I’m awkward. I’m introverted. I struggle sometimes with depression and anxiety. I’ve been, at one time or another, diagnosed with clinical depression, major depression, social anxiety, social phobia, and an anger disorder. You might be reading this paragraph and wondering aloud, “how the hell does he function as a paramedic?” – and you’re not alone. I wonder this sometimes myself.
There is a part of me that is unsure of myself, self-doubt abounds, especially when I’ve made a mistake, or think I’ve made a mistake. I try to always do right by my patients, to ease their pain, settle their mind, make them more comfortable. Some patients are unhappy no matter what I do. Some patients die no matter what I do. I’ve been in EMS for about 10 years now, and I’m starting to accept this reality, that dissatisfaction and death are a regular part of my job, and that there’s not always anything I can do about it except smile, do my best, and then move on to the next emergency.
So what does that mean for me when I am, at times, burdened with depression, anxiety, and anger on top of that self-doubt? It makes it hard to go to work sometimes, that’s for sure. I have a sign in my locker reminding me “remember why you’re here!” and “be patient with your patients!” and my favorite, a partial quote from the Talmud, “Whoever saves a life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.” (Some will incorrectly attribute this directly to the movie Schindler’s List, but I have it on good authority from my wife, a Rabbi, that it does, in fact, come from the Talmud.) When I am putting on my uniform, making sure everything is in the right pocket, my gear bag is packed, my radio is charged, and then checking the truck for supplies… I am not just physically preparing for the day. I am mentally preparing for the day. I am reminding myself that I can do this job. I have been doing this job. I will (hopefully) continue to do this job. I tell myself to remember that there will possibly be a time during this shift that I won’t know what to do, and it’s OK to ask my partner, or call medical control. I’ve been told in the past, being a good paramedic doesn’t mean knowing everything. It means knowing where to find the answer when you don’t have it readily available.
My best “tool” in my toolbox? The fact that when I put on my EMS uniform, it’s like I become a better version of myself. I become more confident. I become more outgoing. I smile at people in hallways and say howdy. These are things I wouldn’t do in civilian clothes, just walking around a building. I would be quiet, avoiding eye contact. It’s almost like I’ve put on a costume of sorts, when I put on my uniform, and I gain the ability to be an extrovert, to talk to people, to quite literally reach out and touch somebody in their time of need. I am able to share personal stories with patients, hold the hand of a family member, put aside my sometimes shy self and take charge at an accident scene. The version of myself that would normally be reading a book or watching TV and trying to stay out of the way of everyone around me is transformed into a paramedic with a commanding presence, a confident attitude, and a smile.
Of course, this is not a fail-safe, error-proof method. There are days when putting on my “costume” and trying to be a good medic aren’t enough. I let my insecurities show. I feel depressed by all the death and sadness around me and I let it affect my work ethic. There are days when I don’t even want to do my daily chores, let alone get up and make runs. These are the days I struggle with. These are the days when I am glad I can write my thoughts down, share them with you. I can process what I am feeling “out loud” in a way, and by doing this, see that the situation is temporary, and I am able to steer myself back towards being that good medic, the caring person, the skilled caregiver.
My main point in writing this post is this: I am imperfect. I am WELL aware of this fact, and yet, I still find myself needing to be reminded of it. I have to tell myself that it’s OK to not know everything, it’s OK to be unsure. It’s OK to be scared. I tell myself that even with all of my anxiety, insecurity, depression, and introversion – when the tones go off, that means there is somebody who needs me. I am here to answer that call. I am in my uniform, I get in my ambulance, and I am on my way to help with whatever the call is. Being needed is a very unique, special thing. Knowing that I can fulfill a purpose, answer that call, help another human in their time of need, is what gets me through those rough days. I’ve said it before, and I still believe it: sometimes, it’s not me saving patients, it’s the other way around.
Cover art Google Image’d by way of FIT – SUNY.