his mother suffered from a cardiac arrest in front of him a little over a year ago. He described the feeling of being hopeless, but willing to do anything to help. He talked about how the dispatcher talked him through performing CPR and how the paramedics arrived shortly after and had to figure out a way to pull her out from being wedged between her bed and dresser. He claimed that they “must have shocked her nine times”, rushed her to the nearest hospital, then stuck around and actually transferred her to a hospital that could handle the damage to her heart that the ER had found. He described the whole process of her going through open-heart surgery and eventually making a complete recovery. The whole incident had motivated him to start working as an EMT so that he could pay back the good deed that a group of strangers did for his family.
I had to try really hard not to tear up, because I immediately recognized the story. I ran the call. Only I had no idea that she had lived. At the time it happened, I was convinced that the massive amounts of epinephrine in her system was the only thing keeping her alive and that once it wore off, she would die. I remember thinking that it was cool that we may have given her family an opportunity to say goodbye, but never gave it a second thought after that.
On our first break, I pulled the student aside. I didn't want to say anything, but I had so many questions that I just had to ask. I explained that I was the paramedic on the team that had showed up that day. He immediately started crying, hugged me and asked if I would tell my side of the story to the class. I did, and not a sound could be heard from anyone in that room. No texting, no sleeping, no writing, just undivided attention.
Later that week, my coworkers and I got to meet the woman that I had convinced myself had no possible chance of surviving. She didn't know it, but she had taught me one of the most important lessons of my career. I learned that the “one call” that reminds me of why I do this job, was actually happening every day, I was just too blind to see it.