A fallen paramedic 

Recent tragic events have sadly inspired this post. Another green shirt has fallen; another colleague laid to rest; another family heartbroken. 

The country is short of paramedics and all other equally important emergency service and NHS workers. The rate at which staff are walking away from the ambulance service greatly outweighs the rate at which folk are joining; retention is at an all time low. 

And why? There is no simple answer to this. The hours are too long, the responsibilities too high, the fear too great. More and more pressure is piled on on a daily basis to be leaving more patients at home, to be referring them to equally outstretched “alternative care pathways” such as out of hours GPs, physios etc.  Whilst the exact same set of mouths fear-monger about the risks of not transporting patients to hospital. 

“They’ll always need paramedics” Is this job security? No its not. Not when every single decision you make threatens your career. Everyday you risk attending something that may ruin or take your life. When forced to decide, should we try to save our patients, the NHS  or ourselves?

We work 48 hour weeks regularly, and that’s if we get to finish on time. We barely get to stop to eat, drink or even go to the bathroom. We survive on caffeine and adrenaline and finish each day ragged. 

A colleague joked to me recently that all he does outside of work is try to make his relationship survive, but we both know how sadly true this is. The career eats into our loved ones lives nearly as much as our own. 

Individuals are still being penalised for faults in the systems. Jobs are being lost, staff are constantly expected to bear the brunt of the publics outrage. 

A service that used to be grounded in “family” with “work wives” and husbands has become a backstabbing, dog eat dog world driven by fear. Honest mistakes are becoming unforgivable human errors, as if we don’t punish ourselves enough.

Paramedics are killing themselves. Nurses, doctors, receptionists, anyone who feels so directly the strain of the NHS on their shoulders, these people are killing themselves. And who attends paramedics who kill themselves? Paramedics do! Our friends, we pick up our own friends from this mess we’re living in.

People in other careers are often shocked by how NHS staff are treated, the archaic working conditions we still struggle under. A scary statistic of emergency service workers are medicated for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions just to survive their working days. 

Honestly, nobody gets to just “walk” away from this now, whatever the government figures may say.

Rest in peace to all those who have fallen, forever “in our ambulance hearts”.

Being a “rookie”

It’s strange how we always want what we can’t have; when we’re a rookie were desperate for experience, envious of our superiors but when that slowly becomes us, do we become jealous of our fresh faced colleagues?

Recently, I’ve been working with a “rookie”. In my early 20s, and with just 4 years experience in the job I still feel and look like a rookie myself.

My “rookie” is a handful of years older than me and with what sounds like bags of life experience, but is still in his first few weeks in the job. Naturally, he is inquisitive and curious, he has lots of questions for me and I feel obliged to answer them as best I can. I feel the need to be honest with him, and begin to prepare him mentally for the job but, at the same time, I don’t want to scare him off.

He asks me how I cope with things, “do you get used to it?” I remember asking the same questions myself to my superiors not so long ago. 

I tell him you don’t get used to it, no. But you’re normality changes. You attend a vast variety of incidents and on such a regular basis, see things once, ten or a hundred times that some people won’t ever see. I renind him, and myself, that you cannot unsee the things you have seen.

Minutes after our conversation we are slowed by the traffic. The offside of the motorway is closed for a road traffic collision on our side. I think to myself “this is bad”. In my head I know somebody has probably died tonight, or they will, only a few miles ahead of where we sit amongst impatient drivers eager to get home.  Somebody won’t make it home. Meanwhile, my rookie is desperate to get to the front of the queue to see what’s going on, he gazes in awe at the helicopter as it flies off.

I realise that it is so much more than just not being able to “unsee” things. I realise that I cannot forget the knowledge I have gained through experience. I cannot change the way I perceive things. I’m the opposite of “used to it”. I’m scared of it. I fear it now. I know how true, how real and how likely it is. I’m no longer blind, I can’t scratch away the memories and resurface my ignorance, my naivety.

At the ripe old age of 22, I realise my 18 year old self who started this job is long gone.  I am reminded just how much this job has changed me and will continue to.

I’m not saying I necessarily want to change it, I love my job. But it is a little scary to thing I have changed, and now I can’t change back.

PTSD resurfacing

One of the worst things about PTSD, at the moment, for me, is the unpredictability of it. The anxiety out of nowhere, the flashbacks I struggle to contain in my head. The nights spent awake but exhausted. The dreams, the not dreams. The “have I slept?” moments; am I awake or asleep? Dreaming or daydreaming?The blurry line between fact and fiction, reality and catastrophic fantasy.
When your stress levels are really, really low, you can almost forget you have PTSD. I can see why people with my disorder retreat into a controlled, safe world just to maintain a homeostatic base stress level that has a safe buffer above it, between you and PTSD. I can see how easily you bubble back over into it when your daily stress increases.  How the days become so noisy and chaotic, how you find yourself slipping back into your head again, missing moments in reality whilst you’re lost in your own abyss. Busy places become overwhelming once more and you’re constantly on the defence. The tightening belt around your chest as you try desperately to breathe and forget. As contort away from the panic that wraps around you like a python, squeezing and squeezing. Trying desperately to fight between body and mind, between the dangers of getting lost in the psychology of a memory and the pain of remaining with the physicality.
The exhausting nights, the perpetual deja vu alongside the completely inability to grasp any concept of date or time.
And what do you see from the outside? Confusion. Forgetfulness. A short temper.
And what if I really can’t hide it from you? Pain. Pain rippling across my face.  Twisting hands. Panic. Blind panic and fear. Tension.
God I’ve missed you, PTSD.

Is there such a thing as luck?

Working for the Emergency Medical Services has opened my eyes and mind in so many ways over the years. You start to question everything and anything. Why is it some people will ring for a stubbed toe while others don’t dare ‘disturb’ you, or ‘waste your time’ when their relative is having a heart attack or a stroke? Why this and why that.

There are so many questions and never enough answers. I try to treat each job with empathy. I try to put my feet in the shoes of the person who has called me and think ‘why do they want me here? What is it they need?’.  The answer tI these questions are vastly different from patient to patient. The ten year old with a sprained wrist, the terrified first time Mum with a screaming unconsolable baby with a temperature, the eighty year old who’s wife has of 50 years has recently passed away and desperately needs some company. Then the extremes, the people who need rushing to the major trauma centres, the heart attack centres, the stroke centres.

You learn such a huge amount about society and about culture working in the ‘ambulance’ world and yet every answer only ever seems to open another set of questions.

Recently, I have questioned luck. There are some people in this world that seem to be unnaturally unlucky. The ones who have had cancer, heart problems, operations go wrong, lost half their family and all before they’re 30. Whilst others seem excessively lucky, skating through life with good health and wealth. There are people who believe they are unlucky and others who believe the opposite. There are people that have lost a lot but remain entirely optimistic and untainted whilst some rant and rave over their misfortunes at the slightest of events.

It seems to me like ‘luck’ is actually more a question of attitude and how you view things. The age old ‘glass half full half empty’ cliché. I’m not sure whether it acts as a sort of ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ where by you believe yourself unlucky and so somehow scarper your chances. Or whether it’s just a mindset where everything that goes wrong is added to the pile of proof you’re unlucky.

Id have thought it would be important to make sure we keep both piles in view, before writing off our fate. We can’t be unlucky in everything.

Bad things happen, yes. I will never deny that. If believing in luck is helpful to you, then great. But if it’s not, it might be worth thinking about.

Then again, I’ve always considered myself lucky, so what do I know about ‘bad luck’?

Duty bound

Working for the emergency medical services (EMS) you never really do stop. It is not a job you can walk away from at the end of your taxing twelve hour shift. It is often when I get home, absolutely exhausted having dreamt of my bed for the past four hours at work that I suddenly start to think about work. The irony is exhausting.

Sometimes this is good, sometimes it is bad.

I think work/life balance isn’t something you can really strive for when you work for the emergency services. The ‘job’ often is your life, and you’re life slowly becomes the job. You have a life set aside from the job and I think this is something precious you must look after, but work is a massive part of your life. You’re colleagues become your friends, your support network. Many EMS providers spend more times with their ‘work wife’s’ or husbands than they do with their real family.

When times are hard, I find it difficult to know who to turn to. A rough job can knock you for six. You got into this job to help people and you expect to deal with some hardships but you just don’t know how to until you get there.

Do you talk to the people at work, who have been there themselves or may have even been there on the day? Risk upsetting them with their memories or similar jobs?

Do you go home, and tell your closest family, your friends what you have been through that day while they’ve been upset because their hoover has stopped working?

I often feel duty bound not to. I often feel it was bad enough for all the people involved, all the people there. I feel like I don’t need to share this horror story with anyone else.

I find myself sayings things like ‘I don’t really want to talk about it’. I don’t even want to think about it half the time.

So when people ask how my day was, or what jobs I’ve been to lately. I found myself stuttering and struggling for words as I mutter the same usual white lies. I feel like people don’t need to know about some of these things. I feel often that ignorance can really be a bliss.

The only people that understand are the people that have been there. For us, its a reality. Ignorance isn’t really an option. You cannot ‘unsee’ the things you have seen.

And that’s where the segregation comes, that’s where the small part of your life that is separate from work is hidden and protected. The world where you don’t talk about work. That is my safety. Healthy or unhealthy, I do not know.

Running through life

I am by trade an emergency medical technician. I spend my whole working life running around the city from call to call. People often say things to me such as ‘that must be such a hard job, you must have a way to vent’ in their questioning tones, probing for answers. I will always give a ‘hm’ when posed with questions about work and let people interpret that how they like. The worst thing I’ve ever seen won’t be the thing I, or any other emergency servicespersonnel, tell you it is.

Venting is important. You might think after a 5 day week of working 12/13/14 hour shifts  a few days of sofa and tea would do the trick. Peace and quiet is nice sometimes, but you won’t doubt I didn’t get into this career as someone who loves peace and quiet.

For me, I love running.

“There’s no greater freedom than flying on your feet” 

Do you remember those dreams you had as a kid where you could fly just by swimming through the air? Or jumping I’ve heard some people say?

That’s how I feel when I run. That sums it up for me. Stretching my legs out into the cold, thumping my feet through the mud and driving my arms through the air. My shirt rippling across my chest in the wind as I run across the land. To me, that is freedom. I am on own, I am my own master. I dictate my pace, my route. I head for the hills, take in the view for myself. I believe views are better kept by my own eyes and mind than any picture will every do justice. I like to see and do things for myself.

I compare this to my of life and I think why I will push myself through the 12 hour shifts, day after day.  I want it.

Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t feel the same aches and pains as you do when you run. The legs of lead that have had enough, the stomach somersaults that drag you down, the stitches cropping up in places you didn’t know you could get a stitch in. This doesn’t mean life doesn’t drag me down sometimes, too. There will often be times where I don’t run for weeks or months at a time when life doesn’t allow. But that doesn’t take away the run inside of me.

Thank you for reading.