Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey


October 11, 2014

Where Does Bravery Belong in all of This?

Let’s put bravery where it belongs!

Bravery is there when we climb mountains or swim to the depths of the ocean. Its there when a baby takes its first step, or a child waves good bye on the school bus for the first day. Its there when we stand up to a bully, or leave an abusive relationship. Its there when we ask our crush out on a date, or lean in for the first kiss. Its there when we jump out of airplanes and walk across volcanoes. Its there when a Paramedic pulls up to a crash not knowing what horrific things they will see. Its there when a Fire Fighter rescues a person from a burning house. Its there when a Police Officer pulls their gun and knows that they may need to fire it. Its there when a Dispatcher answers a call not knowing what they will hear on the other line. Its there when someone tells themselves they can make it through the next chemotherapy treatment, or when a person is put to sleep before their open-heart surgery. Its there when Soldiers crawl through the trenches and when protestors stand up for human rights. Bravery is when the fighter enters the ring.

For me, bravery is there when I fight depression, and get out of bed every day. Its there when I drive past the LCBO and get a coffee instead. Its there when I fight the urge to sleep all day, or the urge to self-medicate my reality. Its there when I accepted the help I was offered, and walked into ‘save my life school’. Its there when I pick myself back up when I stumble, and when I trust my friends. Its there when I focus on making sure my anxiety doesn’t turn into a panic attack, but forgiving myself if it does.

Bravery is all of those things to me and more… but the bravery it did take to post my first blog shouldn’t have needed to be there. We shouldn’t need bravery to talk about mental health illnesses…this belief is killing us. Let’s save bravery for the challenges in our lives and the actual fight! xo

Nat, how did you get here?

Well, I stumbled and made it through my first week of ‘save my life school’; sober and all! I’m very proud of myself, and apparently MANY of you are proud of me as well! Thank you. I have received at least 200 texts and messages showing me so much love and support. Many of you have opened up to me, (you will always be confidential), and I feel that over only five short days I have gotten to know so many of you even more. Thank you for trusting me with your thoughts…it means more to me than you’ll ever know.

So in the spirit of brutal truth, (and because some of you have asked a bit about my past), I thought I would blog about how I landed here. Life so far has been a journey almost beyond words, but lets skip to the “are you kidding me?” stuff. 🙂 At the age of 18 I became pregnant while in high school. My mom was devastated and in turn picked me up from work one day, with my bags pre-packed, and dropped me off at home for ‘un-wed mothers’ which was ran by nuns, (and I believe still exists to this day). I cried every day and didn’t talk to anyone. The girls there were rough, and I didn’t belong. I made a baby blanket in the basement and had 20 mins a day on a pay phone in a closet. After begging to return home, I managed to complete high school, had a baby shower in my english class, and went to my prom 9 months pregnant.

When my daughter was 1-year old, my mom suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm that required hours of surgery at Sunnybrook hospital. She fought through a surgery that doctors told us she would not likely survive, but the injury had turned her into a very different mom from the one my 3 brothers, 1 sister and I knew; her memory was gone, and her speech almost non-existent. After managing to balance scheduling her cognitive, speech and physiotherapy appointments, I was still a single mom to my daughter and now had my youngest brother who was 5 years old to take care of as my dad was a long distance truck driver and rarely home. That same brother (who is now 23), still remembers that it was me who taught him how to read and hold a pencil.

My mom had so many seizures on a regular basis, that paramedics came to know that after taking care of my mom, they could find my little brother hiding, terrified behind the couch, or in the bathroom. After another year of struggling to take care of a mom who had developed such severe psychosis she would barely leave her room, and also caused her to resent me as I became the household mom by default, my mom once again packed my bags (a garbage bag this time around) and kicked me out onto the street with my 2-year old daughter and nowhere to go. I lived in a family friend’s room for a month until I was able to find an apartment.

I then desperately needed to find a job, as taking care of my mom was my full-time job for over a year. I was soon successful, however, the money I made each month was still not enough to pay for a car I had bought with my dad. I tried to sell it, but could not, and ended up having it repossessed, causing a horrible spiral of depression. Even with my car gone, collection agencies called everyday looking for the money I still owed them; it didn’t matter what my story was, or how much I tried to explain that I was actually excellent with budgeting my money, but was not anticipating being kicked out of my home, they wanted what was rightfully theirs. Soon after, I had no choice but to file for bankruptcy for the $8000 I owed.

At that point I began to see how much of a toll the depression (clinical or situational? I was unsure back then) I was suffering from had taken on me, and I made a pivotal decision to go back to school and fight hard as single mom, to become a paramedic. The program was not an easy one to get into; I didn’t even make it onto the waiting list the first time I applied. But I was determined to succeed and spent the next year stacking my resume by volunteering, and was accepted to the program the next year.

I put myself through school by waitressing, and was able to buy a beat up car. I made the hour long drive back and forth on Hwy 400 every day in a car I had wondered if the bottom would fall out of. Fortunately, my grades were the top of the class and enabled me to receive an outside scholarship which helped me out immensely. After 2 years of late nights studying while my daughter was in bed, and scheduling 450 hours of ambulance ride-outs around in-class school, waitressing, and being a mom, I graduated and was chosen to receive Humber College’s Health Science Department’s Board of Governors Award. I felt I had finally made it! And during the next 11 years I grew as a paramedic and developed an EMS family I love very much.

I felt so lucky to actually enjoy going to work, (not very many people can say that about their careers!) I learned something new every day, was financially stable, and made such a difference in people’s lives…I was in my glory.  But no matter how much I loved it, each year became a bit tougher for me to cope with. I’m not going to let this amazing career slip away from me. I fought too hard. I’m sure how I feel is totally normal. I only saw tiny changes in myself in the early years because days just seemed to go by…calls just happened to add up. I could let most calls move through my mind in a healthy way. But looking back now over all the years, I see how life as a paramedic has changed me…some changes for the good, and sadly some for the bad. This makes me very sad…and mad! I am a good paramedic. I love helping people. I love teaching. And I definitely love my co-workers. But somewhere along the way, all of those good things started to not be enough. I slowly began to drink on a regular basis to quiet the ‘bad’ calls I had in the back of my mind. I stopped talking about these calls to my family… It didn’t seem to help me anymore. I started to learn my bad call pattern…after three days I will start to feel better…so the three day depression seemed to be my new normal.

First responders see things they shouldn’t see. Sights, sounds and smells stay with us long past the high we feel after a ‘call’ well done. (That’s a whole other blog in itself). For me it wasn’t an overnight change, (but for some it is). I feel a lot of MY work related depression is cumulative, and over the years I successfully masked it with alcohol. But sadly I got that ‘big bad call’ that pushed me over the edge…May 2012, the Travelodge double murder call in Barrie. Two women were brutally murdered and allegedly part of a satanic cult. The details of the call I will not put in this blog as it still disturbs me so much. But much of it has been published by the media. As a well seasoned Paramedic, I managed to push my feelings surrounding this call to the back of my brain (for two years)… until I had to testify recently and see my patient, the murder (he has pled guilty), again. I had support from my work and fellow paramedics who had to testify that day, and for that I am so grateful, but no one could prepare me for how I would feel in that courtroom.

Oddly I wasn’t that nervous about testifying. I’d spoken in front of groups for years. I was confident in my knowledge of the call and was ready to go in, say what I needed to say, and leave…without looking at him. But as soon as I got sworn in and took a seat on the stand, the Crown attorney promptly asked me to, “Please stand up and move to your left so Mr. Dobson (my patient) can see you… You’re very little.” Can I what? Are you kidding me? You are ruining my precise plan to not have to look at him! Why should HE get to see ME? I stood up and moved to my left, but not knowing if that was enough of a step for him to see me, I HAD to turn and look at him to make sure. There he was, behind a huge piece of glass. The call rushed back to me. The ‘bad feeling’ I had when we walked into the Travellodge was as vivid as it was in 2012. I felt sick. I had just learned of new gruesome details of the call. It was all too much. It felt very surreal. I couldn’t even believe I was there.

After testifying I went home and pushed the knot in my stomach as far down as it could go, because I needed to gather myself to be at a memorial for my good friend and co-worker who had recently died because of a mental health illness. He had taken his own life only weeks ago, and the loss hit our EMS family so hard. Anxiety was racing through my body, but there was no way I was missing this memorial. I had no idea of the circumstances surrounding his death, but I felt I could relate to his pain even if in the smallest way. I missed him. And I wanted to say goodbye.

When I got home I drank two bottles of wine in a matter of a few hours, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to turn my racing thoughts off! It was too much for one day. Seeing a patient who brutally murdered two women and appeared remorseless for the lives HE took. Then going to a memorial for a friend who suffered in silence and didn’t deserve to die because of his mental illness was all…just…too…much. I had a bottle of Benadryl in my nightstand…I knew it would put me to sleep. I ate them like jellybeans and listened to music. I was in another world now…it was perfect…I couldn’t remember the day…my depression was gone. But I also couldn’t remember how much Benadryl I had taken. I eventually learned it was almost the whole bottle.

Thankfully I was texting my best friend that night who was a dispatching and she could tell my texts were off… I wasn’t making sense. She sent a Paramedic to check on me and saved my life that night. I suppose I somehow made it outside to the porch in my underwear and a sweatshirt and sat in the cold where I went unconscious. I was taken to the hospital CTAS 1. I stopped breathing several times on the way, didn’t respond to pain, and I was almost intubated. When I got to the hospital, I was out of the charcoal window so my poor family and best friend just had to wait and see…

The remainder of the night and the following days at the hospital led me to where I am now. But let’s make it another blog. I think you’ve gotten enough info about little’ol me tonight. And I’m sorta done with talking about it anyway…

I will let you know about Day 5 of school tomorrow. Chat soon 🙂

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