After working in EMS for over the last 11 years, I am used to suppressing my emotions, being happy yet grumpy, and being “tough.” This is the EMS way of life. This EMS way of life led me down a road of losing the ability to feel or understand emotions. All I knew how to do was compartmentalize my feelings, emotions and experiences. This worked well. It allowed me to continue working and become disconnected from traumatic experiences. It also led to my development of PTSD. I am publishing and excerpt of a prior blog that I published elsewhere.
I saw an article posted on an EMS site about PTSD, depression, and how EMS handles this within. This all made me think. What are we doing? Are we that naïve that we think this is not a problem? I know I am not alone in this fight. I see, almost daily, another story about an EMS provider committing suicide. I have hinted about it in past writings, but I will say it and not just hint. I have come really close to ending my own life. I had a gun to my head, and my finger on the trigger. You have no idea how hard that is to say, especially for someone who sees people put into police custody and dragged to the emergency room for mentioning thoughts of suicide. We see this daily and I believe that this is one of the many things that are discouraging EMS providers from getting the help that they not only need, but deserve. Just last week, I was about 95% committed that it was going to happen. I have not told this to anyone. Whatever it may be, it did not happen. Do I want to do it now? No. Will I have these thoughts again? Of course. They happen daily. Anyone who says they have “never” thought of suicide is lying. Thinking and intending are totally different things.
This all made me think more, why is this all happening? Why are we still a career field that disregards mental health? We treat our mental health emergencies as an inconvenience. We joke about suicides. I understand that this may be our way of coping, but it is the only method of coping that we allow. What if someone is genuinely upset? Oh yeah, that’s right, they are “weak” and should “get out” of EMS. Because that is logical. Lets be realistic. EMS is a field with a relatively young population. Sure there are plenty of older providers in EMS, and how do they act? What model do they set? Most that start in EMS are young and impressionable. The impression and “wisdom” that we bestow upon them is how to be “tough” and calloused. Come on. You wonder why trends are not broken… we are the ones that keep it going. I am guilty myself, but not anymore. We are a peer pressure driven field, so our peer pressure should be pushing them to get help when they need it.
Another thing that we do is complain and, to put it bluntly, bitch about how things are. We don’t get paid enough, we aren’t respected, we aren’t trusted. No way… you mean the miserable, grumpy, disgruntled, sloppily dressed, unkept EMT or paramedic that just walked in the suicidal patient, and gives the report of “it’s them again” as they walk by the charge nurse with the person they are training isn’t respected or trusted? Well that doesn’t make sense does it? They should be bowing to you as you walk in. This is what is being passed on to the next generation.
As far as what we make, get over it. Would I like to make more? Really? Is that a real question? But the fact that EMS has lower reimbursements will not change. We are not nurses or doctors, and I will not get started on that debate. We do a different job than them, and we chose this job. Yet we convince young people to do this job under the false pretense that they will be a hero and make such a difference. We do make a difference. A lot of people will tell you that it is only 1% of the calls that we can actually make a difference. But what if I said we make a difference on 100% of the calls. That lady who just fell may be lonely and you could be what gave her hope to keep going. That psychiatric evaluation that you made comfortable enough to tell you that they had a suicide plan… would they have told anyone else or just said it was a misunderstanding and leave the hospital and kill themselves? We seem to lose perspective to this. We say it’s a great job, act like it is an awful job, and teach people to do the exact same thing. Is this a great job? Sometimes. Honestly it is worse more than it is great. Get over it. Stop being like all the people that you once said that you would never be like. We all signed on and said we were going to be different. We wouldn’t get “burnt out.” We will change it. What have we done to accomplish any of that?
Enough is enough. We need to stand up and be human beings. We are not heroes. We are not superheroes. We are people. We are no different than that psych patient that you seem to be too good to pick up. We are made of the same things. We have the same feelings and emotions. We preach that we are here for our “fellow man.” We just are trained and conditioned to think we are different. We need to learn though. I know it is hard to undo years of this and suddenly be different. Will it get better? Hopefully. Will I get better??? Hopefully. I can only be hopeful and do my part to change it. We all need to do the same.