The other night while I was getting ready to go to a Gala, my 10 year old son asked me a question that made me realize how much my behaviour when I was drinking still affects him deeply. While doing my make-up, I wasn’t thinking anything about the topic of alcohol because after a lot of hard work and dedication the obsession it caused has been removed from me, so I was shocked to hear my son ask, “Mom, what would you do if someone gave you a drink?” I could tell that he was trying to make the question seem casual and not significant, but when I looked at him I could see the seriousness in his eyes.
So at that moment I had two ways of answering the question. I could a) laugh and say ‘oh don’t be silly that won’t happen’, or b) take the time to answer his question honestly and clearly. I suppose the reason for this blog is to sincerely express how important it is for all parents in this situation to choose option b. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year and a half of recovery, is that my old belief of hiding my emotions from my kids and avoiding answering serious questions, never helped them at all. In fact, it hurt them.
When I came home from the Homewood Rehabilitation Centre, I was still only allowed supervised visits with my son, and my daughter who was 17 at the time was still very hurt, afraid and distant. Thankfully, I learned how important honesty was when I was away, and I slowly put that into practice when my kids became comfortable enough to ask me questions. I was especially happy to see how well this ‘be vulnerable and honest’ way of life worked when I was having a sad day and my daughter heard me crying in my room, and came in and asked if I was ok. The old me would have lied and said, ‘I’m fine don’t worry’, and then would have changed the subject to some completely unimportant topic thinking that this would ‘protect them’ from pain. I was SO wrong…THIS way of answering only fuels our kid’s worries. They KNOW when we aren’t ok, and pretending we are only confuses them, and encourages them to practice the same behaviour when they are sad.
So on this particular day I decided to tell the truth. I didn’t get into a huge discussion, I simply said, ‘I’m just having a sad day because I miss someone, but I will be ok.’ Honest, to the point, and obviously EFFECTIVE, because she lovingly looked at me and said ‘ok’, told me that if I needed anything to let her know, and then proceeded to laugh and giggle with her little brother downstairs. I was shocked at first! I thought that by showing my vulnerability my daughter would think that I was weak. But the opposite happened! She saw that I was HUMAN, was satisfied with the answer I gave her because it was the TRUTH, and therefore no longer needed to worry. It was a life changing moment…for all of us.
I practice honesty all the time now, just like I did the night that my son asked me the question about what would I do if someone gave me a drink. I took the extra moment to look at him and replied,’I would say no thank you to the person and get another Perrier’. And like I had expected, that was all he needed to hear. And in this particular case, he KNEW it was the truth because anyone who knows me now, knows how I do love my Perrier! 😀
I am so excited to announce my upcoming event!
Join me and special guest Vince Savoia (Founder of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust) for an evening of mental health awareness, and recovery celebration.
The semi-formal evening will include a presentation documenting my mental health’s journey of happiness, sorrow and hope, followed by refreshments and mingling among fellow mental health advocates and organizations.
200 Tickets Available ~ Order Yours Now!
One of the most amazing gifts I have been given as of late, was the opportunity to be the ‘speaker’ at my dear friend’s 1 year recovery celebration. It’s sort of a big deal being asked to share your experience, strength and hope with fellow 12-step members. And being that I only have 10 months of recovery, I was SO surprised when she asked me, and of course I excitedly said yes!
Like I have mentioned before, 12-step meetings are not what most people imagine. Movies and television portray their environment as glum, and dreary. They make it seem as if we don’t want to be there, and that we are all unemployed and depressed. Now to be fair, there are some unemployed and depressed people who attend meetings, but there are unemployed, depressed people everywhere. Painting every 12-step member with that paintbrush is simply not even close to realistic. After following the steps, and embracing the promises the program has to offer, we don’t ‘white-knuckle’ our way through a sad, recovery life like many people may think. In fact, many of us, if not most, enjoy happy and fulfilling lives without the obsession of mind for our vice at all; lives which we never believed were possible! At Homewood I could have saved myself a whole lot of grief if I had clued in earlier to the fact that these 12-step programs actually work when I learned that there are over 300 types of these programs around the world addressing more addictions and emotional illnesses than you can imagine!…but ‘learning the hard way’ and I were BFF’s back then. Insert ‘what was I thinking’ head shake.
The night I was the ‘speaker’ was extra special because I brought a friend, my daughter, and her boyfriend to the meeting to hear me speak. It was so nice to be able to show them what it was like behind the mysterious 12-step walls! And it was so wonderful to be able to introduce them to my friends and prove to them that we have fun and laugh and support one another more than most people could imagine. We’re a pretty fun bunch!… who knew right?
What a night it was! When I took to the podium, I was blessed to see 100 sets of smiling eyes starring back at me. I had an idea of what I would talk about, but decided to speak from my heart and let the words come to me naturally. So away I went, and over the next thirty minutes I was able to share the story of my alcoholic childhood and the battles I conquered while being a teenage single mom. I shared of my love of being a paramedic and how sadly a double murder call that I did in 2012 gave me PTSD which partially caused me to spiral into a deep depression, lose the love of my life, and almost cost me my life with a suicide attempt and multiple overdoses. I spoke of how this mental illness and my disease of alcoholism reeked havoc on my family and friends, and how I ended up almost completely alone with Children’s Aid restricting the contact I had with my son, and my daughter dangerously ill in the hospital. And with chilling memories running up and down my spine, I shared with the audience that less than 1 year ago my family had seriously discussed my funeral arrangements and planned what to do when I was gone…not if.
Now I want to let you know, and possibly eradicate another false 12-step assumption, that the purpose of being a speaker at a 12-step meeting isn’t to glorify the bad that happened in our lives. On the contrary! It’s by sharing our journey that we are able to take pride in the magnitude of our recovery, and even more importantly, hopefully inspire others to continue with theirs. Being a speaker doesn’t involve puffing out your chest and showing how your struggle was worse than anyone else’s. It goes without saying that every participant in the room has fought the fight of their lives while suffocating under the darkness of their disease. Furthermore, sadly every 12-step goer in the room has been directly and/or indirectly affected by the loss of familiar faces who once shared their honest stories too; some lost to the return of the obsession of their vice, and more often than I had expected, some lost by death related to their disease.
As a speaker, the main purpose of sharing life-stories is to show that through the darkness their IS light! And as a speaker it was my honour to shout from the depths of my heart that a happy life in recovery IS POSSIBLE! I am LIVING testament to this fact! I was able to share how waking up in the morning is a gift. And how the feelings surrounding my heinous obsession with suicide are actually hard to even remember now. I was also able to share how I live my life mindfully with my Higher Power, God, leading the way. And how even though I still have nightmares in my unconscious sleep, I know that my conscious wakefulness will be filled with new found patience, peace and love. In short, I was able to share with so many surviving souls, that their strength and perseverance is WORTH IT, and that HOPE and LOVE are what will launch them into the ‘4th dimension’ of recovery FREEDOM!
How happy am I that I don’t need to hold a glass of wine up high to ‘cheers’ to my success’ anymore. On this very special night, I was given the gift to celebrate my success’ by holding my head up high instead.
I recently posted a blog entitled: Appreciation of Life Through a Paramedic’s Eyes for which I have received wonderful feedback and many shares (thank you!). This important post highlighted the contrast between life and death, and how as first responders it is so important to not only be mindful of the death side of the spectrum of life, but also the beautiful life side as well.
So, I asked YOU, the amazing first responders out there, to share YOUR beautiful life stories, and the response was overwhelming! So here are a few stories of hope and happiness from services all over North America. Keep the beautiful life stories coming, (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I will continue to share 🙂 I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did! …. ps. get a tissue! And let the tears of happiness begin….
Nicole from Orangeville wrote: My partner and I had picked up an elderly female patient from a nursing home and brought her to the hospital as she was septic and sadly wasn’t going to survive the night. We were at our local hospital waiting for a room for the patient.
A lady had walked by earlier to visit a patient and when she was walking out to leave she looked at our patient and asked us if our patient was going to be OK. We said no, she was not doing very well and would probably not make it through the night. Well that lady said that she wasn’t able to see her father as they had sent him home without her knowledge. She asked if she would be able to pray with our patient and offer her comfort in our patients time of need.
Of course we said yes.
That lady stayed and prayed with our patient, holding her hand and just being with her when she was alone and there was nothing that we or the hospital would be able to do for her. The lady stated that there was obviously a reason that she was brought to the hospital, and it wasn’t for her father, but to be with a complete stranger in a time when she was alone and dying.
It was such a touching moment for me, I still cry when I think about it…..one beautiful soul helping to comfort another soul in need. It gave me a new perspective on things, including that sometimes all you can do is hold a patients hand and let them know that they are not alone.
Dan from Mississauga wrote: It was another long tedious day. Crews are lined up down the back hall in the emerge. Endless hours of waiting ahead. Medics were doing what medics will do when left to their own devices and bored. Which is rarely good.
My partner was joking with one of our colleagues. I stepped out to bug the triage nurse about the delay. When I turn to go back I see Rob doing cpr on the patient of the crew he had been joking with as they were moving the stretcher down the hall. Did someone miss something? No, STEMI negative. They had checked several times. No previous nitro use so they gave him ASA per protocol. They had reported properly to triage. His Vital signs were stable and there were no available beds, so it was “join the line up in the hall”. He was alive then he wasn’t.
We slapped on defib pads and shocked him. Moved him to the resus bed and started cpr again. Slowly his hands moved up to my wrists, pulling me off his chest. His eyes were opening and that “what the hell just happened?” look was on his face.
I turned around to see his daughter standing there, realization dawning, unsure whether to be scared or relieved. She had been there the whole time. Waiting in the hall wondering why her dad wasn’t in a room. Watching over him when he stopped responding. Watching helplessly as things started to happen too fast for her to comprehend. She knew something bad had happened, but was it still happening? The only thing that was certain was that she was scared, and bewildered.
A quick discussion with the ER Dr followed by a transfer to the cath lab and everyone could start to breathe again.
A month or so later, and some sneakiness by my supervisor, I’m looking at the face of the patients daughter again. A smile, a hug and a “thank you for giving me my dad back”.
Anonymous from Canada wrote: We are often referred to as medical interventionalists and I guess to some degree we are.
However working in this job you very quickly realize that its actually pretty rare that you get to “intervene” in a medical sense, although depending on your temprement, there are many opportunities to intervene on a humanistic level.
For me, that is the most precious element of my profession.
I was recently asked by a colleague and former instructor, to write a positive story I recall from work, and so here we are.
For me this human element of my work was highlighted by as particular call I did working for a rural service in the North of Ontario.
Transport times can be long so It’s not unusual to be in the back for 60 minutes or more monitoring and Interacting with your patient.
On a hazy morning we were called out at 06h to respond to the far side of our coverage area. It took nearly an hour to arrive on scene and then another hour to the nearest regional medical facility.
I walked into a house to find an elderly gentleman in his 80’s , AOx3 but not looking too healthy, sitting slouched – sweaty and concerned, at his kitchen table. He had been out working on his boat yard when he began to suddenly feel weak and dizzy.
He was a strong, proud man. The kind that had worked more for the sake of others – than others had worked for him – but I could tell, despite his hiding it, that today he was scared.
I went through my usual routine, and packaged him for transport. A few questions, 2 aspirin and some strapping and my two years of college training was exhausted…
Then the real work begins.
As we sat in the truck discussing the patients medical history, I realized that both he and the road we were on, had the same name. So I asked:
“How come they named this road after you?”
And he began to tell me about how his father, after serving during The Great War, had been discharged and returned home to Canada.
However disillusioned with society and the sights he had witnessed on the battle field, his father had chosen to move North, to the woods to escape.
At that time the country couldn’t afford to pay returning soldiers, but instead offered them tracks of undeveloped land in the back of beyond in lieu of cash.
And so his father moved. Found love and together, built a very rustic log cabin. Etching a living from felling trees and manually chopping lumber in the back country.
It was onto this dirt floored world my patient had emerged some time later. And it would be there he’d make his life.
Continuing his fathers tradition of hard work, he had built a small but successful boat launch company, raising and supporting his family and eventually their families as well.
That’s what he was still doing that morning, well into his 8th decade – working for his family’s benefit.
As he recounted his story to me, I could see the tears forming in his eyes as he remembered his own fathers kindness and pondered each of their mortality.
It seemed appropriate, so I placed my hand on his arm, thanking him for sharing with me.
At that point, I wasn’t a medical interventionalist and he wasn’t just “my patient”.
We were two humans caught together in the rip tide of life.
Impotent, and unable to control the external situation, but united in our humanity, sharing an unspoken beauty.
It’s exactly these moments that I live for within my career. Actually if I’m honest, within my life.
They’re real, without pretension. Honest and raw. I feel privileged to experience them, honoured that these individuals allow me to witness it.
As we said our goodbyes and I transferred care over to the hospital, he took my hand and thanked me for listening. I could see the gratitude within his eyes as he asked me to ” Please, never forget those stories.”
I promised him I wouldn’t. In fact I’d share them with others…. (see told you).
In fact I doubt I ever will forget. At least not until the dementia kicks in… if i make it that far.
You see, in this job, sometimes all you can do is just be there.
A witness to the passing of events. A little slither of humanity within the darkness of another’s passing.
‘Dispatch Monkey’ from Canada wrote: The world of police dispatch is by nature a very stressful environment. Many of the calls received at any given time, are usually quite serious in nature. Most people who are calling the police, are doing so because they believe that they or someone else are in some sort of danger. Basically, it is not usually a “happy” environment. However, there are moments that are happier, or end on a happy note.
I have been a police dispatcher for just shy of 10 years (including my training period) and I am posted in a busy communication center in Western Canada. In those 10 yrs, some of the calls that I find affect me the most are ones that involve the children and/or the elderly. These affect me because I am also the father of four wonderful boys and still have two living grandparents. When I receive these types of calls, I can’t help but think of my own children, or grandparents.
I recently took one such call, involving a child, when I was working a day shift on a very busy weekend. The call volumes into the center were very high that day, so needless to say, it was stressful. I had just finished up with a simple complaint and moved quickly onto the next call. On that next call, at the other end of the line was a very frantic and emotional mother. This sort of caught me off guard, as I had just finished with a “routine” call and wasn’t “ready” for this crying mother on the other end.
Apparently, this mother’s three year old son had disappeared from the house. One moment he was playing happily in the living room, while mom was busy in the kitchen and the next moment he was gone. Now some people will say “How can a child disappear like that?”, or “Shame on the mother, she should have been watching more closely!”. However I have never thought that, because as a parent of very active boys, I know how fast and sneaky children can be. So I did not scold her, nor did I get upset, because the last thing that this mom needed was a police dispatcher getting mad at her and telling her “what for”.
After my initial, “Gee, I’m not ready for this call” moment (which realistically only lasted a few seconds), my training took over and I got down to work. I calmly assured this mother that I would do my best to help her and send officers right away. Then I walked her through my questions: What does her son look like? What was her son was doing last he saw her? Where he was when last seen? Etc. She also informed me that when she noticed that he was missing, she started looking and had her neighbors join in the search. After about 45 minutes with no success, she decided that it was time to call the police.
As I was finishing the gathering the information, the mom suddenly exclaimed that her neighbor had found her son. I could here the relief in her voice as she began to cry. At that moment, I asked her if he was alright and when she confirmed that he was, I also felt a deep sense of relief.
With these types of calls there are so many scenarios that run through my dispatcher’s mind and none of those end well. So, when this type of call ends the way this one did, I consider it to be a “happy” call, knowing that the outcome could have been very different.
Kate from British Columbia wrote: It was a hot summer night in August. I got called to work a night shift at a station I don’t usually work for. It was a total fluke and I just happened to be available.
The call came in at 01:30. Gun shot wound to the head for a 16 yr old female. I recognized the area we were going to. A small community down a small country gravel road notorious for weird things happening. We pull up to the house, and there’s no electricity. A place full of squalor. Where you can feel the sadness and despair the moment you walk in. We package and treat our young patient the best we can and go lights and sirens to our local trauma centre. I was driving that night and all I can think about on the drive is my own attempt at my own life at her age where the paramedics saved me. I couldn’t help but feel like I was trying to pay them back for saving my life. In the end she didn’t make it. We watched her take her last breath at 0430 and went back to the station.
I watched the sun come up, sitting on the gravel leaned up against the bay doors outside. I couldn’t help but feel the sadness that the sun wouldn’t come up for her that morning. I drove home at 0800. I walked in the door to the sound and smell of sizzling bacon and pancakes. My husband making our 3 year old son breakfast. My son came running to me with bright eyes totally unaware of the nights events or where I had been. Kissed them both and had to cry. At that moment my heart was filled with so much love and appreciation for my own life and those who had saved me. I’ll never forget that sunrise or that morning coming home. I have this beautiful life . I got a second chance. And I love that I can one day give a second chance to someone, the same that someone else did for me.
Jeff from Canada wrote: My partner and I got a call for chest pain/sob after a male patient went out onto the ice to rescue his dog. En route we get an update that the pain is getting much worse. When we arrived in scene, fire was there, kneeling beside the patient who was laying down on the front porch. My partner looked out his window and said “oh that’s not good, they just out pads on him”.
We make patient contact, and confirm he is VSA. One shock, and about a minute or so of CPR and the patient opens his eyes, and then a few seconds later sits up fists clenched and swinging! We are able to get him calmed down, and onto our stretcher. We start transporting and while doing all that I had to do, I start chatting up the patient about everything. Asking what he last remembers, does he still have chest pain – particularly in the area where the defib pads are, what he was doing on the ice etc. I was amazed that this patient was VSA, we shocked him and within a few seconds he was talking to us as if nothing had happened. This is the first time I had ever seen someone regain consciousness post arrest, especially that fast.
Fast forward a few months when our base hospital hosted their annual Survivor Day. This patient spotted my parter and I from across the room, and ran over to us, giving us a hug and thanking us time and time again. He remembered everything that happened, everything we talked about, remembered the re assurance I gave, and was so happy to be there with his family.
I often get asked, as I’m sure ALOT of paramedics get asked, “what’s the worst thing you have ever seen?” and I reply with “let me tell you about the best day of my career”
Steve from Toronto wrote: I’ve been fortunate in my short career that my exposure to death and trauma has been somewhat limited. I appreciate that it’s a number’s game and eventually my time will come, but for now I try to appreciate the limited number of haunting images in my mind.
I was transporting a palliative patient to hospice, and he was barely concious during the transport. In the back he started to feebly grasp at the buckles as he seemed to have become slightly distressed by it. I took off my glove and held his hand, and he instantly relaxed. Judging by the way he stroked the back of my hand he was holding his wife’s hand. He didn’t know he was dying in the back of an ambulance, and the look on his face said he was remembering better times.
That look of peacefulness on a dying man’s face is why I do this job. Sometimes you get to genuinely be there for somebody when they need you the most. It isn’t always trauma, tubes and drugs. Sometimes it’s just holding somebody’s hand.
Paul from Arizona wrote: A long time ago …
Early after sunrise, responded to a “check deceased subject.” Arrived to find an elderly man having died peacefully tending his vegetable garden. Nature was already doing her business, as the ants made their way about the nose and ears of the body. This man’s wife of many years awoke to find him as such, and she was standing alone out of the way, quietly watching responders go about their duties. I asked her to sit on the garden bench with me, close to where her husband lay. I don’t remember what I asked after I had information for the report, but I let her talk. We sat together for a good while, chatting about her and his life together. Before we cleared, I gave her a hug, knowing how radically her life was changing.
After we cleared the scene, my veteran partner said, “I have never seen a paramedic do that before,” taking time to slow down and have a family member talk about recently deceased loved ones.
Looking back at that call, it took me a while to appreciate the most important skills of an EMS provider in the proper order. Communicate. Alleviate suffering. Once in a great while, save a life.
We can be that calm in a storm – kinda awesome, really.
Been through some rough patches over 27 years in the field. Took a while to mindfully appreciate life.
And last but certainly not least… I wanted to share a blog post from a good blogging friend, Tim from Chicago, about his experience with PTSD, the lessons he’s learned, and how, in his word’s, “if you can move yourself from the dark back into the light, nothing will be impossible. Life will no longer seem impossible”.
A Year of Healing Gracefully
It has been over a year now since I took the first step towards healing from PTSD, and I want to share with you some lessons learned. I will start from where I was, to where I am now. I can most certainly say that this has truly been an amazing year of healing gracefully. Here are my thoughts as written during the magic of 4 a.m.
It was in April of last year that I hit my low point with PTSD, although I did not know it was an issue I carried with me for over 16 years. Once I was shown the light it became very clear that I needed help to heal. At the time of my epiphany (so to speak), I hated mankind in general and it was a real struggle for me to sort out or recognize the good from the not so good. It did not matter to me because most people were being lumped into the bad category, and this ran counter to the oath I swore to serve others in need. This inner turmoil is what I believe caused me the most pain.
I have extensively chronicled my healing journey in this blog so it does not bear repeating. After a combination of counseling, acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, exercise, nutrition response testing, meditation, and now Kundalini yoga; here are my greatest lessons learned:
1. PTSD is something not to be taken lightly as it can be an all-consuming social anxiety disorder. In order to effectively heal from the wounds, one must make the concerted effort at creating a self-care (wellness) plan. An individual must take this first step forward because no one is going to do it for you. My advice is to seek treatment before you are compelled to by either the courts or an employer.
2. Once one makes the decision to become well, know that recovery is not an easy task and will require daily effort on your part. It takes great courage to make a trip around the dark side of the moon and face the demons of your past. More than likely you will find out that it was not just one specific incident, but rather a lifetime of micro-traumas that lead to the erupting volcano inside your mind.
3. Seeking help should not be viewed as a sign of weakness or social stigma. In fact, the more you share your story with others, the easier it becomes to tell with poise and dignity.
4. PTSD is not going to just go away, and it will be a life- long journey to maintain this peaceful state of mind. I realize that I stand on a very narrow ledge between a balanced life and jumping back in to the throws of PTSD. Hence, why I continue with acupuncture and have added meditation, yoga, and nutrition response testing to my regimen. Just when I think I have faced everything that has caused me pain, something else seems to creep up from the basement of my mind. However, I now tackle these issues one at a time, on more rooted ground.
5. As a first responder, I still work within a stressful environment that can exacerbate the symptoms of my PTSD, and these hits will keep on coming as long as I wear the uniform. The only difference between then and now, are the arsenal of tools I possess that help me to cope.
6. It is paramount to journal your healing experience (s) for two reasons. First, it helps you to purge the most painful moments in your life. Second, you have a written record of these events that can be shared when you pay it forward and help others in kind.
7. This last lesson is not really a lesson at all, but rather a gift. After a year of healing I am once again beginning to recognize who is a good soul in this world (my healers would fall under this category). To me, a good soul is someone who uses their God-given talent in the service of others, with no other agenda other than to do just that-serve others. This applies to not only wellness practitioners, but also the general public-at-large. If I come into contact with someone who runs contrary to this belief, I now show compassion rather than contempt, because they may be suffering from his/her own inner struggle(s) that are not recognizable to me. I must constantly remind myself “Who am I to judge another?” This type of inner dialogue will also take a life-long, thoughtful effort
Today, on this Memorial Day let us pause and remember those who have given their lives in the service of others, because it is their sacrifices that have led to our freedom.
In closing, know that living with PTSD is not the end of the world, and some suffer more greatly than others. However, with treatment, a detailed wellness (self-care) plan, and a solid circle of support, you too, can navigate life’s obstacles with grace while firmly grounded to this Earth. If you can move yourself from the dark back into the light, nothing will be impossible. Life will no longer seem impossible.
Find Tim’s blog at http://abalancedlifeselfcare.blogspot.ca
Thank you to everyone who contributed! If you keep sending them…I’ll proudly keep posting them!
With Deepest Gratitude ~Nat xo
Through my personal journey as a paramedic, I have witnessed the unquestionable nearness of death, and the hidden expansiveness of life. I have travelled through destitute darkness, only to find the most radiantly beautiful light. I have trembled at evil, and rejoiced at true happiness. Simply put, throughout my career I have journeyed through the spectrum of life and death, touched each end, and have been privileged to share what I have learned along the way.
Knowledge of this life and death spectrum is obviously not reserved for just me. Throughout a paramedic’s career, he or she will experience this spectrum on such a massive scale! I’ve heard people say that paramedics and first responders, for lack of a better word, become ‘less-sensitive’ to this spectrum in order to ‘last in this career’. But I worry that over the years we don’t just remove our sensitivity to the death side of the spectrum. Inevitably, over time, many first responder’s awareness of the life end of the spectrum becomes less-sensitive too.
So how can we as first responders stay healthy amongst the tears we witness over the spectrum of our career? When death is bound to stare us straight in the eyes more times than we can count, how can we continue helping people with a healthy mind and body? My answer to this question came to me through an enlightening conversation I recently had with my good friend Rob Theriault, and it’s as simple, yet as profoundly complex as this; CONTINUE TO MINDFULLY APPRECIATE LIFE. This rang so true to me! By remembering to also focus on the precious moments of LIFE we experience as first responders, the spectrum of life and death balances out.
We impact the human race so profoundly! We are the last set of eyes many people look into. We are the last hand many people will hold. We are the last encouraging voice they may hear, and the last breath they will share with another human being. We are blessed with the privilege of being the ‘last of their lives’, and in these moments, rather than focusing on the inevitable death we know we are about to witness, and very often can’t control, we as first responders may be able to carry out a longer, healthier, more fulfilling career, if we focus on the person’s joys of life as well.
Is this easier said than done?…Most likely. And to be fair, many of you may do this already! But for those who don’t, I ask you to remember for a moment a time when you got to witness and experience the beauty of life amidst inevitable death. When was there a time that you stood back after a call and felt like you had made such a difference in your patient’s life? Or maybe their family’s life. What are the calls that changed your life for the better? When did you see a ‘rainbow in the sky’, after the ‘storm’. When did you witness a ‘thank you’ through a last breath. What is your paramedic ‘life’ story? Well allow me to share Rob’s:
“On one of my first shifts on the air ambulance helicopter in the 1980s, we flew up north to pick up an elderly male from a small hospital. He was involved in a house fire earlier in the morning and had sustained 3rd and 4th degree burns to over 80% of his body. I was new to the air ambulance and this was my first truly critically burned patient. I knew from the extent of his injury that he was dying and would likely die before the end of the day or within the next couple of days. Did he know he was dying? I wondered? He was conscious and relatively pain free because the nerve endings are destroyed with deep burns. But he couldn’t speak because he had a tube in his airway and we had him connected to a ventilator. By the time we loaded him into the helicopter, the sun was just on the edge of the early morning horizon. Our helicopter, a Bell 212, was noisy and shook in flight. From the look in his eyes, I could see he was anxious. As we lifted off I place a headset over his ears so that I could tell him what was going on during the flight and try to give him some reassurances. He couldn’t reply but he would blink his eyes in acknowledgement. My partner was busy re-taking vital signs and I monitoring his breathing and oxygen saturation. We flew just a hundred feet above the tree tops and when I could, I looked out the side window to see glistening lakes, tall trees, hills and the rising sun. It was truly beautiful. The patient was lying on his back and I told him that if he turned his head to the right he could see out of the helicopter. He turned and stared for the next twenty minutes. I looked at him, a man who would inevitably die, and the rising sun with light illuminating some areas while others were cast in shades and shadows. It was breathtaking and the contrast between this poor dying man and the sunrise ushering in a new day left an indelible memory.
The contrast between life’s endings and new beginnings, the resilience and fragility of the human body, would be a part of my experience for many years to come. It’s part of every paramedic’s experience. We see things that are unimaginable for most. In an odd way, I am happy others don’t see what we see. Their innocence makes me happy. I feel it’s my duty to deal with life and death so that others can be spared.
Years later when I was working back on the land ambulance, I recall a cold Sunday winter morning when we responded to a “jumper”. He had jumped off a bridge and was lying on frozen ground below. Resuscitation was futile and when we left the scene, the image of his traumatized body lingered in my mind. Less than ten minutes later we stopped at a café. It might seem odd to stop at a public café for a coffee after just witnessing a death, but the job goes on. I went inside and as I waited for my coffee I looked around to see customers sitting quietly, some conversing while others read the news or a book. They looked calm and peaceful. I took pleasure in the serene looks on their weekend relaxed faces. I smiled for them. I was genuinely happy for them. The contrast between the image of a dead body and the Sunday morning café reminded me of why I do what I do.”
I am so grateful that Rob shared these stories with me! They took me out of what was left of my PTSD mind! They made me smile and remember some of my own ‘beautiful life’ stories. It also made me think that, maybe us first responders don’t have to become ‘less-sensitive’ to death, if we appreciate the life human being’s experience even more.
What are your ‘beautiful life’ calls? Email them to me (with all patient details confidential as always) and I will share them in another blog 🙂 Thank you everyone! email@example.com
*Rob Theriault is the President of the Ontario Paramedic Association, and has been a paramedic for 31 years and a professor for 13 years. A HUGE thank you to Rob for sharing his candid ‘life’ stories. 🙂