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EMS Poem: ‘The Paramedic’

“This is our charge;” a paramedic shares the humanity behind the helpers


You have no idea what all we do until your worst day, yet I and those like me study and train hoping to never have to employ the skills of those labors, yet ready and willing when it comes time.

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Paramedic Benjamin H. Hawk, NRP, submitted the following poem he wrote to give those outside the profession a look into the lives of EMS providers, and for those within to know “they are not alone.” He noted writing about the darker aspects of this career helps empty his mind and maintain his mental wellness, while informing the general public of “our humanity.”

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By Benjamin H. Hawk, NRP

When you look in my eyes what do you see?
Do you see the lines from years of laughter, the bags under my eyes from years without restful sleep?
Maybe you see the blue color and how it seems a bit faded.
Do you see me focus so intensely that you know I know what I’m doing. that I’m listening.
But I hope you don’t look too close, I don’t want the pain behind my eyes to add to yours. What my eyes have seen is my burden to bear.
You and your family called for help, you prayed that your God would deliver you from this moment.
You keep praying long after I arrive, those prayers continue even when looking in my eyes. You can’t see that God sent someone like me.

Do you see my hands?
Do you notice the scars from a life already lived?
Do you notice they are steady even when outstretched?
You won’t see them falter during the intense moments.
When armed with my tools they are rocks, and without they are soft like worn leather.
Do you notice the ring under my glove? Is it from a happy life outside this place or is it the last tangible thing from a broken vow I’m not ready to let go of?
You see me, but only a glimpse of the person I am.

Do you notice me diligently set to work on the task at hand?
You know what I am. You see me and my kin darting around, you may even think you know what we do, but you’ve never imagined the worst day of your life.
I and my kin have spent a lifetime imaging the worst day.
For this reason is why my eyes are focused, my hands steady and strong.
But what you don’t see is …

I have these lines around my eyes because I’ve earned them, sometimes they’re from having to laugh to keep from crying, sometimes they’ve earned their place by having to shut my eyes so tight to push the terrible away from the forefront of my mind.

The bags under my eyes are from years of working through the night and never getting a restful night’s sleep, but they’re also from being a single parent that only sees his children on the weekends and instead of sleeping I sit next to their beds while they dream just to get more time with them.

The focus is from knowing I’ve seen this before and knowing it didn’t go well the last time. Or when you hand me your sick child all I can see are my own children and I lock in to doing everything as right as possible because in that moment your child is mine as well.

Yes I am listening, but what you can’t see is my mind being 10 steps ahead of what my hands are doing. The color has faded a bit over the years, but you can’t know that they have seen the best and worst of humanity for more years than I’d really care to admit. Because of that I pray you don’t ask what’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen because I don’t want to relive something that already haunts me.

The scars on my hands, they show you a life lived full of mistakes, wrong turns and hard learned lessons. But you can only see the scars on the outside, you can’t see the blood stains my mind will never forget, the hands held in the final moments, the tiny broken bodies, the desperate grip of those begging for a few more moments, or the last grip of a friend or brother with no words because there are none to be found. My hands are held steady by those I couldn’t save, held true by the memory of the broken, they do not falter because of those that came before and they will never waiver for those yet to come. My hands are the tools my mind sets to work with, they give you a chance and prepare the next generation for their turn at this life. You don’t see the ring that tells you I have a reason to go home and leave this life at the door. You can’t see the driving force that is my reason for moving forward, but know in your dark moments my eyes will look upon you and my hands care for you as I’d want my own family seen and treated.

You see me set to work and you wonder how I can think, how I can feel, how I can communicate, and how I can do it all with little to no change in the tone of my voice and without any sign of fear. You think maybe I’ve seen too much and am numb to it, and in part your right, but the reality is this is not a job I took by choice, this is the path I was called to.

You have no idea what all we do until your worst day, yet I and those like me study and train hoping to never have to employ the skills of those labors, yet ready and willing when it comes time. Your worst day is shared by me, my brothers and my sisters and it will stay with us for longer than any of us will ever admit.

In the darkness of your fear we hope to shine a light, to stand between you and grave, we will do as trained and hope amongst hope that the divine are pleased with our efforts and allow you to draw at least one more breath.

This is our charge. This is our life. It is our duty, it is a gift given to us by an authority we do not understand and fear to question.

You know my title, but you have no idea who I am.

To you I am

The paramedic

Read next: EMS Poem: ‘The Physicians Choice’

About the author

Benjamin H. Hawk, NRP, is an active paramedic in the Atlanta, area, working for a busy service that answers over 150,000 calls per year.