You know what scares me the most? Those calls, you know the ones, “Psychiatric/ Abnormal behavior”:
“He was OK earlier.”
“He’s got a good job you know, just a lot of stress lately.”
“She’s had problems in the past but never this bad.”
“I’ll have to meet you at the hospital, I gotta go home and sort out our kids, she’ll be alright at the hospital by herself for a couple hours right?”
“His meds just don’t seem to be working anymore,”
You do what you’re trained to do, listen to the history, carry out the assessment. But you can’t help but see the photographs of a happy family with your patient standing in the middle, smiling. You can’t help but hear those sentences. You can’t help it because you’re so close to being your patient. One bad day, one bad call, one moment when something inside just snaps, you know that’s all it takes, you’ve seen it. You envy your patients for it.
Most of them don’t see the breakdown coming. They don’t wait for the fall because mental illness doesn’t happen to people like them. But you’ve been in enough houses that look just like yours to know some of us are just a breath away from giving in to the chaos inside. So you sit and listen to your colleagues joke about that “psych case the other night” and you wonder if they’ll say the same about you one day. If you’ll become a “case” and not a “patient” anymore.
You treat your own psychiatric patients a little better. Go the extra mile, even though it gets you dirty looks from other sleep deprived medics at 4am. And you wait and hope you make it through today. The worst, the very worst for me, is knowing that the system doesn’t work.
That one day when it all falls apart I will be on my own and my loved ones will be left to scrape things together because there is no help for people like us. But I carry on. And hope just a tiny bit that today when I say to a patient, “get in the van, we can go to the hospital and get you some help…you don’t have to be like this, life doesn’t have to be like this” at least one of us will believe me.
– Story written by anonymous 29 year old paramedic.