4 stresses that paramedics deal with that non-paramedics should know about
We might not be great about discussing these things, but that doesn‘t mean we don‘t seek or value the support of the people that love us
By Sean Eddy
When most people think about the stresses that EMS providers deal with, they often assume we worry about making life-or-death decisions and keeping people alive. While those are certainly valid stressors in our career, they aren‘t necessarily what eats at us every day.
The truth is, we often find comfort in handling other people‘s emergencies as it creates an easy distraction from our own problems. There have been times when it was easier to inform a mother that her child was dead than to walk in the front door of my own home and address my own problems.
If you don‘t currently work in public safety, these 4 stressors may surprise you and hopefully give you a better idea of what your public servants go through every day.
1. We are just one call away from never working in the field again.
I‘m mostly referring to injuries when I say this, but this applies to other areas as well. Back injuries are one of the leading career-enders for EMS professionals. We can literally have our entire livelihood taken away from us with one bad lift of the gurney. The biggest problem here is that many of us don‘t have any other job skills … EMS is all we know. Like many others, I started in this field at the age of 18. Leaving public safety would be a rather devastating blow.
2. We struggle to fit in outside of work.
Crazy work schedules make it difficult to participate in a “normal” social life. They can also be very damaging to relationships if we‘re not careful. This is one of the reasons why so many of us have friendship circles containing mostly fellow members of public safety. While many people might not see a problem in this, deep down it bothers us. Many of us wish we could enjoy the usual Friday night out on the town with friends. We also hate having to skip out on children‘s sporting events and school functions.
3. We dehumanize tragedy.
I am often asked if seeing tragedy and death makes me value life more. The truth is, it has the opposite effect. It doesn‘t mean we are heartless people, it‘s just something we do out of necessity. We have to dehumanize our patients in order to objectively make decisions. While this works as a great defense mechanism at work, it often kills our sympathy outside of work. Many of us find it difficult to show emotion for other people‘s tragedies. This leaves people thinking we are selfish or uncaring, when it fact, it‘s far from the truth.
4. PTSD affects us in ways most people wouldn‘t understand.
I‘m not talking about nightmares of bad calls here (although that does happen). I‘m talking about everyday routines that effect us in our personal lives. For example, waking up at 2am in a panic because we think we slept through our tones, or scarfing an entire meal at a restaurant in under 3 minutes out of fear of having to leave it cold to go run a call. These may not seem like a huge deal, but they can actually lead to severe depression and anxiety. It can be hard to separate our jobs from our lives and we too often cope by just working more to limit the separation. This, of course, leads to burnout and sometimes greater depression or isolation.
One of the biggest takeaways from this is to understand that our sometimes odd behavior is nothing personal. We‘re not always the greatest with talking about these things, but that doesn‘t mean we don‘t seek or value the support of the people that love us.
Author's note: Fortunately, there are great resources for members of public safety to seek help when they experience these things. The Code Green Campaign was created by EMS professionals to help us in times of need. You can find them at codegreencampaign.org