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.