If you_ve read this column even a few times, you_ve probably noticed that at least once a month I refer to somebody (you) as "Life-Saver." Not Lifesaver, not Life-saver, but Life-Saver. It_s kind of a trademark.
That term has repelled at least a few people. Some have asked me if I_m being sarcastic or just kidding. Others think I don_t know how to use a hyphen. Someone even published an article one time saying the whole notion of EMSers saving lives was a myth. If you_ve been reading Tricks for a while, there_s probably no need for me to do this, but after 30 years, I thought I should explain myself.
Working 24-hour shifts, you learn to take your sleep when you can get it. I found I could get by on four uninterrupted hours a night. There_s a clock in my head, and I think it_s been permanently reset. So, I wake up early. Not only that, but I never need an alarm clock. I can almost always get up within 10 minutes of whenever I want to. What am I going to do at four in the morning? Listen to Rachmaninoff? Not me. I head for Starbucks, fire up this trusty little Mac and write. Sometimes it_s an article, sometimes a report. Sometimes it_s a letter to a friend, like I_m writing now. To you.
When I became a paramedic, I was no rookie. My EMT colleagues and I had a hard time getting into paramedic school in those daysƒcompeting for slots with people who had political connections but who had never run a call.
We were well acquainted with the odors of blood and urine, every variety of feces, and the taste of other people_s vomit. (Years of doing mouth-to-mouth ventilations will do that for you; life ain_t easy for a trained observer.) We read theMerck Manual, we gave each otherGray_s Anatomy (at the cost of a day_s pay), we were nice to sick people, and we addressed the needs of their families with unabashed respect.
What do you think, Life-Saver? Is saving lives a mythical notion?
Nobody gets out of here alive, but I think there are lots of ways to prolong the lives of some people long enough for them to hug their kids another thousand times or so.
Dragging somebody_s butt out of a freezing river is one way to do it, and resuscitating them is another. But so is positioning a vehicle or placing traffic cones in such a way that everybody goes home. Returning to a residence and installing safety rails in a bathtub enclosure to keep somebody from breaking a hip is powerful medicine. So is simply listening.
You may ask, what evidence do I have that these kinds of things save people_s lives? I would simply say they_ve told me so, over and over. Chances are they_ve told you, too, with all those cards and letters they_ve sent you over the years. I hope you_ve kept them. Interesting how some little thing you do or sayƒkindly or otherwiseƒcan have so much significance to a stranger.
It_s been hard in the past few years to ignore the reality of evil in the world around us. Seems a little funny, saying that word, because it_s never mentioned in the media. Some of us hesitate to express ourselves in a spiritual or religious context because it feels impolite. Partly, that_s because some religious people are very intolerant of others, who in turn resent their arrogance.
You don_t have to spend much time in this business to see evil as a presence, unseen but conscious, intentioned and very real. There was a time when I wouldn_t have seen that, but I do now. What happened at the Twin Towers, and what_s happening to children today in places like Afghanistan, Burma, Rwanda, Mexico and Iraq is clearly evil. I think evil always thrives when we_re convinced that individuals have no souls, no beauty, no dignity and no value, and that their existence (or suffering or destruction) is meaningless.
Every one of those things has meaning. The thoughts, feelings, beliefs, actions, tears and joys of ordinary people are important, even if they_re not famous or wealthy. And the destruction of any form of beauty matters. Sometimes people forget how important those things can be. You_ve seen what can happen when a perfectly good EMT forgets. This is hard work, and we all get tired or discouraged sometimes.
When you see that happening to someone, remind them. Remind yourself. And keep right on saying and doing those little things, with pillows and blankets and plain old kindness. Make no mistake. You won_t always know when it happens, but that_s OK.
People will tell you.JEMS
Thom Dickhas been involved in EMS for 39 years, 23 of them as a full-time EMT and paramedic in San Diego County. He_s currently the quality care coordinator for Platte Valley Ambulance, a hospital-based 9-1-1 system in Brighton, Colo. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.