Paramedic Nat

A Blog About a Paramedic's Mental Health Journey


November 3, 2014

Day 15 – A Paramedic’s Comfort

paramedic art

The other day my teacher told us that we as ‘save your life school’ students need to ‘get comfortable with uncomfortable’. I knew what she was referring to; that we would be delving into deep emotional topics we would normally avoid…we would be experiencing distressing moods we would normally numb. But immediately my brain also related this complex phrase to something else; being a Paramedic.

Over the last 11 years while being a full-time medic I can definitively say that I have become very comfortable with uncomfortable; and I am noticing how unhealthy this is. I’ve been acclimatized to live a life that includes horrific memories, relentless nightmares, and engrained images of sadness and pain. That may sound barbaric to anyone not in the emergency services field, but it’s literally part of our almost daily lives. Devil’s advocates out there may be saying to themselves that ‘we signed up for it’, but we didn’t. We signed up for an amazing career that allows us to help people on such an extraordinary level, NO ONE signed up for mental turmoil. We signed up for the chance to save people’s lives, NO ONE signed up for memories of patient’s screaming in pain. We signed up for achieving educational goals, NO ONE signed up for drowning our sorrows in vices. We thought we would be ‘strong enough’ to avoid being uncomfortable, but NO ONE is. Strength isn’t measured by the number of deaths we pronounce. It’s measured by the number of deaths we recognized we needed to talk about in order to sleep at night. First responders are some kick ass people!…But signing up to be one didn’t mean we signed away our hearts.

It’s not normal to have a person ask you to ‘just take their leg and arm off’ because they were experiencing so much pain from being trapped in a car with multiple open fractures all over their body. It’s not normal to learn that the patient who hanged himself the night before, had a second noose waiting for his wife had his son not called 911 at the right time. It’s not normal to witness a young woman 7 months pregnant rub her belly with the only limb that could move as she had a stroke that would leave her disabled. It’s not normal to see the cell phone on the road beside the obviously dead driver crushed between the pavement and the car who was texting and driving…and it’s not normal to know he made the three sisters in the other car now  two. It’s not normal to have to tell a granddaughter that we ‘did all we could’ after she begged for us to save her grandfather’s life. It’s not normal to experience and see the look of true evil when you learn how two innocent women were murdered. It’s not normal to be handed a baby that’s blue. It’s not normal to watch a child have a seizure for 30 minutes because your drugs just wouldn’t work. It’s not normal to watch someone die right before your very eyes more times than you could count. It’s not normal to hear a grandmother say that the baby in the highchair in front of you belongs to a 27 year old who’s dying from cancer. What we do ISN’T normal…so why would we think it’s ok to be comfortable with that? Why would it be ANY SURPRISE to hear that first responders are dying every month because they can’t take the memories any longer? I’m uncomfortable with how comfortable we’ve become.

I just got accepted into the University of British Columbia’s Master’s in Rehabilitation Science today. It’s my mission to use this education to make sure first responders heal AS they navigate the career we do truly love, not AFTER we’ve realized we’ve been comfortable for too long.

Why ask Why?

Do you ever find yourself asking ‘why’ a lot? Why did a heartbreak happen? Why did a loved one die? Why did you have to withstand certain hardships? Why?… It’s like if we just got the answer somehow, our grief would lift, we would know how not to repeat the past, we would just do everything better. Well I ask this horrid questions all the time; especially in my times of depression. But when I’m in my dark place nothing about this question is simple. My ‘why’s’ about the world, the universe, our existence and more, are on a grandiose scale. It’s not the type of a calm, camping under the stars after a few drinks, ‘why are we here?’ question…When I’m in layer 4 of my depression nothing I see, touch, taste, feel, hear or sense seem real, and ‘why’ is an insatiable question.

I’ve tried to explain this feeling to AB and Ian because they have been so worried and confused while witnessing me cry on my bed, staring outside with my bleak outlook on life, asking why is there any reason for us as humans to even be here?…But it’s SO hard to describe. During these times the world to me is just painted in pain. For example, the beautiful tree on my lawn that I admired the day before, looks grim and scary and poses an overwhelming threat to the safety of the kids climbing on it outside; even when I cheered them on as they got to the second branch the day before. I feel impending doom all around me. Even if I logically know that everything is just the same as it was yesterday, the depression glasses I look through show the world in the form of a perpetual breaking-news highlight reminding me of all the sadness on this planet. Nothing seems to be ‘worth it’, because eventually everyone will go through pain no matter what. Again, I could tell myself all day long that the struggles we have make us stronger and teach us amazing life lessons… blah blah blah...I could sing ‘Hakuna Matata’ until Walt Disney rolled over in his grave…I still couldn’t see happiness when I’m so lost in my horrible darkness. It’s such a dismal set of eyes to look through; all I see is sadness. (Depressing isn’t it….exactly.)

As you can tell, trying to describe this terrible feeling to someone who has never suffered from depression is just so difficult. With all respect, I liken it to how difficult it would be for me to try to describe what a rainbow looks like to a blind person. Words…mean…nothing. So when some random person tells me that I should ‘just change the way I’m thinking’, or ‘look on the bright side’ I want to scream! It’s like saying to the blind man that he should ‘just imagine the rainbow harder’. THAT wouldn’t be acceptable, so why is it any different? BOTH of our worlds are only able to be understood through OUR eyes. I know most people mean well…I know they want so desperately to make us happy…but the only way to do that is through understanding and education.

My teacher said something very interesting the other day. She said, ‘Why ask why? When the best answer we could possibly come up with is an assumption at best.” She then wisely suggested that maybe we should use that ‘why-searching’ energy on learning how accept the times we just don’t have an answerI intend on taking her advice. 🙂

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