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The Not-So-Glam Life: Part One

Very rarely do people consider what goes on with first responders in the moments before they are dispatched to 911 calls. Even more rare, is the time that is spent looking into the mental and emotional toll that EMS has on EMTS/Paramedics. This post and the subsequent posts in this series will examine just that: EMT Burnout.

You’re finishing up your dinner, and leaning back in you’re chair to settle into a more comfortable position. You’re surrounded by your loved ones and you’re at ease that you’ve made it through yet another uneventful day. All of a sudden, you’re child begins to make a funny face, you’re tickled momentarily, thinking she’s just having a little fun. Very quickly you realize that she is chocking on the last bite of her dinner.

You immediately panic. Then you remember the Heimlich maneuver you learned in school. You rush over to her side, crouch behind her chair, wrap one hand around the other and began to thrust upward trying to dislodge the piece of meat from her windpipe.

Not far from where you live, another family is just sitting down to enjoy their dinner. They cut prep their food, say their grace and get ready to dive in. Just as their forks are lifted to their mouths, the tones go off. This family is a group of firefighters and EMTs. They have had a busy day in the sweltering heat and it doesn’t seem as they are going to get a moment’s rest. So far they have painted fifteen fire hydrants,  responded to seven emergency calls,  done a thorough daily cleaning to the station, and during the only thirty minutes that they were out of service, the performed a strenuous workout. Yet, at the sound of the emergency tones, they instinctively drop whatever they are doing (and I do mean whatever, even if they are in the bathroom) and they respond to your address.

Although they arrived as quickly and safely as they could, it seemed like you were waiting for an eternity. They simultaneously knock and walk through the door while announcing their presence.

“Fire department.”

Your fretful spouse seems to think they took too long and expresses his/her dismay. The crew resists the natural urge to get upset, and they proceed to your daughter. They find your daughter blue, unresponsive and not breathing. She still has a pulse, thank God.

The lead officer tried to calm you down and draw your attention away from your child by asking you pertinent questions. Her name, age, date of birth, and questions about the events leading up to the incident. While you answer questions the lead medic begins rendering care to your daughter. He pulls a small set of forceps from his medic bag, tilts her head back and points a light in her mouth in an attempt to visualize the obstruction.

In just a few Seconds, he uses his forceps to pull a long, un-chewed strip of meat from her windpipe. She is still not breathing. By this time the two-man transport crew arrives. You become frustrated as the officer begins to pass along the information to the paramedic who will be taking care of your child. You feel as if they are delaying care. You think they are going to let your child die.

With the obstruction pulled from your child’s throat, the medic pulls out a small bag-valve mask and begins assisted ventilations. You begin to cry as you watch them breath for your child. Another medic begins to set-up an I.V. bag. They stick your baby I’m the arm with a needle and start checking vital signs. You grow more frustrated because they still haven’t transported your child. Part of you questions whether or not they truly know what they are doing. Yet their compassion and professionalism comforts you.

They pick your daughter up and gently place her on their stretcher. You notice that her lips and fingertips once again appear pink and not blue. Her chest beings to move and it appears she is breathing on her own again. There is a collective sigh of relief throughout the room. She still is not responding, but at least she is getting better.

You thank them as they wheel your daughter in the back of the ambulance. You decide to ride in the front of the ambulance to the hospital and your spouse drives the car  too-closely behind the rescue unit. Though you feel more confident that everything will be ok, you are still nervous. By the time you arrive at the hospital, your daughter is fully awake, not yet talking but very much alert. The doctors tell you your daughter appears fine but they want to run a few tests just to make she did not suffer any brain damage during the time she was unable to breath.

The EMS crew returns to the station to a cold meal. They don’t have as much of an appetite because of the adrenaline rush of having to work on a child. They may never know the final outcome of your child’s condition. They individually wonder whether or not they did everything they could do for your child. They reflect on their own children and families; the families that they left at home that morning and won’t see again until after the sun has risen the next day. They eat their meal with smiles on their faces but deep down they are reminded of how precious life is.

They feel blessed that they were able to make a positive difference in your child’s life, however it triggers the memory of a similar situation involving a child. The memory is painful, the other child didn’t make it. They try to push that memory out of their mind and back into the vault where they try to contain it. They clear the table and clean the dishes. Shortly after their meal they retire to their sleeping quarters. Their bodies are fatigued and their minds reflect back on the day. The car wreck, the fire, and your daughter. They want to go to sleep, but some of the crew members decide they want to call home to check on their family.

By the team the crew members finally close their eyes to go to sleep the tones go off again. They spring from their beds, don their shoes, and head out for yet another call, this time they are slightly frustrated, but you’ll never know it. This is their job, this is what they signed up for, this is the side you never see.

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