Musings on a decade in EMS

You know that song by Faces, Ooh La La, that has the chorus that goes “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger“? That’s how I feel about some parts of my career in EMS. I realized today that I’m about 12 years into my EMS career, and about 7 of those years spent working full-time in EMS. A decade or so of working in public service has shown me a lot of amazing things. I’ve seen people cause each other great pain and harm, and I’ve seen the truly amazing side of humanity – people coming together to help total strangers on their worst day. I’ve responded to MVCs, fires, overdoses, cardiac arrests, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, a wildfire, floods, a tornado, and more falls than I can count. I’ve worked for city, county, and private EMS services. I’ve worked as a volunteer, a part-timer, and as a career paramedic. I’ve been on ambulances, squads, chase cars, engines, rescues, and trucks. The one thing that stands out about every single place I’ve ever worked, and every call I’ve ever been on, are the people who’ve been by my side on each call. 

Having a great partner can make a 24 hour shift fly by in an instant. Over time, you form a bond that allows you to work in concert, almost without needing to talk to each other, able to anticipate what you’re going to need to do before you need to do it. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing people in my short career thus far. I struggle, though, because whenever I picture them, or talk to them, or visit them, I can’t help but remember some of the awful things we’ve seen together. The broken and sick people who we treated and transported together. Our collective successes and failures. It all plays together in my mind.

I’ve also had some amazing mentors, instructors, and preceptors in my career. I wish that, early on, during my training and education, I had realized just how fortunate I was at the time. I wish that I could go back and make my former self relish the experience, thought, and passion that went into each encounter, each lesson, each “learning opportunity” when a more experienced paramedic took the time to encourage me, redirect or retrain me, rather than berate me or talk down to me. Paramedic school was the hardest, and also the most rewarding, thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I don’t think many people can grasp the amount of time and energy it takes to get through such a time- and learning-intensive process. Hundreds and thousands of hours spent in the classroom, in hospitals, and at fire and EMS departments. Running scenarios over and over again, until the core skills become muscle memory, able to be recalled and repeated in a sleep-deprived haze at 3:00am on the side of a dark highway. Each class, each instructor, each preceptor, each encounter, formed me into the medic I am today. I am forever grateful to every single person who trained or taught me. You are with me on every patient encounter, every person I transport, every hand I hold.

I often think back on things that used to be important to me, that don’t seem so important anymore. Things like popularity, social plans, and even “what’s for dinner?” seemed like a big deal at the time. Now, having witnessed what a TRULY awful day can be, my perspective on life is forever changed. Nothing seems quite as important once you’ve held a lifeless infant in your arms, or told an 80 year old husband that his wife of 60 years has passed away in her sleep. This perspective that my life in EMS has afforded me has made me a better medic, and a better person. I really do wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.

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