How writing may have saved my EMS career
When I started writing, I never imagined that it would actually make me a better paramedic
By Sean Eddy
When I started writing, I never imagined that it would actually make me a better paramedic. Actually, I used to think that I hated writing. It wasn’t until I was asked to put together an educational piece for a newsletter that my employer circulated, that I realized how much I loved it. The response I received from my coworkers motivated me to start blogging and I haven’t stopped since.
But that’s not how it saved my career.
A number of years back, I made a difficult decision while working a critical patient and was overruled by an ER physician and told to take a different course of action. The ER doc was right, and as a result the patient lived.
Allow me to elaborate ...
We responded to an unwitnessed cardiac arrest on an elderly male and arrived to find his wife performing CPR. She came home and found him face-down in the bedroom, not breathing. She rolled him over and started CPR before calling 911. When my partner and I took over resuscitation, I had already made up my mind that this guy probably wasn’t going to survive. The deck was stacked against him. We had no idea how long he had been down, and he had some discoloration on his stomach that looked similar to the early stages of lividity (pooling of blood to the lowest point of the body that occurs after death).
I did everything I was supposed to do. I started an IV, administered two rounds of cardiac medications, and placed an advanced airway. After no signs of electrical activity, I called medical control – as mandated by protocol – and requested orders to terminate resuscitation efforts. The ER physician didn’t agree, and wanted us to continue efforts to save him. I argued with him. I reiterated that he had an unknown down time, absolutely no response to CPR and medications and early signs of lividity. The doc still insisted that I bring the patient in. A lot of thoughts ran through my head at that moment … none of which were compatible with normal human emotion and compassion.
Fast-forward five minutes and we were in the ambulance headed to the hospital. I gave one more dose of epinephrine and not only had electrical activity show up on the heart monitor, but a return of pulses. My heart sank. I tried to convince myself that it was just the epi causing the heartbeat and surely he was going to arrest again. Nope. He kept getting better. He started breathing and fighting the ET tube. I was in disbelief. This sort of thing normally triggered a joyful response. You know, the kind that reminds me of why I do this job. Not this time.
We arrived at the ER, met at the bedside by the ER physician with whom I had argued. He pointed out that the “blotches”I had seen on the patient’s stomach were not lividity and were in fact bruising from the Lovenox injections that the patient regularly takes. He didn’t judge me and he didn’t get mad. Actually, he thanked me for a job well done.
The family arrived shortly after and immediately gave my partner and I big hugs. As they thanked us for saving their loved one, all I could do was think: “Please don’t thank me, I tried to kill him.”
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The humanity under the uniform
After nearly a year, I still couldn’t shake the guilt. That man made a complete recovery and is probably still alive today. I finally decided to reach out to a counselor to talk about it. He knew I loved to write and suggested that I write down my feelings in a journal. I took it a step further. I posted it on my blog. It was a leap of faith, but I needed to talk about it. Within 15 minutes of publishing the blog post, I received an e-mail from a paramedic (who I didn’t know) who had the exact same thing happen to him. Over the next week, I probably received 20 letters of support in my e-mail. The power of those letters was stronger than I’ll ever be able to put to words.
When I stumbled upon Uniform Stories, I discovered that many of the writers have experienced struggles just like me and I immediately knew this is where I needed to be: standing alongside members of all branches of public safety, working together, to show that we are truly human underneath our uniforms.
This article was originally posted Sept. 20, 2016. It has been updated.