‘No one prepared me for what I would see in EMS’
A paramedic shares how the cumulative toll of tragedies experienced in emergency services can affect anyone
This story is reprinted with permission from The Code Green Campaign. Code Green accepts stories from EMS providers, firefighters, dispatch personnel and law enforcement officers who have experienced stress, trauma or mental health issues. Submit your story today so that other first responders can see they are not alone.
No one prepared me for what I would see in EMS. No one warned me the toll it would take on you mentally being a firefighter/EMT. I have been in EMS 6 years now and 1 year of that is as a medic so far.
It all started 5.5 years ago. Dispatched mutual aid for respiratory distress no other information. We showed up and could hear the children screaming outside and knew it wasn’t good. We found a mother unresponsive with agonal respirations under the Christmas tree surrounded by gifts. She had overdosed.
The kids screaming and crying for us to help their mother and save her. These children to this day I can hear them scream in my dreams. They are just one of many nightmares that haunt me. I have seen and just about done everything. Babies that didn’t wake up in the morning. Little kids that drowned in their own swimming pools.
Individuals that were younger than me die in front of me as they are heavily trapped in a vehicle and there is no access to them to provide any means of help. Pull them out and begin CPR on him only to inform his parents at the hospital there only child is dead. The husband in Walmart begging us to save his wife and begging his wife to pull through who collapsed while shopping. Only to watch him collapse to the floor crying in the ER as we pronounce his wife dead.
My nightmares and diagnosed PTSD and anxiety do not come from one single call. Its numerous calls and numerous stories to share. I have learned I am not weak but in fact strong and only human. Every call was a pebble and eventually, my backpack was too heavy from each pebble. No one ever prepared me for the demons that would follow me and haunt me the rest of my life. I took the route of denial and self-medicated with alcohol every single night to try and block out the nightmares of the families.
I attempted suicide once by trying to drink myself to death only to wake up in an ambulance with coworkers bringing me to the hospital. Coming up with lies as to why I drank myself unconscious so they wouldn’t know the truth. It took me 2 years of living life like this and living a lie every day and hiding how hungover I really was. I went to work and tried to sleep shifts away and my hangover. I was having nightmares daily.
No one knew what I was going through and I was afraid to let anyone know. I tried talking to some people but was shut down instantly saying I’m too young for this to happen it must be something else going on. Finally, a friend normalized me and told me her father went through similar stuff and its ok.
Then began the flood gates as to what I was going through. I spent 6 months in therapy going once a week. I am better now I don’t self-medicate every night of the week. I still think about things though but have found a support system that works. I am now comfortable with telling my entire story to anyone.
I was written off as burned out and that I should leave the job. When in fact I was crying out for help every day and just wanted to talk but was afraid and in denial that it can’t happen to me and I’m strong, not weak. I’ll get through this. I learned the hard way that almost cost me my life it’s alright to talk. It’s alright to get help and share the stories to help cope with all the horrible calls and situations I’ve dealt with.
I’m 25 years old and been in fire/EMS since I was 18 years old. I’ve held several titles from training officer to just a paramedic. It can happen to anyone of us and it’s alright to get help.
– Story written by an anonymous 25-year old Massachusetts paramedic (7 years in EMS)