This is not mine, and certainly cant take credit. However, I feel the pain and emotions deep in the letter, having experienced severe PTSD, can only imagine that moment which had the author writing this…
By By Andy Casteel, Emt-p, roane county, Tn
I can’t tell you what working on an ambulance is like. It’s far away from anyone’s version of a normal life. Spending a 3rd of your life with your partner (24 hours on, 48 hours off) is like having a second family away from home. It comes with a different set of expectations and feelings, and a different kind of trust that exceeds nearly anything else. The experiences you have at work in this field can only be shared by you and your partner.
I won’t tell you what the worst thing I’ve seen is. That is one of the cruelest questions you could ask one of us, to go back and relive a horror that no human being should have to experience. The percentage of emergency personnel who develop PTSD is second only to the military, and we accumulate the problems that go along with it at a staggering rate (drug/alcohol abuse, divorce, suicide).
I can tell you that we have an odd sense of humor. Many of us in the right situation have literally sung “staying alive” by the beegees, or “another one bites the dust” by queen while performing CPR. This is not meant to be sick, it is only meant to keep us in rythym.
I am sorry if while working on your family member, I appear to not be listening to you or addressing your concerns. Unfortunately I am often not permitted the opportunity to do that given the circumstances. Your loved one’s life/health can and must come before your questions.
The words “ambulance driver” are a source of great insult to us. If I were only a driver, I would not have gone to school, nor would I have more certifications in my back pocket than many floor nurses.
There is so much that should be said that the bounds of a given situation or pure professionalism prevent us from uttering. So I will say it here.
To the lady who lost her husband following a long battle with cancer-
I am sorry. I wish that there was anything that I could say to ease what you’re going through. I am sorry that the situation you were in made it impossible for me to hide your husbands asystolic ekg strip from you, and for the painful questions that I had to ask. I want you to know that you were the very epitome of grace and courage while we were there, and that you have inspired me to try to be the same in my own struggles with grief.
To the family of the critical patient that we transferred to an intensive care unit at another hospital, who died on the way:
I am sorry that we couldn’t give you more time to say goodbye. We weren’t trying to be insensitive or callous when we told you that we had to go, we were only doing our best to care for him and keep him alive.
To the parents of the two year old that died in the fire:
I have mixed emotions for you. I am terribly sorry for your loss. I am also terribly sorry that you left several children under the age of eight to play alone while you got high at the house next door. We found your baby curled in a ball underneath a pile of clothes, badly burned but not so bad that I couldn’t count every little finger and toe. I rage at your irresponsibility, but grieve for your loss.
To the man whose wife I did CPR on:
I wish that things had turned out differently. You were married for 70 years to a beautiful bride that I couldn’t bring back for you. There is nothing I can say in the face of that loss, but I hope you know I tried.
To the scared parents of the 3 year old with a fever:
I understand your fear. If I’m grumpy, it’s not directed at you. It’s because I’ve been at work 21 hours, haven’t slept and have missed 2 out of 3 meals, and right before I came to get your child I ran one of the calls above this one.
To the frequent flier:
Please take the time to educate yourself about the health problems that you have. Ultimately you are responsible for your own health, and if you don’t step up and follow your doctors recommendations, and manage your issues, they will kill you. And I will have gotten to know you to the point of having memorized your medical history, allergies, medications, name, date of birth, and half of your social security number, only to walk in and pronounce you dead.
To the grumpy ER nurse at the level 1 trauma center:
I am sorry that you are having a bad day. Please don’t take it out on me or belittle the work that I have done, in many cases in an attempt to make your job easier and faster. I only ask for 5 minutes of your time to give report and provide good continuity of care. I try my best to come in with a smile, please don’t try to eat me. Kindness costs you nothing.
To the general public:
Please, please pull to the right. If we are sitting down to eat a meal, don’t make snide remarks about how you are seeing “your taxes go to work” or how we are paid too much. There is no price tag on what we do, and 40-50% of us do it for free. And most importantly of all, don’t ask the question mentioned in the second paragraph. If you want to satisfy your morbid curiosity, come ride with us for a day, and see for yourself.
Many times we are referred to as callous, insensitive, uncaring, etc. We have developed these things as a facade. It is a coping mechanism. If we didn’t care, we would not be here. The everyday world is an ugly place, and death comes for all of us. I wish I could say it was always peaceful, but very rarely does anyone get to hear another “I love you” before someone takes their last breath.
There have been many times when I pull up in front of my house in the morning, wishing that things had gone differently. I feel like a sponge for others grief, pain, and sorrow. You soak it up in an attempt to make it better in some small, meaningful way. After that you go home and hold those who mean something to you a little closer.
The times when things do go right are like bright, shining stars in a moonless sky. Where we stabilized that guy from the car crash who had 18 broken bones and a crushed airway. Or when we brought back a 53 day old baby’s heart beat. There’s not a price tag on that feeling either.
I hope all of you stay safe and healthy. When you don’t, we will be there. Any time, any place, no matter what. We’ll be there.
At your service always,