Editors note: This story contains descriptions of specific traumatic memories.
We’re worked for 12 hours, in which we get a half hour break. This break can come at any point, sometimes not at all. 12 hours is a minimum, it’s usually 13 or 14 hours. Not long ago I did 17 hours with a half hour break. By the time I got home, I’d been out of the house for 19 hours. It’s constant, from job to job, no time on standby. 8,9,10, maybe even more jobs per shift. After a stressful or traumatic job there is no debriefing, no de-stressing; barely enough time to chuck a cuppa down our necks before moving on to the next job. It’s not normal, we need time to overcome what we’ve just seen and done, it’s completely extraordinary what we do. Granted it’s our choice to do the job we do, but who helps the helpers? It’s 3am, I’m lying in bed and can’t get comfy. Well I’m comfy. But I’m restless, tossing and turning. I’m tired but not sleepy.
The house is quiet but my mind is alive. I close my eyes and I’m back in the dark alley forcing air into the lungs of the heroin-induced respiratory arrest, waiting for back-up as my crewmate is dealing with his friend who’s in the same state. I’m doing chest compressions on the 72 year old woman, fighting for her to come back whilst her husband sits outside unknowingly. She did, briefly…we fought like fuck. Then she went forever. I’m stood in the side door of the truck whilst my crewmate runs out of the house with the kid, places her in my arms; 8 months old, unresponsive, floppy. Lifeless. I’m driving to an unresponsive kid turning blue and floppy, walking into the house to complete chaos as he’s lying there in the middle of the floor. The pneumonia patient’s son has refused to see her in resus and will come in the morning, she’s barely unresponsive and alone so I hug her, hold her tight and stroke her forehead until she gently holds me back. I want her to know that somebody is there with her. She’s got hours left and we all know it, my radio goes off and I have to leave her.
The 18 year old corpse with the body of a 10 year old thanks to a degenerative muscular disease that’s killed her. Stolen her away. The 98 year old who’s vomited in her sleep and choked to death, by the looks of it she woke up and fought to stay alive. Explaining to her son that it looks like she died peacefully once we’ve covered her over and convinced him he doesn’t want to remember his mum like this. A fella with half his forehead missing after a fall from height whilst drunk. The 19 year old girl who’s had enough of everything and overdosed and isn’t breathing anymore. I’m staring down the toilet bowl at the foetus, two black dots staring back. The mother has miscarried and we explain to them that we need to take her in to make sure everything is out of her womb. To make sure that the dead foetus is fully gone.The guy who’s been hit by a car and left mashed, I can’t even secure his airway properly. He’s bleeding out internally and choking on blood from his massive haemothorax. I’m forcing air into his lungs, suctioning his airway, covered in my sweat and his blood. A CT head revealed a massive bleed as well as an X-ray for a broken neck. He’ll probably never breathe for himself again. He’d have died before I got back to the station.
I fought for him. All are jobs I’ve never had closure on. All jobs I’ve never really spoken about, not in any form of depth. I fought for him. I fought for her. I fought for all of them. Now I’m fighting for myself. I’ve got the two best people by my side; with them, I’m winning.
– Story written by Ash, EMT in England.