The hardest part about being a paramedic

If we aren't careful, this job can lead us down a very rapid path toward divorce, financial ruin, depression and anxiety

By Sean Eddy

The other day I overheard a paramedic student asking a colleague about what the “hardest” part of being a paramedic is.

For some reason this really got my attention. I've heard and answered this question many times, although my answer is usually some generic crap about learning to think independently or something. The truth is, the job itself isn't that difficult. Yes, EMS (and public safety, for that matter) can be stressful, but nothing compares to the lasting effects on our personal lives. If we aren't careful, this job can lead us down a very rapid path toward divorce, financial ruin, depression and anxiety.

Maintaining a healthy relationship while working an EMS schedule can be extremely difficult. Many of us are quick to attribute the constant fights about broken promises, missed family events and financial troubles to a “lack of understanding” on the part of our spouse or significant other. They don't teach us in paramedic school about life balance. Everyone is quick to offer advice on handling your first pediatric full arrest, but nobody talks about the temptations to find attention and affection from a colleague that “understands” you.

What so many of us don't understand, is that maintaining a healthy relationship isn‘t about finding a partner that “gets” us. It's about understanding that we place ourselves in a position that limits our ability to provide the basic emotional needs of our partners. Don't believe me? Then look at all the healthcare providers, police officers, etc. who marry each other only to get divorced at just as high of a rate — if not higher — as people that date or marry outside of the profession.

Another big challenge of EMS is trying to maintain a normal routine after spending a third of our life creating work habits, and defying the basic needs of our body. I can remember being on a date in which I drove into the parking lot of a grocery store and parked in our usual posting location out of habit. Of course we laughed about that, just as I do every time that I reach for my radio to advise that I'm “back in county” as I'm driving in my personal vehicle on the interstate.

What isn't so funny is waking up at 3 a.m. in a panic because I heard our “tones” going off, only to find that I'm at home. Likewise, it isn't fun to jump at the sound of someone‘s ringtone that sounds similar to our paging alert. I have nothing “scientific” to explain any of this, but I can‘t imagine that all the years of going from a dead sleep to driving 70 mph in just 60 seconds did anything to help.

I could go on and on about things like a lack of empathy, or the nightmares about a failed airway, but that would require an entire series of articles. A good friend and fellow Uniform Stories writer, Justin Schorr says it best when he identifies one of the hardest parts of the job as being what we do between the calls. The truth is, we can all learn to be paramedics. The challenge? Learning how to not be a paramedic.

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