I started 8 years ago. I thought I wanted to go to nursing school after I dropped out of college. Someone told me I should do a ride along at my local fire company to get a feel for the ambulance and see if I liked medicine outside of the nursing home setting. I was hooked. The problem was I already suffered from PTSD, anxiety and depression from a childhood of abuse. I made the mistake of dating someone in the company who took full advantage of me being new and the stigma of mental illness in EMS, so when he became emotionally abusive then dumped me he threatened me to keep quiet.
I eventually went on and became an EMT. I got a job working on a transport ambulance and did well enough to work on the critical care rig. I did well, but the company went down hill. I went back to college and finished the bachelor’s degree in sociology I started and applied to master of social work programs and was accepted. I used my experience to say I wanted to advocate for change in mental health in EMS. My professors were thrilled.
Over the past two years I started suffering from debilitating migraines. My partners would do whatever they could to make it so I could function through a shift. This often meant they would tech the BLS calls on top of their ALS patients so I could focus on driving and not puking. I would walk into the facilities and ERs with sunglasses on and not give a f*** just praying I wouldn’t get a hold over. I would pray I could function enough to complete my class work and get through my internship hours for grad school. I got injured on the job as well that not only put me on worker’s comp but kept me from my internship. My supervisor said he would “make my life a living hell” until I was back on the rig. Grad school tried to kick me out. PTSD reared its ugly head. I managed to somehow get myself “healthy” enough to be cleared to get back on the ambulance and finish my internship hours on time to finish out the academic year and get hired by that agency. At that point, I couldn’t fathom the idea of being on an ambulance any more.
Dropping kids off in Section 8 housing to get verbal threats from people because we look like cops, having classmates say that all EMS providers are racists, watching friends get attacked, having co-workers commit suicide, my own health declining. It was all too much. I said adios and thought I would be able to take some time. Unfortunately it is not the case.
My migraines are still horrendous and my neurologist confirmed that they are trauma based. PTSD is still active and my professors have said that they may not allow me to obtain my degree at the end of this academic year despite a 3.9 GPA and glowing reviews from my supervisors from my internships from this academic year so far and last. My fiancé uses PTSD, depression and school as an excuse to push me away whenever I want to try and talk to him about what is bothering me. I have little friends. People who work in EMS told me that because the majority of my career was in transport I have no right to complain.
What they do not recognize are the 19 year olds who would come to us on ECHMO when the cath lab doctor would not treat them. Or psych patients who would attack us in the back of the rig during the hour long transports from the ER to the psych facilities. Or the screaming nurses and doctors who would belittle us for God only knows what when we would have a patient for them but would just see us as “only transport.” It didn’t matter that our certification came from the same state agency as the 911 rigs. It didn’t matter that the trauma patient from the regional hospital was barely stable and still needed to go emergent to the trauma center in the middle of the snow storm. Or that we almost were in an accident in the middle of the freeway transporting the NICU team with the premie going through withdrawal. And the abuse that came from the administrators of these companies. Or the reconditioned vehicles where we would break down on the side of the highway during rush hour in 105 degree heat indexes. Or the stretcher would fall while lifting the patient.
My trauma does not matter to anyone. No one wants to listen. My physical pain from migraines is real, but to most they are just headaches. Not the vomiting, disabling pain, syncope, and possible stroke. My emotional pain is real. The nightmares from the homicidal woman who tried to choke me or almost getting run over on the side of the highway while waiting for the tow truck next to the broken down rig in the middle of the night. It is not the MVAs or the house fires that I responded to on my countless 911 calls that haunt me. Its the horrendous conditions from the transport days. Most days I want to die. But my pain is not real to anyone. And no one cares. But I still want to make a difference. So for today I will stick around and try to make a difference for someone else.
– Anonymous EMT, 7 years in EMS.