Book excerpt: ‘Because we care’
Russ Myers offers a handbook for EMS chaplaincy
Professional chaplaincy is a clinically trained, evidence-based discipline, reflecting and serving the diverse expressions of spirituality in modern society. Until now, chaplaincy in EMS has been the terra incognita, the unknown land on the chaplaincy map.
In "Because we care: A handbook for chaplaincy in emergency medical services," Russ Myers draws on three decades of clinical chaplaincy practice, scholarship and original research, to give us the map, making the case for ambulance service chaplaincy – how to think about it and how to do it.
It was a particularly heavy weekend involving four critical calls. I was on the phone for hours over those few days, checking in and following up with crews who were on those calls, listening to their accounts of what they had experienced. Monday morning at the senior leadership team’s weekly check in, we noted those four calls and the outstanding work done by dispatchers and field staff. I commented to the group, “This debriefer needs a debriefing.” Apparently, I looked as tired as I felt. A half hour later, I got a phone call from the EAP manager. One of the operations leaders had asked her to call me, knowing that I would appreciate some support. That expression of support carried me through the next week, knowing that the organization had my back.
Around that time, I came up with an idea for a slogan for ambulance services. It would be “High Expectations. High Support.” This is a rewarding and challenging job. We have high expectations, and we should. But we also continuously work to create and nurture an organizational culture of support. We have high expectations of our frontline staff, and they have high expectations of us as leaders. We trust them to do their best in some very traumatic and difficult situations, and we promise them that we will support them in any way we can.
One evening when my daughters were in high school, one of them brought home the movie Cold Mountain. The film is set during the American Civil War and tells the story of a soldier who was separated from his loved ones and spent most of the movie trying to get home. At the end they finally are reunited, only to be met with tragedy. I was not happy with the way the movie ended and said so. “What a lousy ending!” I said. “That was a great story and would have been a great movie without ending in tragedy.”
My teenaged daughter replied, “That’s the way life is, Dad. Sometimes things don’t work out.”
“Tell me about it,” I said. “If I want to hear a story with a sad ending, all I have to do is go to work.”
That exchange surprised me and was the beginning of a greater awareness of how my job impacts me. I don’t like the way my heart starts pounding when watching a thriller or murder mystery. It’s fine with me that some of the EMS crews watch action movies when posted at the ambulance base, but I don’t care to join them. I’d rather read or go for a walk.
My self-care preferences tend toward the tangible. Unlike other vocations and professions where people can step back and see, hear, touch, taste, and smell their work, emergency medical care providers have very little in the way of tangible evidence that we did anything. Some great stories, some run reports. We will not get tangible rewards from our jobs. So we must go out and create those experiences for ourselves. It can be anything creative or artistic. I like to engage with staff about what they like to do when they’re not at work, listening to their descriptions of tapping maple trees and making maple syrup, pounding on metal in their garage blacksmith shop, competitive ballroom dancing, painting, photography, gardening, and myriad other things people do to keep their lives in balance.
This kind of mutual accountability contributes to the health and well-being of the entire workforce. Making self-care the norm is good for the mental health of all of us. This is not an expense, it’s an investment. Our employees, their families, our communities, and our patients are all the recipients of this focus on the women and men who are out there every day. The EMS chaplain has an important role to play in the life and health of the organization. We are all the beneficiaries of this culture of support.
Reprinted with permission from "Because we care: A handbook for chaplaincy in emergency medical services," by Russell N. Myers
Published 2021 by Gryphon’s Key Publishing, an Imprint of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, LLC
Available on Amazon