It seems most of the stories here are from people with a lot of time in service. I think that for most providers the way that it mental damage occurs is a slow grind rather than a fast break. I’ve only been doing this for eight months. The usual reaction I’ve seen when new guys complain in EMS is that a 20 year paramedic says something like “You ain’t even started yet! Talk to me in 5 years!” or something of the sort.
I’m new to this field, that’s true, but I do experience the things we all experience. I run the calls, I see the patients, I see the outcomes, I hear the pleas. And I can see them at night when I’m alone. We ran a call for a man who had overdosed on heroin, called in by his girlfriend. We took him in and saved him. The next week, we ran a call to the same house for a woman who had overdosed on heroin. It was her, his girlfriend who had called us the week before. We got there, rigors. She was gone.
Her boyfriend was hysterical, crying his eyes out while his tears landed on the track marks dotting his arms. I helped PD check the house for any additional drugs. I opened a door, and stepped into a room with a bunk bed, pink wallpaper, and toys littering the floor. At the ER, I was standing with my patient when another patient is brought in. He’s quickly put behind a curtain, but the smell is unmistakable. The hospital refuses to take him, and the crew that brought him in has to take him to another hospital. I helped them load him up.
He did not have a face. Cancer had eaten it. Blood was all over his face, his nose was gone, his mouth was gone, I couldn’t visually find his jaw, something that may have been his eye was stuck to his cheek. He had a white beard. Later, we left the hospital and we pulled into a gas station to fill the truck up. There was a man with a white beard there and I flinched when I saw it. I still remember that smell, and I’ve dreamed about that man twice.
But the worst was a call we ran just the other day. Cardiac arrest, for an old man with body-wide shingles. He was in chronic pain. He had stated to his family that he did not want to be resuscitated but they didn’t have a DNR. They begged us, they pleaded with us, to let him go. “He’s hurting, he’s always hurting.” But we had to work him. When we got him back, his wife and daughters didn’t smile, they didn’t celebrate, they didn’t breathe sighs of relief. They cried. They didn’t have a DNR.
What could we do? And how am I supposed to tell myself I helped him when all I did was further his suffering? How is the family supposed to see me as anything other than a tyrant for not honoring his wishes and bringing him back to his own personal hell because he didn’t have a fucking piece of paper signed and notarized? This field is demanding, but I take pride in my work. At the same time though, I don’t know if this is for me.
– Story written by “Ink”, 21 year old EMT-B. 8 months in EMS.