A Bad Day in EMS

bad day

What does a “bad day” in EMS look like? First you have to ask if it’s a “bad day” for the EMS provider…. or for the EMS recipient. As a provider, I’ve had all kinds of days. I’ve had days where I feel appreciated by my employer, the general public, my coworkers, and my patients. I’ve also had days where I feel insignificant. In the way. Replaceable. Patients who don’t want your help, or worse, need your help and there’s nothing you can do. Family members who discover a loved one at home, deceased, having never gotten the chance to say goodbye, not even sure how long they’ve been dead. I’m a religious person, and I believe that a lot of things happen for a reason, but I also think that sometimes bad things just happen. Babies don’t die because they’re bad people or they’ve done anything wrong. Innocent drivers don’t get killed by drunk drivers because they wanted to buy groceries. In EMS, it’s our job to make scenes and create calm, direct patient care, and try to make a bad situation slightly better than how we found it.

For me, a bad day is one where I could have made a difference except for the “BUT” that got in the way. I could have saved that baby, but the parents waited too long to call 911. I could have stopped that allergic reaction, but the kid’s friends didn’t think it was serious. I could have made it to the cardiac arrest sooner, but people were too busy texting and driving to get out of the way of the ambulance. A lot of things that cause an EMS provider to have a bad day are actually completely out of the provider’s control. This is a concept I have a hard time with.

My family has suffered a number of losses over the past couple years, none have hit me as hard as losing my Gramma. It’s hard not to see her in my patients when I take care of them and they say things she would say. It’s hard to go to work, knowing today might be another “bad day” and that I have not much control over it. I tell myself a lot that I am the only person who can decide if today will be a good day or a bad day, based on how I react to it. I try to find the good in every day, in every person, in every interaction. I can hear Gramma in the back of my mind telling me “it will be alright” and “do the right thing” and she’s reminding me to always be my best, and always give of myself to the people I am caring for. Don’t shut myself off from caring. Don’t become bitter.

Some days are harder to listen to these words than others, and I wind up getting dragged down and see more bad than good. Seeing what people are capable of doing to each other. Despite the fact that we are public servants, sworn to serve and care for everyone in our service area, any person who feels like they’re important enough or didn’t get treated the way they wanted to can call up my supervisor and lodge a complaint, which could lead to me losing my job. That person isn’t affected by what happened at all… they just felt slighted because they weren’t the center of attention, but they’re willing to cost somebody they’ve only just met their livelihood. I don’t understand that. People are so unwilling to talk to each other, to resolve conflict face-to-face, that it’s easier to tattle on somebody to their boss, try to get them fired. It’s easier to shoot somebody with a gun than to get in a fistfight or a verbal argument. It’s easier to kill your neighbor than hear what their side of the story is. There’s so much hate and ignorance. These movements happening now, proclaiming one part of humanity is more important than another – they serve to divide our country, our society. They are not productive. The media show small, myopic parts of what is actually happening. Yes, there are riots, and yes there are unfortunate things that happen that get caught in the national media storm, but the real problems are on a small, local level. A patient’s family member who has been indoctrinated by the media to feel slighted and persecuted, becomes irate on-scene and lashes out at the closest uniformed person they can find. They don’t care that it’s a firefighter or a paramedic, they see a blue uniform shirt and that’s good enough. We may not carry guns and serve warrants, but as EMS providers, we put our lives on the line every day, too, sometimes just in a different way. We hear too often about an EMS call that “went bad” or worse, was an ambush. EMS providers losing their lives because of the lack of value we place on human life today.

This post has been rather long and rambling, but sometimes that’s what this blog will be – thoughts and musings that I just need to put out there for somebody else to hear. Are you an EMS provider? Do you live with one? How do you cope with bad days? What does a bad day look like to you? Comment, share, or tweet back and let me know.

(Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day cover image Copyright by Atheneum Books)

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